Deputy Thomas P. Broughan: I welcome the opportunity to speak on this important Bill. Mr. Paddy Connolly, the chief executive of Inclusion Ireland, wrote a moving and impassioned piece in the Irish Examiner today under the heading “People with disabilities are not a diagnosis, they are human”. I presume the Minister of State read the article but if not, I urge him to do so. Some of the words in it struck a chord with me, including, for example, the statement that the “greatest threat to the wellbeing of people who have disabilities is their invisibility” which “renders them non-agents of their own fate, passive recipients of care rather than rights-holders”.
Mr. Connolly also called out the statement by the Minister of State that Ireland is “in advance of other EU states” when it comes to persons with disability. A study by the European Institute for Gender Equality showed clearly that this statement is simply not true. Furthermore, Ireland is the only EU state that has not implemented the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.
Mr. Connolly also stated that he recently resigned from the national disability strategy implementation group, which he described as a “bureaucratic echo chamber”. As legislators, we must ensure that people with disabilities do not feel invisible and we must enhance and protect their right to live full and equal lives. While I will support the Bill and welcome that it has finally come before the House, it is time the Government stepped out of the echo chamber and put words and promises into action.
I recently questioned the Minister of State on the amount of funding he had secured for disability in budget 2017. As Deputy Pringle stated, the implementation of the UN convention revolves around cost and the unwillingness of the Fine Gael Party, with which the Minister of State is now allied, and the Fianna Fáil Party in the past to spend the funding required to fulfil assessments for citizens with disability.
I have some questions for the Minister of State on the legislation, as it stands. Will he outline what legislative provisions will be made to ensure that people with disabilities have equal and effective legal protection against discrimination on all grounds, as provide for in Article 5 of the UN convention? The civil legal aid scheme does not extend to people with disabilities wishing to make complaints to the Workplace Relations Commission and thereby enforce their protection against discrimination. The lack of legal aid renders the protection ineffective for many. Given the limitations of the legal aid scheme, people with disabilities do not have access to legal advice and representation before other tribunals such as the social welfare appeals office. How will the Minister of State address this issue?
This is most extraordinary legislation. I cannot remember a Minister describing the introduction of a Bill in the House as an historic day before stating that it is proposed to introduce a raft of amendments at a later stage. As Deputy Mick Barry stated, we will not have an opportunity to invigilate these amendments. From that point of view, I hope the Minister of State is serious about this legislation and that it will mark a watershed of huge improvements for our 600,000 citizens with disabilities.