DÁIL SPEECH ON THE DISABILITY (MISCELLANEOUS PROVISIONS) BILL 2016 – RESUMED

Question again proposed: “That the Bill be now read a Second Time.”

Deputy Thomas P. Broughan: When we last discussed the Bill I was posing a series of questions on the preparation and implementation of the UN convention to the Minister of State, Deputy Finian McGrath. I will add a couple of other issues to that. Will he outline in his response if there has been any formal structured consultation process with civil society, and specifically with people with disabilities, since the publication of the roadmap to ratification of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities in October 2015 to inform the Bill? We were supplied with documents from the likes of the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission with observations on the general scheme of the Bill. The Minister of State might remember that early in this Dáil we had a meeting of campaigners for disability rights in Dublin Bay North, organised by, among others, the great Mr. Martin Naughton, who sadly passed away subsequently. The Minister of State was not present that night but the issues arose around levels of consultation.

Given that the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights recommends placing “the focal point on the convention close to the heart of government, such as in the office of the president, the prime minister or the cabinet office,” is the location of the focal point within the equality division of the Department of Justice and Equality too narrow? Would it not be better placed within the Department of the Taoiseach to ensure cross-departmental collaboration and leadership at Cabinet level. That case has been made for Brexit, for example. Article 33.3 of the convention sets out the requirement to involve people with disabilities in the monitoring process, with civil society in particular being involved, including persons with disabilities and representative organisations. As the Bill indicates, they shall be involved and participate fully in the process.

Will the Minister of State outline how people with lived experience will be resourced and facilitated to play a crucial role in monitoring the implementation of the convention in Ireland? Will the Minister of State outline how the Bill will make legislative provision to ensure people with lived experience are the key constituents in monitoring the UN convention in Ireland? Will he outline the advice his Department sought from the Attorney General with regard to reasonable accommodation and the ratification of the UN convention? Will that legal advice be published as this is an unusual Bill and the Minister of State indicated he would bring forward very significant matters in the additional amendments? Will the Minister of State outline if the Bill represents a full ratification of the UN convention and, if not, what reservations are proposed and why? I heard the Minister of State speak about that several times in the preceding and possibly earlier Dáileanna. Will he now put people’s concerns to rest in that regard and tell us if other work must be done?

Article 141(b) of the convention clearly states that persons with disabilities should not be “deprived of their liberty unlawfully or arbitrarily, and that any deprivation of liberty is in conformity with the law, and that the existence of a disability shall in no case justify a deprivation of liberty”.

The absence of specific legislation on deprivation of liberty as part of the Bill is worrying. Given the seriousness of this equality and human rights issue, has the Minister of State engaged in any formal, structured discussion with civil society organisations, particularly those which are well versed in legal matters, regarding the deprivation of liberty? When will legislation be developed in conjunction with people with disabilities on the issue? What is the Minister of State’s timetable for implementation?

It is a very important Bill and follows on from the Assisted Decision-Making (Capacity) Act 2015. During recent years, I have asked many parliamentary questions about when ratification will take place. As the Minister of State knows, approximately 600,000 of our fellow citizens have disabilities, approximately one in eight people. On 16 January, representatives of a number of disability charities launched the #RatifyCRPD campaign. This included people from the Rehab Group, the Irish Wheelchair Association, the Alzheimer Society of Ireland, Down Syndrome Ireland and the National Council for the Blind Ireland. Over the years, I have also made many representations on behalf of civil society organisations asking when our ratification will finally take place.

The Department of Justice and Equality set out a roadmap to ratification, which outlined the principles of the CRPD for which we needed to legislate. This included Article 3, general principles; Article 5, equality and non-discrimination; Article 12, equal recognition before the law; Article 13, access to justice; Article 14, liberty and security of the person; Article 15, freedom from torture or cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment; Article 23, respect for home and the family; Article 27, work and employment; Article 29, participation in political and public life; and Article 33, national implementation and monitoring. Those are some of the key headings. I warmly welcome the fact that Ireland is also signing up to and ratifying the optional protocol to the CRPD, which allows for complaints to be submitted to the CRPD.

The total budget for disability services is €1.654 billion this year, an increase of €92 million on the 2016 allocation. In late January, I received a reply from the Minister of State to a parliamentary question I asked about additional resources that will be deployed in disability services as a result of the increase. The reply stated the funding of €62 million was allocated on an ongoing basis to support the full-year cost of approved compliance work in voluntary and statutory service providers in respect of the national standards for residential services for children and adults with disabilities and emergency places which had commenced in 2015. Worryingly, the Minister of State’s reply went on to state that in this context the key focus across the disability sector is on improving compliance with national residential standards as regulated by HIQA. He said there had been an overall steady increase in compliance with the most recent analysis of HIQA compliance for disability residential services indicating a national compliance rate of 66%. While this is welcome, it shows a huge gap which the Minister of State needs to address.

We recently saw coverage by “Prime Time” and other news organisations of facilities for our fellow citizens with disabilities in long-term residential care. Part of the responsibility for the deterioration in standards of the capital provision of the buildings and staff cuts must be laid at the door of the Minister of State, the Government, the preceding Government and the Fianna Fáil Government from 2009. There have been massive cuts and hard-pressed staff have been trying to do their best to look after more and more clients. The Minister of State knows this from his visits to these institutions.

Disability campaigners have been calling for this ratification since we signed the convention in March 2007, almost a decade ago. The delay was attributed, at times, to the fact that Ireland was a dualist state. However, we are the only EU member state not to have ratified the convention. The basic purpose, stated in Article 1, is to “promote, protect and ensure the full and equal enjoyment of all human rights and fundamental freedoms by all persons with disabilities, and to promote respect for their inherent dignity.” It should be a fundamental value of any modern, democratic, egalitarian nation. For this reason, it is welcome that, at long last, we have reached this stage. I will be very interested to hear the Minister of State’s response.