SUPPORT groups who marched in protest at cutbacks in the disability sector have expressed disbelief at Taoiseach Brian Cowen’s assertion in the Dáil that respite services would not be cut – when some already have.

As thousands of protesters gathered at the gates of Leinster House to voice their anger at budget cuts to voluntary bodies providing services to people with intellectual disabilities, inside the Taoiseach accused Enda Kenny of “trying to scare” the 25,000 people receiving such services.

Mr Kenny had told the Dáil the Government had “lost its compassion” because of cuts in respite and home help for carers of people with intellectual disabilities.

In response, Mr Cowen said it was not acceptable to him, or to the Government, that respite services would be cut.

“It will not happen as far as I am concerned, no such decisions have been made,” he said.

Eamon Walsh, chairman of parent support group in Galway, Hope 4 Disability, said it was unbelievable that Mr Cowen had made the assertion.

He said that in Limerick, the Brothers of Charity Bawnmore respite service has closed, while the Daughters of Charity respite services in Dublin have also closed, affecting hundreds of people.

Services in Galway, he said, are also under threat. The minister of state with responsibility for disability, John Moloney, last night indicated services provided by the Brothers of Charity in Galway would not be cut.

Despite those reassurances Mr Walsh, however, had earlier hit out at suggestions which led people to believe that savings could be achieved in other ways.

He was responding to suggestions from John Hennessy, regional director of operations with the HSE West, who said he did not accept respite care had to be cut in response to financial pressure. “It’s not the first place you look to cut costs. We know there are other ways to cut costs. We are not about cutting frontline services.” He said it was possible to achieve savings by looking at things such as reducing layers of management.

However, Brian O’Donnell, the head of the National Federation of Voluntary Bodies, which represents 62 voluntary groups, said they had scrutinised every penny to try to make savings this year.

He said €74m in savings had been made by cutting pay and through value for money cuts. “Cuts are nothing new to this sector, we have had to deal with them for the past three years and it behoves us all to continue to examine every area,” said Mr O’Donnell.

He said as voluntary agencies the last thing they wanted to do was cut frontline services.

“We exist because the state was unwilling or unable to provide the service in the first place.

“These organisations were set up by parents and friends, who still sit on the boards and there is no way they would let frontline services be cut if there was not another way.”

Inclusion Ireland, which campaigns for people with intellectual disabilities, said service providers should not be able to threaten closures of services and that people with a disability should be in control of the costs attached to their care and be able to demand better value.


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