Rights law ‘urgently needed’ for intellectually disabled

LEGISLATION to protect and improve the rights of people with an intellectual disability must be brought forward as a matter of urgency, according to Inclusion Ireland.

Currently, laws relating to people with limited capacity to make decisions dates back to the Lunacy Act of 1871.

Sarah Lennon of Inclusion Ireland said while the Mental Capacity and Guardianship Bill 2007 was introduced as a private members bill in the Seanad in February 2007, it has never been finalised. Lack of progress in this area means Ireland may be out of line with the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, which the State is a signatory to.

“The issue of consent and sexual contact must also be urgently addressed. Every year we see cases concerning sexual assault of people with an intellectual disability being brought to the attention of the DPP, which are not brought forward for prosecution because of capacity issues and people with an intellectual disability giving evidence. This must be urgently examined.”

Also, the current situation whereby a person with an intellectual disability cannot have their child adopted as they are deemed to lack capacity, is causing distress. Ms Lennon said this issue was especially pertinent as it is not covered in the Mental Capacity and Guardianship Bill, nor in the programme for law reform.

People deemed to be incapable at the moment become wards of court. The majority are suffering from a mental health illness.

Ms Lennon said the numbers could run into tens of thousands of people. Once someone becomes a ward of court it is very difficult to them to get out of it.

If a person is a ward of court they cannot enter into a legal contract, cannot apply for a passport or have their child adopted.

Another anomaly in the law relating to people with a disability is the Criminal Law (Sexual Offences) Act 1993, which makes it illegal for people with an intellectual disability to have sex unless they are married.

This could cause great difficulties for people seeking to live a full and independent life, Ms Lennon added.

Senator Maria Corrigan said she expected the legislation to be brought forward in the next few months. She said it appeared as though the legislation would be individualistic and that capacity would be determined on a case by case basis.


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