Cautious welcome for plan to publish Disability Bill

THE decision by the Government to publish the long-awaited Disability Bill was given a guarded welcome yesterday amid concerns that it would not properly address the needs of the disabled.

Mary Keogh, director of the Forum of People With Disabilities, said that it was essential that the bill would translate into services on the ground.

“After waiting two years, we are looking forward to the bill but my fear is that it is all about money. While money is welcome, funding of the disability sector has had minimal transparency and accountability. We are hoping that it will result in services for those with a disabilities,” said Ms Keogh.

Access to an independent statutory tribunal will be a central part of the bill to be published before the Dáil resumes on September 29.

The Government believes this will satisfy the demands of disability campaigners for rights-based legislation.

However, Ms Keogh said that the appeals mechanism remained unclear and it was essential that the legislation was rights-based and the service was transparent.

“We get lots of phone calls from people who have not been able to access minimal services and they are told funding is the reason. This time, the services have to be made available and service providers have to be held accountable,” she said.

The bill will contain a three-pronged approach to the tangled issue of guaranteeing rights and resources for people with disabilities, Minister of State Willie O’Dea said yesterday.

It will advance a series of steps a person with a disability can take to ensure that his or her needs are met.

This will start with an independent assessment of needs, carried out independently of the service-provider (normally a section of a Government department).

Mr O’Dea said he believed the mechanism will satisfy the provisions in the European Convention on Human Rights, and the European Court of Human Rights, requiring that a person has access to an independent appeals procedure.

The issue of legally enforceable rights has been at the centre of the campaign of representatives of people with disabilities, and has delayed the publication of the bill.

Two years ago, the Government was forced to make a U-turn on the bill, following almost unanimous objections to it from opposition parties and disability groups.

A controversial section of the bill, which would have prevented people with a disability from pursuing civil court redress if their needs were not met by their local health board, was dropped.

Commenting at that time, Labour Party equality spokeswoman Jan O’Sullivan, said that the Bill “would be laughable if it was not so serious”.

The Government has decided not to give a right of recourse to the courts in the Disability Bill because of fears of the cost implications.

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