Statements on Disability to coincide with International Day of Persons with Disabilities


Opening remarks by Finian Mc Grath, Minister of State for Disability

Thank you a Chathaoirligh for the opportunity to speak to the House this afternoon about Disability.

I am particularly pleased to have this opportunity in the context of International Day of Persons with Disabilities that was marked yesterday.  This is a United Nations sanctioned day that is celebrated internationally on 3 December each year.

This year’s theme is “Promoting the participation of persons with disabilities and their leadership.” The theme encourages us to work together to ensure that the barriers to full equality and participation for people with disabilities will become a thing of the past. It focuses on the empowerment of persons with disabilities, and recognises disability as a cross-cutting issue. I want to take this opportunity to speak about the work that is underway across Government that supports these overarching principles and objectives.

The National Disability Inclusion Strategy – NDIS – is the major framework for policy and action to address the needs of people with disabilities. It contains 114 measurable and time-specific actions that relate to eight key themes including education, employment, health and well-being and transport. Its overarching objective is to improve the lives of people with disabilities both in a practical sense, and also in creating the best possible opportunities for people with disabilities to fulfil their potential.

When I launched the NDIS in July 2017, it was never my intention that it would be set in stone for the duration. The Strategy is a living document and must be capable of responding to emerging priorities and developments. That is why it containeda commitment to a mid-term review. The aim is to ensure that the Strategy remains relevant for the rest of its lifetime.


It is always a priority for me to hear the views of people with lived experience and their families, and from disability organisations. It was very important to me therefore that the review would be informed by a consultation process. We had two events last month aimed at getting the views of stakeholders.  The first of these was held in Dublin on the 13thNovember and focused on hearing the perspectives of disability organisations. The second event was held on 26th November in Tullamore and was oriented towards people with disabilities and their families.

The next step is the publication of the consultation report and the development of a refreshed set of actions for consideration by the Steering Group.

As we look forward to the renewed Strategy, it is important that we acknowledge the achievements that have been realised since the launch in 2017.  These achievements include:

  • Ratification of UNCRPD – something which was an absolute priority for me and which I was delighted to work on and help get over the line
  • Work to facilitate commencement of Assisted Decision Making Act 2015, including Codes of Practice, and the establishment of the Decision Support Service. I will be returning to this later.
  • Publication of the Make Work Pay Report, with 24 practical recommendations, many of which have already been implemented
  • Introduction of new ballot papers for referendum to facilitate private voting
  • Implementation of AIM supports for children accessing ECCE
  • Report of the Task Force on Personalised Budgets
  • Development of next 3-year plan under the Comprehensive Employment Strategy, which I will be talking about shortly
  • Finalisation of report on review of career guidance in schools
  • Preparations for commencement of Irish Sign Language legislation

While acknowledging these achievements, we also know that there is more work to.

My vision for what I want to happen is quite a simple one. When the Strategy concludes in 2021, my aim is for Ireland to be a better place for people with disabilities to live in.

A place that does not tolerate discrimination and exclusion.

A place where people with disabilities are involved and consulted with on matters and decisions that affect their lives.

A country where people with disabilities can enjoy full equality, participate fully in our society, and enjoy a quality of life on a par with the rest of the population. A country where the focus is not on what people can’t do but what they can do.

This is an ambitious vision. But I am confident that the NDIS is capable of triggering real change focused on targeted and specific outcomes. I look forward to bringing the renewed Strategy to Government in January for approval but stress also that the Strategy’s success will depend on the shared engagement of all stakeholders in building a fairer society. I look forward to taking an active part with everyone in taking this work forward.

Before I conclude, I want to turn to the area of employment of people with disabilities. While progress has been made, the rate of unemployment for people with disabilities still remains too high. According to the results from Census 2016, there were 130,000 persons with a disability at work, which represents 6.5 per cent of all people at work or 22.3 per cent of the total disabled working population of 584,045. People with disabilities are still only half as likely to be in employment as others of working age.

That people with disabilities want to work is evident from a Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection 2015 survey of Disability Allowance recipients. It showed that of those people who are not currently working, 35% expressed an interest in working part time, while 8% expressed an interest in full time employment.

The Government is committed to addressing this issue through the implementation of actions under the Comprehensive Employment Strategy for people with disabilities 2015 – 2024.  I have spoken in the  House previously about the Strategy and this is a good opportunity to let you know that in common with the NDIS, the CES is also going through a period of renewal. The second phase of the Strategy was launched yesterday in the form of a new three year action plan. The plan includes a range of actions to advance the six strategic priorities and provides a focus for the work of the Implementation Group for the next period in the lifetime of the Strategy.  The aim is to consolidate the progress made in the last number of years and start to deliver real results.

One of the areas that has been identified for particular focus in the next phase of the CES is Strategic Priority 6, Engaging Employers. That is why one of the key initiatives in the new Action Plan is a planned multi-faceted awareness campaign to promote awareness among employers and other key stakeholders of the opportunities represented by employees with disabilities.  This programme will include capacity building for employers and positive action measures to support the recruitment and retention of people with disabilities in employment.

The key issue in relation to the Disability Inclusion Strategy and the Employment Strategy is setting worthwhile targets and ensuring that departments and agencies work together to deliver on them.  That’s not about money, or extra money, but of course money is important too. It is also about changing mindsets of all of us both with a disability and without. When you see someone with a disability see beyond the wheelchair or the cane – see the person and all that they can bring to your workforce. And equally for those with a disability. Don’t label yourself or allow yourself to be labelled. Your disability is but a part of you. It must never define you.

The Government, through the HSE is committed to protecting front-line services for people with disabilities, with targeted improvement in identified priority areas. The HSE National Service Plan 2019 provides for a significant level of funding at €1.9 billion, to deliver essential frontline services for people with a disability. These core services span a spectrum of essential interventions ranging from Clinical Therapeutic Supports, Rehabilitative Training & Day Services, Home Care Supports as well as Respite and Residential provision.

All funded service providers, including non-clinical/service delivery focused organisations are required to deliver safe and effective services within a defined budget allocation. The HSE must also ensure that it prioritises available resources on the basis of meeting the health and social needs of people with a disability.

Our current policy promotes a non-condition specific approach to disability service provision based on the needs of the individual, rather than the provision of services based on a specific disability diagnosis.

The current Programme for Partnership Government commits this Government to improving services and increasing supports for people with disabilities.

Significant resources have been invested by the health sector in services for people with disabilities, over the past number of years.

In terms of health spending, substantial expenditure has been agreed in recent Budgets to support increased provision to people with a disability and their families. I am pleased that we have been able to both build upon significant existing resources and to obtain additional funding for disability services in the 2020 Budget.   With these additional monies secured, the overall Budget for disability services in 2020 is in excess of €2 billion.

The increased level of funding in 2020 will enable us to continue to provide residential services to over 8,600 people with disabilities at more than 1,240 locations

Upon taking office, one of my priorities was to ensure that all young adults leaving school or rehabilitative training would have access to supports and services which met their needs at one of the most crucial transition points of their lives. Additional funding of €13m will provide supports and day services to approximately 1,600 young people with disabilities who leave school and training programmes next year.

I recognise the critical importance of respite for the loved ones and families of those with a disability.  I am pleased to confirm that an additional €5m will be provided in 2020 to build the capacity of our respite services so that we can better respond to the changing needs of service users and their families.

Specifically, this funding will provide intensive support packages for children and young people in response to the changing needs of service users and their families.

This initiative will include intensive in-home visiting support, planned overnight, specialist behavioural support and extended day/weekend and day-based activities for families.

Sláintecare is centred around providing services and supports at the lowest level of complexity. An additional €5m in this Budget is provided for emergency protocols to support people with disabilities who have high support needs.  This includes funding for emergency placements and the provision of intensive in-home support and respite packages, which are intended to delay the need for residential care for vulnerable service users.

Finally, an additional €2m will be provided in 2020 to support implementation of the Autism Plan, which includes a range of measures to improve services for people with Autism and their families.

Thank you.

Closing remarks (After comments/questions)

I would like to thank Senators for all their contributions and their interest – genuine interest – in advancing the position of people with disabilities in Irish society.

In addition to the various matters I mentioned earlier, I know Senators will be interested in progress on meeting the terms of the UNCRPD. The Government’s approach to this is one of sustained and on-going improvement. Work is continuing on the reforms needed for an optimum level of compliance with the Convention’s requirements.

As I mentioned earlier, the National Disability Inclusion Strategy contains a wide range of practical commitments to improve the position of people with disabilities in Ireland. It also provides a mechanism for joined-up working to deliver on Ireland’s commitments to implementing the UNCRPD.  Included in the terms of the Strategy Review that I mentioned earlier is an examination of how the Strategy is aligned with the articles of the CRPD and how the Strategy could be revised and built upon in order to continue progressive realisation of the aims of the Convention. The National Disability Authority also plays a critical role in the implementation of the Convention, and will be carrying out a review of progress with respect to the Strategy’s key indicators.

In addition to this work, senators will be aware that there are a number of legislative developments to support the implementation of the Convention.

The Assisted Decision Making (Capacity) Act is one such reform. Indeed, the 2015 Acthas been framed to specifically meet Ireland’s obligations under the Convention.

It is a significant piece of reforming human rights legislation.  I say this for three reasons. One – it emphasises personal will and preferences. Two – it ensures respect for the rights of the person.  And three, it supports the person in achieving greater autonomy when making decisions.

The overarching objective of the Act is the establishment of a modern statutory framework to support decision-making by adults with capacity difficulties. This is to be underpinned by the dismantling of the archaic legal architecture that has governed this area of the law for too long.

Crucially, the Act is designed to meet the various needs of people. People who have age-related conditions, people with intellectual disabilities, people who have acquired brain injuries and people with mental health issues. It offers a range of decision-making support options to support people in maximising their decision-making capacity.

The Act conferred on the Mental Health Commission the very substantial and important function of establishing the new Decision Support Service.

This service will play a critical role in vindicating human rights and ensuring those who require it get a service focused on their needs.

The reach of the Act and of the Decision Support Service will potentially be very extensive.

It has been estimated that the number of adults in Ireland who require some level of support to help them to make decisions could come to over 220,000.   No doubt this figure will only increase in the coming years as the population ages, and as well, there will always be the other people involved …. decision-making supporters for example, or people who will be notified of a decision-making support arrangement to be registered with the Decision Support Service.

While I am not happy with the delay in enacting the remaining provisions of the Act I am satisfied that every effort is being made to ensure that the Decision Support Service has all necessary capacity to open for business as soon as possible.  The necessary staff resources, processes, ICT systems, expert panels, codes of practice and regulations will be in place so that it can get up and running. As a government, we are providing the necessary financial resources. The 2019 Revised Estimates include an allocation of three and a half million euro in the Justice and Equality Vote for the Service, while three million euro was provided last year. I can assure the house that key preparations for the commencement of the Act are being put in place within my Department and that the Government is fully committed to its implementation.

We are talking broad impact with this, and there are many complex strands to the preparatory work, including the involvement of multiple organisations. This is I suppose why, as with any reform of this magnitude, it will take time to change existing practices and get the supports right.  But we will ensure that all the necessary administrative processes and support measures are put in place, and we are committed to doing that before the substantive provisions of the Act are brought into operation.

In conclusion, can I again thank the House for the opportunity to address you this afternoon.