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Statements on the National Disability Inclusion Strategy

Seanad Éireann, 26 September 2017

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

Thank you a Chathaoirligh for the opportunity to speak to the House this evening about the work that is underway on implementation of the New National Disability Inclusion Strategy 2017 – 2021 which I published on 14 July and the range of related initiatives, including in the employment sphere, that are underway at present.

Through eight key themes, consisting of some 114 actions, the Strategy seeks to significantly improve the lives of people with disabilities in a practical sense, and also in creating the best possible opportunities for people with disabilities to fulfil their potential.  We haven’t wasted any time in starting the implementation of the Strategy.  I chaired the first meeting of the Strategy’s Steering group comprising Government Departments and stakeholders on 24 July and we meet again this Friday, 29 September.  The Steering Group will publish an annual report on progress for each year of the Strategy and we will have a mid-term review – which will again involve public consultations – in 2018.

The Department of Justice and Equality is also leading on the implementation of the Comprehensive Employment Strategy for People with Disabilities 2015 – 2024.  This seeks to address the under-representation of people with disabilities in the labour force. 

The purpose of the Strategy is to ensure that there is a concerted, cross-government effort to address the barriers and challenges that impact on employment of people with disabilities. As part of this effort, we will increase the public sector employment target of persons with disabilities from 3% to 6% and will embed this target into all public service workforce planning and recruitment.

Implementation of the Strategy is underway and is coordinated by Justice and Equality.  An implementation group consisting of relevant government departments and stakeholders meets regularly, and is engaging in discussions with large public sector employers such as the Public Appointments Service and the HSE to progress the commitments outlined in the Strategy.

I want to mention the Task Force on Personalised Budgets established in 2016 to make recommendations on a personalised budgets model. The aim of these personalised budgets will give people with disabilities more control in accessing health funded personal social services, along with greater independence and choice in accessing services which best meet their individual needs.  I understand that the Taskforce is on schedule to submit its report to me before the end of the year.

The key issue in relation to the Disability Inclusion 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.  The Government, through the HSE is committed to protecting front-line services for people with disabilities, with targeted improvement in identified priority areas.  As part of Budget 2017, a further €92 million was allocated towards these priority areas.  The priority areas for these additional resources include:

  • The allocation of an additional €10 million in 2017 for the provision of services for 1,500 young people leaving school and rehabilitative training this year. The development of alternative respite models, with €1 million targeted funding;
  • The reconfiguration of residential services, supported by €20 million in capital funding and to be further supported by the Service Reform Fund;
  • Quality improvements to increase compliance with National Standards for Residential Centres for Children and Adults with Disabilities; and
  • Over 1,950 inspections of residential centres for people with disabilities conducted by the Health Information Quality Authority (HIQA) since regulation began in November 2013.

As of 1 June, approximately 10,000 children in receipt of the Domiciliary Care Allowance, who did not previously qualify, were awarded medical cards. These children are now entitled to the following services free of charge:

  • Inpatient and outpatient hospital care;
  • GP care;
  • Prescribed drugs and medicines (subject to a co-payment);
  • Dental, ophthalmic and aural services; and
  • Aids & appliances.

The “Make Work Pay for People with Disabilities” was published in April 2017 and examines the complex interaction between the benefit system, including the medical card and the net income gains in employment. The report makes 24 recommendations with defined timelines for implementation.  At the launch of the Report it was announced that the following changes would be brought in immediately:

  • People with a long-term disability payment who move off the payment to get a job will retain their Free Travel Pass for a period of five years; this measure goes beyond the recommendation of three years contained within the report. This has been achieved.
  • A Fast –Track return to Disability Allowance, or Invalidity Pension for people where employment does not work out. This is in progress.
  • Dispense with the requirement that work be of a ‘rehabilitative nature’ for the disability allowance (DA) earnings disregard. This means that a report from a doctor is no longer required before commencing work and that the focus is on capacity rather than incapacity. Legislation to give effect to this change is included in the forthcoming Social Welfare & Pensions Bill 2017.
  • Development of a new “Ready Reckoner”, to calculate the net benefits and financial implications of working is already underway. This is in progress.
  • The Department will review its communications with a specific focus on the needs of people with disabilities. This is in progress.
  • There will be regular reviews of policies to ensure their effectiveness. This is ongoing.

Recommendations 9 and 10 of the “Make Work Pay” report seek to promote early intervention by introducing new processes to ensure that individuals, who wish to work, can engage with appropriate support systems at the earliest possible time. 

At the launch of the Make Work Pay report the current Taoiseach specifically acknowledged that any changes to the Disability Allowance or Domiciliary Care Allowance could only be done with the support of the disability sector and he signalled the need for a consultation around these specific proposals.

To this end, the Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection has embarked on wide ranging consultation process with people with disabilities, their families and representative stakeholder groups. To ensure that this process is as inclusive as possible a cross section of the disability sector has been invited to a Make Work Pay (MWP) Stakeholders Focus Group. This Group has begun the process of agreeing the format and content of the wider consultation process. This wider process will then take place over the period October to January and it is anticipated that the consultation process will conclude by the end of Q1 2018.

Finally, I know Senators will be interested in progress on ratification of the UN Convention.  Ireland signed the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities in 2007 and since then, successive Governments have emphasised Ireland’s strong commitment to proceed to ratification as quickly as possible, taking into account the need to ensure all necessary legislative and administrative requirements under the Convention are met. I would like to take this opportunity to assure the House that ratification of the UNCRPD remains a very high priority for me as Minister.

Considerable progress has already been made to overcome the remaining legislative barriers to Ireland’s ratification of the Convention. The Assisted Decision-Making (Capacity) Act 2015 was signed into law on 30 December 2015 and is a comprehensive reform of the law on decision-making capacity. The Criminal Law (Sexual Offences) Act 2017 has reformed Section 5 of the Criminal Law (Sexual Offences) Act 1993 to facilitate the full participation in family life of persons with intellectual disabilities and the full expression of their human rights. ?

The Disability (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill 2016 was published immediately prior to Christmas and completed Second Stage in February 2017.  The primary purpose of the Bill is to address the remaining legislative barriers to Ireland’s ratification of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD).   Work is ongoing on all the other issues set out in the previous Government’s Roadmap for Ratification published in October 2015 and these will be progressed as Committee Stage amendments.  The Bill will be progressed to enactment at an early date to facilitate ratification of the UN Convention as soon as possible. We have sought the Attorney General’s advice on how this process can be accelerated, but I should make the point that the precise timing of ratification now depends on how long it will take for this Bill to progress through the enactment process and on issues in relation to commencement both of deprivation of liberty provisions, which will be included in the Bill at Committee Stage, and of the Assisted Decision Making (Capacity) Act 2015.    

The major issue at this stage is in relation to deprivation of liberty – in the case of persons in nursing homes for example, whose capacity to consent may be in doubt.  This is a sensitive and important issue and we must get it right. Unfortunately, it is taking longer than expected to develop a proposal that is constitutionally sound and operationally effective and reasonable.  The Department of Justice and Equality continues to engage with the Department of Health to assist with that work, but there is still some work to be done.?

While Ireland’s not having ratified the CRPD is a recurring point of criticism by the UN as well as by domestic civil society and NGOs, it should be noted that in terms of quality of service and the actual position of people with disabilities in society, Ireland is in many respects in advance of other EU states.  This is not to be complacent and we are continuing to take practical measures to improve the lives of people with disabilities The Report of the Make Work Pay Group was published earlier this year and already action, as announced at its launch by the then Minister for Social Protection and now Taoiseach, Leo Varadkar, Minister Harris and myself, has been taken on its recommendations.  As I mentioned, we have a Comprehensive Employment Strategy in place and we have published the National Disability Inclusion Strategy, which contains a wide range of practical commitments to improve the position of people with disabilities.?

Thank You.