Wednesday 27th November 2019
I want to thank Senators for the opportunity to attend this afternoon.
I welcome the opportunity to re-state this Government’s commitment to supporting people with disabilities and their families.
As Minister for Disabilities I am personally committed to providing services and supports that meet the needs of people with disabilities. Services and supports that will empower them to live independent lives, provide greater independence in accessing the services they choose, and enhance their ability to tailor the supports required to meet their needs and plan their lives.
This is Governments policy, and is what I believe in.
At the heart of this policy are the principles of access to mainstream services and community living.
My priority, as always, is the health and wellbeing of people with a disability.
I am very aware of the concerns which both service users and their families have concerning the decision of Irish Wheelchair Association to transition its holiday service from Cuisle to designated hotels in the west of Ireland. I want to make it absolutely clear to the House that this was a decision made completely by the Board of the Irish Wheelchair Association last month.
Cuisle Accessible Holiday Resort is a commercial operation, run by the Irish Wheelchair Association, from which, I am informed, the HSE purchases respite breaks which are provided by way of a service arrangement.
I met with the CEO of the IWA and HSE representatives on Tuesday 12th of November last, in order to obtain the necessary assurances that service users would be fully accommodated in respect of what is fundamentally the IWA’s plan for a progressive and innovative way to meet the needs of people with a disability that wish to avail of holiday respite breaks.
I believe in ‘people centred’ services and the IWA stressed to me that the clear choice and preference of people with a disability is increasingly more about having variety and choice with access to positive and non-segregated settings and where existing commercial hotel provider settings implement universal design initiatives to accommodate people of all levels of abilities. I was informed by the IWA that one of the significant drivers of the move towards a new Model of Care approach whereby appropriately accessible hotels will be used was that there has been a significant fall off in numbers applying for breaks in Cuisle.
In recent years, there have been positive changes in accessibility standards in Ireland that now present a greater range of choice and options for people with disabilities seeking a holiday or respite.
Consequently, there has been a shift in best practice approaches. This shift is reflected in current HSE policy under ‘Time to Move on from Congregated Settings: A Strategy for Community Inclusion’.
In line with this, Irish Wheelchair Association (IWA) has decided to transition its holiday service in the West of Ireland to provide accessible hotel holidays into the future, and to move away from its holiday facility at Cuisle, Co Roscommon.
The IWA did advise me at the meeting a couple of weeks back that Cuisle requires major capital development in respect of fire upgrade works estimated to be in the order of €1.5m. IWA have indicated that this level of capital funding is not available within their current resources. This allied to the fall off in numbers convinced them that their New Model of Care approach was the right one.
Notwithstanding the requirement to ensure regulatory standards are maintained, the HSE have confirmed to IWA that this level of capital investment is not considered viable in the context of other potential alternative service options and models from which to deliver respite services.
IWA is planning to provide a wider range of choice to people with disabilities seeking to take a supported respite holiday in the West of Ireland by partnering with accessible hotels. This new and innovative service will commence in March 2020 in conjunction with the HSE.
IWA has been operating comparable hotel holiday breaks in Kilkenny since 2018 and has received positive feedback across the board from guests. In fact, 99% of guests said that they would return.
This service was also shortlisted for an Irish Healthcare Centre award in 2019. IWA hopes that in the coming years, its accessible hotel holiday service will expand to key destinations across the country.
The move to the new holiday service will mean that the Cuisle buildings will not open in 2020. IWA acknowledges the contribution of staff at Cuisle for their contribution to the respite service in the West of Ireland. Where possible, IWA will offer redeployment opportunities to staff and is engaging with local staff members and their representatives to ensure minimum impact.
And Cathaoirleach, I have been asked to attend for this debate this afternoon, and I am happy to do so. There should be no doubt for anyone listening or watching today, about my commitment to people with disabilities and their families. I am immensely proud to be Minister for Disabilities. I have been inspired by the goals and achievements of the people I have met since my appointment, and I am more determined than ever to realise the priorities agreed by the Government and continuing to make the changes that are needed.