Saturday, June 24, 2017
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Kieran Murphy details a recent Irish High Court case with implications across the areas of disability, mental health and civil rights.

  • This case study examines a recent Irish High Court case regarding an application by an adult to be discharged from his detention in an institution in the U.K.
  • This detention had been ordered by the Irish courts when the applicant was still a child.
  • The case raises a number of interesting issues regarding the implementation of the Mental Health Act 2001, the Disability Act 2005 and the High Court’s powers to order the detention of people to vindicate their constitutional rights.

The jurisdiction of the High Court to detain people if they were a danger to themselves or others was extended to vulnerable adults in 2011 with the case of Health Service Executive (HSE) v. O’B[1]. In that case the vulnerable person in question had a long standing history of what was termed “very challenging behaviour” and “extreme violence”.  At the time of the case he was over 18 and thus an adult. The HSE argued that it was in his best interests that he received clinical, medical and nursing treatment in an environment of therapeutic security, namely the Central Mental Hospital in Dundrum. The judge said that “where an adult lacks capacity and where there is a legislative lacuna so that the adult’s best interests cannot be served without intervention by the Court, I am satisfied that the Court has jurisdiction to intervene.” Accordingly an order was made by the judge to detain Mr O’B, subject to regular review by the court.

In the HSE v O’B the person detained had been found to lack capacity. An interesting potential extension of that case was heard in the High Court on 6th October 2016[2].  Ms Justice Bronagh O’Hanlon gave a judgment on a case concerning J.B., who had lived in St. Andrew’s Hospital in Northampton by order of the Irish High Court since 2011. He had been placed in the hospital, while still a child, as there was no facility in Ireland suitable for his needs. When he reached the age of 18, J.B. challenged this continued detention or any other similar plans for his care as being a deprivation of liberty now that he was an adult.

The judge considered whether the Mental Health Act 2001 did apply in this case. JB had been diagnosed with a personality disorder. It was found that personality disorder did not come within the scope of a “mental disorder” under the Mental Health Act 2001 and so he was not detainable under that Act. On this point the judge concluded that as “JB is an adult with capacity and is not presently detainable under the Irish Mental Health Act 2001, any further detention (in St Andrew’s Hospital) is illegal”.

During the case the judge referenced another statutory scheme, the Disability Act 2005, saying that “the HSE is under a statutory obligation to provide services to a person with a disability such as J.B. under the Disability Act 2005, should he be formally assessed as a disabled person”[3]. The judge said if JB was found to be a person requiring accommodation needs under the Disability Act, then there would be an obligation on  the HSE and/or TUSLA to provide secure and settled accommodation for him pending his being given long-term accommodation by the local county council. The Judge appeared to reject JB’s own direct evidence that he could look after his own living arrangements and noted that there was an available bed in the Central Mental Hospital where JB could temporarily remain as a voluntary patient pending provision of the promised place with a disability service provider. Ms Justice O’Hanlon continued that “it is in his best interests that he would be monitored weekly in that area to ensure that he is compliant with his medication”[4]

This case raises a number of interesting questions. Firstly, it was not clear from the judgment if the obligation on the HSE to provide a service to J.B. was based on the Disability Act 2005 as there was no evidence provided in the court report as to whether an assessment of need had been completed for him as required under the Disability Act 2005.

The second interesting point is whether this case extends the inherent jurisdiction of the High Court to detain persons “with capacity” to vindicate their constitutional rights. Counsel for J.B. had argued that that the law was clear that a person with capacity cannot be detained under the inherent jurisdiction and that there was no legal basis to detain J.B. It is here that the ambiguity of the decision in this case becomes apparent. In relation to J.B.’s detention in St Andrew’s Hospital it was found that he was not detainable as he had capacity; but he was to be detained in the Central Mental Hospital. The judgment itself does not reach a conclusion on whether this “new” detention in the Central Mental Hospital is based on the inherent jurisdiction of the High Court to detain J.B. in order to vindicate his constitutional rights. This new detention appears to be on the basis that J.B. voluntarily chose to go to the Central Mental Hospital.

The case raises another issue regarding deprivation of liberty. Ms Justice O’Hanlon said that “it is in his best interests that he would be monitored weekly in that area to ensure that he is compliant with his medication”.[5] This direction that he be “monitored weekly” would appear to be a deprivation of his liberty, regardless of whether he was a “voluntary” patient in the Central Mental Hospital or not.

Finally this case brings into focus the High Court extending its remit in the absence of a statutory or legislative framework. In an analogous case regarding the use of court power’s in the absence of legislation concerning children, S.S. (A Minor) v. Health Service Executive [2008] [6], it was said that the frequent invocation and exercise of exceptional constitutional powers, absent principles of application or, any statutory or regulatory framework is undesirable.

[1] Health Service Executive v O’B. (a person of unsound mind not so found) (2011) IEHC 73

[2] Health Service Executive v JB (No.2) (2016) IEHC 575

[3] Health Service Executive v JB (No.2) (2016) IEHC 575 at paragraph 115.

[4] Health Service Executive v JB (No.2) (2016) IEHC 575 at paragraph 117.

[5] Health Service Executive v JB (No.2) (2016) IEHC 575 at paragraph 117

[6] S.S. (A Minor) v. Health Service Executive [2008] 1 I.R. 594 at paragraph 76

Author Bio

Kieran Murphy B.C.L.; LL.B; R.N.I.D.  is a lecturer on the Diploma in Disability Studies in University College Cork.

In this opinion piece, David Quinn, Managing Director of Pascal Software, Board member of Inclusion Ireland and member of the Social Democrat party, has taken a close look at the current Irish taxation system. Here he offers a view of a different way of doing it, to be more equitable and eliminate the poverty trap for low-income earners, which could benefit people at all levels of society, including people with disabilities...

  • Universal income would give every adult a basic income every month.
  • This idea has been looked at and talked about for many decades.
  • It might be a way to free up people to take on other roles in society such as being a carer.
  • It might benefit the lesser well-off parts of society.
  • David Quinn’s figures make interesting reading.

Back in the 1930’s, The New Deal was an imaginative but wholly necessary series of programmes enacted in America between 1933 and 1938. They were inspired and enacted by Franklin D. Roosevelt as the means of ending The Great Depression. It involved all the R’s – Roosevelt, Relief, Recovery, Reform and preventing a Repeat of another depression. Not only did it work but its legacy is still in place today, with the FDIC (Federal Deposit Insurance Commission) and the SEC (Securities & Exchange Commission) amongst several institutions set up at that time. Some learned people suggest that the suspension of The New Deal’s bank regulatory legislation (Glass-Steagall Act) in the 1990’s marked the beginning of our 2008 financial melt-down.

So why do we in Ireland need another New Deal? Are we not recovering and well out of our recession? “Keep the recovery going” – whatever recovery was going on, it wasn’t and isn’t lifting all boats. Many people were and still are drowning in a perfect storm of reduced income, higher cost of living and penal rental costs and for those lucky enough to earn a decent income, are unable to buy their own home. My moral compass puts homelessness as our No.1 priority demanding immediate State provision, but on a wider basis, we also have to address this basic income issue for everyone as well.

What can we do? Increase Social Welfare rates? Increase wages? Take more lower-paid out of the tax net? All well-intentioned measures, but they don’t address the kernel of insufficient basic income for all. We’ve seen the fear and anger and anti-establishment sentiment that were and are a major part of the Brexit and Trump seismic events. And there’s more coming down the tracks, with Marine Le Pen looking to join this motley crew in a journey to God-knows-where. Do we have to put all our hope and faith for the future in the hands of Angela? Geez, how times have changed.

Our Social Welfare system is creaking and arguably, no longer able to provide the comprehensive support structure that our complex society now needs. We have different schemes for different special circumstances – all well-intentioned and absolutely necessary. Disability benefit, job-seekers benefit and allowance, sick-pay, maternity and now paternity benefit are amongst those benefits intended to support those who cannot work. Now, new child-care measures are being introduced. Applications are submitted, considered, approved, reviewed and hopefully they are paid to people who need to put food on the table today – and not in the perhaps 6 weeks or more that these applications might take to process fully. Those interest groups who organise, lobby and get their act together to mobilise their voting power are the ones who go to the top of a long queue for scarce State resources. Those who are tired, not as organised in mobilising their voting strength and too disparate get diddly-squat. There are lots of special-interest groups in the latter, and that includes the disability community.

Parallel to this we have the world-wide change in working patterns. We have no such thing as a ‘job for life’ any more. Science-fiction type stories about robots, automatically-driven cars and artificial intelligence suggest that we’re leaving Kansas with Dorothy, with huge implications for work/leisure life balances.

That said, in comparison with other countries, Ireland has reasonable levels of support paid to children (Child Benefit) of €140 per month and to older people (Contributory and Non-Contributory Pensions of more than €230 per week). But there are all those rules and regulations – some of these benefits are taxable although unlikely to result in actual tax deductions, exemptions for non-pension income up to a certain amount, means-testing, blah, blah, blah. The Irish Social Welfare system is complex, however – what the State gives with one hand can be taken back later as a “claw-back” if circumstances change. All benefits are subject to reviews, audits, appeals and local political intervention. The DSP seems to protect the State’s financial resources like they were minding their own Communion money. Pity the banks’ auditors and Department of Finance regulators weren’t as careful with our assets.

Those earning a regular income have the joys of income tax, social insurance and social charges deducted from their gross income. Revenue uses a variety of acronyms to make these more familiar – PAYE, PRSI, USC, P2C and now LPT, PRD and whatever you’re having yourself. We have different rates and bands and – oh yeah – tax credits as well. Nearly forgot about those – very important in the overall calculation of your tax deductions. Credits sound good, we all benefit from those right? Eh, no, afraid not. If you earn less than €16,500 per annum, you don’t earn enough to make full use of these valuable credits where there is a use ‘em or lose em’ rule. So those earning the lowest incomes get the least benefit from these credits.

Some groups get more credits than others. Some personal expenses are allowable for tax purposes. Not everyone knows what I’m talking about here, which is another reason why many people are not availing of their full entitlement and are currently paying too much tax. And that’s without trying to explain how pension contributions are used as an effective tax avoidance measure. You can check out www.revenue.ie for all of this information.

So why don’t lower-paid workers, whether employed or self-employed, get a refund of their unused tax credits? Nope – that good idea has been rejected by our political leaders, a dreadful, mean-spirited decision. Instead, we have a tax system that has innumerable gaps, loopholes and special provisions that keep the tax consultants in business giving their expertise to those higher up the food chain so as to minimise the higher-earners’ statutory deductions. Nothing illegal of course – tax avoidance is the smart play when we have to look after our own situation, isn’t it? And woe betide you if you accidentally mention tax evasion. You’ll have the libel lawyers write to you quicker than you can spell “o-o-p-s”.

Let me introduce you to an old idea. Basic Income goes back a long way. From Thomas More’s Utopia and the humanist Johannes Ludovicus Vives in the 16th century, to Thomas Paine (one of America’s founding fathers) in the 18th century, the idea was promoted further by French political philosopher Montesquieu when he wrote: “The State owes all its citizens a secure subsistence, food, suitable clothes and a way of life that does not damage their health”. [See History of Basic Income on www.basicincome.org]. It was called Social Dividend when promoted in Britain in the 1920’s where a basic income payment was to represent the return to each citizen on the capital owned by society. And in the 1960’s, J.K. Galbraith supported James Tobin’s proposal for a ‘demogrant’ – a universal, unconditional payment made to all citizens. Martin Luther King’s economic dream was for the government to provide every American with a guaranteed, middle-class income (1).

So no, I’m not proposing a wild wacky new idea. In fact, back in 2000, our government promised to look into the idea for Ireland in An Action Plan for the Millennium, and they published a Green Paper in 2002. It is still available on the Taoiseach’s website (2). Since then, there have been several research papers written, in alphabetical order, by John Baker, Micheál Collins, Seán Healy, Eamon Murphy, Bridget Reynolds, Michael Taft and Seán Ward. As well as Social Justice Ireland advocating for this, there is another group of individuals, Basic Income Ireland, and there is a wealth of background reading on their website, www.basicincomeireland.com.

Earlier this month, Social Justice Ireland hosted a day-long conference: “Basic Income – Radical Utopia or Practical Solution?”(3). In my view, it is both a radical and practical new solution. In John Lennon’s words, let’s imagine . . .

For the purposes of this example, we are using €10,000 as the level of Basic Income that is paid to all adults, with a little extra to our older folk. This is a rounding-up of the current €188 per week job-seekers benefit. A Universal Pension can replace the contributory and non-contributory pensions. The only conditions for receipt is that you are alive and not in prison. You have the choice of taking up paid employment without any risk to losing this Basic Income payment. Mind you, you’ll be taxed – but isn’t that only right, as long as it is fair and reasonable with a progressive tax system in place where those on lower levels of income pay less than those on higher levels? We should want all citizens to be engaged with the cost of the State’s service provision, and the removal of lower-paid earners from the tax net does not achieve that. Indeed, those citizens who don’t pay income tax or USC are implicitly excluded by some commentators who repeatedly refer to “taxpayers” when they should refer to “citizens”. This reinforces the sense of exclusion or semi-detachment of a large group of citizens from such commentary. In truth, all citizens are VAT tax-payers.

Some have suggested that the payment of an unconditional Basic Income would act as a disincentive to work. Yes, there are bound to be a few, but how many people would choose to live on €10,000 alone? There are bound to be changes to work patterns, but with work patterns changing so much, it can only be positive to give citizens more security and freedom to live their lives of choice. The real stumbling block that has prevented this idea from gaining a wider audience and consideration is the cost. How can it be funded out of general taxation? The 2002 Green Paper suggested that a flat tax rate of 48% would be required to fund a Basic Income of €95 per week (just under €5,000 per annum). At that time the top marginal rate of tax/PRSI was 52.5%. Whilst this Green Paper contains discussion of the uncertainty and behavioural consequences, much of the monetary analysis is considerably out-of-date. Other studies have quoted various rates of up to 65%. I know I’m taking a bit of a risk of being ridiculed, but I’ve done calculations that show that by using an imaginative range of tax rates and bands, the State can fund this project whilst holding the top, marginal tax rate to 57%, up from the current 52%. This range of rates addresses many of the negative consequences listed in the Green Paper.

To do this in a revenue-neutral manner, this proposal uses a set of 4 tax and USC rates that result in a perfectly structured progressive tax system, where the effective tax rate starts off from a negative rate, up to zero and then evenly upwards to a rate of 50% for those on a gross income of €200,000.

Subject to further development of this model, and also subject to corrections due to certain assumptions and presumptions included here, this proposal’s figures show the following:

table of figuresCurrent 2016 figures are based on:

Tax Credit of €3,300, Standard Rate Cut-Off point of €33,800, Class A PRSI and Standard USC rates.

Next New Deal calculations are based on:

  • Basic Income of €10,000 paid tax free to everyone
  • No tax credit, 4 rates of Income starting at 10%, then 25%, 40% and top rate of 42%
  • Employee PRSI contribution added to new and higher USC rates of 5%, 10% and 15% with smaller bands
  • Initial USC rate of 40% on the first €10,000. This reflects USC becoming a Universal Social Contribution, helping to fund the universal Basic Income of the same amount
  • Employer PRSI to continue and increase to 15%, in line with other EU States, payable by employers and self-employed.

Note that Revenue’s PAYE tax and USC computer systems, together with most if not all current payroll software providers can cater for up to 5 rates of tax and 5 rates of USC.

So, what is this table is telling us?

  • If you earn €5,000 gross, your total nett income will be €12,500, inclusive of the Basic Income of €10,000, an increase of €7,500.
  • If you earn €50,000 gross, your total nett income is pretty much the same, just €40 lower.
  • If you earn €100,000 gross, your total nett income is just over €3,000 less than the current nett of €60,491.

But more importantly, look at the effective rate of deductions. This table shows that the new nett income starts at €10,000, with “negative” effective tax rates on earnings of up to €24,000. This means that an employee earning up to €24,000 receives more in Basic Income than they pay in tax and USC.

From that point onwards, an employee’s new nett pay continues to be more than the current system until they earn €50,000. After that, the employee is paying more tax/USC than now, with a more progressive tax system showing a gradual increase to an effective tax rate of 50% for employees who enjoy an income of €200,000.

So where’s the catch? Well, apart from the higher-earners’ small increase in their effective tax rates and employers paying a higher PRSI contribution, you tell me.

Who could complain about a new structure of Social Welfare and Tax/USC that provides the following benefits:

  1. Simple, equal provision of State resources to all its citizens
  2. Removes any possible stigma or loss of dignity of having to apply for Social Welfare benefits
  3. Provides a basic income that is sufficient to live frugally if not comfortably, plugging many poverty traps
  4. Allows citizens to exercise choice to pursue entrepreneurial or artistic enterprises in the knowledge that they will continue to have this basic income to tie them over
  5. Allows citizens to choose to take time from paid employment to spend unpaid time providing care to others, including children and older members of their family or other voluntary works
  6. Allows citizens the option to pursue further education or training with the comfort of maintaining a basic income for the duration of the course
  7. Allows citizens who are already in receipt of job-seekers benefit to pursue any possible employment, care or educational option knowing that their Basic Income is not at risk.

I’m sure there are many more benefits – can you think of a set of circumstances where someone you know can’t pursue their preferred course of action because of the imperative of either staying in their current lower-paid job or keeping their benefit entitlement?

On a wider basis, I’m told that there is research to show that raising the income of the lower waged has a really positive consequence on general health and well-being. Mental health is an obvious one here, with the reduction in poverty and stress. Not all poverty traps would be plugged with this New Deal, but it would certainly have a huge influence in guaranteeing an improvement for the most marginalised in our society, including the homeless.

Staying with the macro, the economy would enjoy a significant benefit from the additional spending power of those lower-waged citizens. Economists can help us here, but with an estimated €6bn increase in total nett pay of those earning up to €50,000, there should be a sizeable volume of additional spending, with extra VAT coming into the State’s coffers, extra employment, etc.

And don’t forget the possible elimination of or reduction in a raft of existing special purpose State benefits, such as illness benefit, student grants, enterprise support grants, amongst others. Lots of other benefits will of course be unaffected, such as the household benefits package, free travel, DCA, one-parent family payments, etc.

Figures available from Revenue have been used in this model to show that the State can afford to make this happen. Calculations have been made to compute the change in State revenues arising from this proposal. Rates and bands could be tweaked further to ensure that this remains revenue-neutral. These calculations would need to be reviewed and validated by eminent experts in this field. Those experts might also be able to put figures on the other financial consequences of this major far-reaching seismic change in public policy. But the structure of a Basic Income plus an imaginative use of tax and USC rates and bands can work.

Are we up for it? Have we, as a country, not shown a willingness and eagerness to embrace major changes in our lives – in my lifetime, we’ve had the EEC/EU, the euro currency, no-smoking ban, divorce, same-sex marriage, to name a few. We changed our PAYE system from the old tax tables and tax-free allowances to the current system pretty much overnight. To quote Obama, “yes we can” be progressive and radical. Remember that the proposed Basic Income of €10,000 amounts to only 55% of the average nett pay if you were on the minimum wage, so nobody will go wild on it. But it guarantees the ability to live frugally, without oversight or assessment by any State body or official. That has to improve one’s self-respect and, over time, it will allow every citizen to seek to pursue their preferred activities, paid and unpaid.

Once we guarantee this basic dignity and income to all citizens, then the State can continue to address its responsibilities to meet the needs of those who need extra, additional support – the homeless, the sick and the families affected by the additional cost of disability come to mind immediately!

The 2002 Green Paper quotes an article by Bill Jordan discussing the writings on Philippe Van Parijs (1992):

“Other commentators have argued for Basic Income as the only effective remedy for social exclusion, seeing means-tested social assistance schemes as are prevalent throughout the Developed World as creating a permanent underclass. A Basic Income system overcomes this problem by removing the poverty and unemployment traps, thus giving the excluded minority access to the market system of reward for individual effort, and secondly by giving everyone a universal share of resources on grounds of membership (citizenship), thus acting as a mechanism for including all in the common good. Seen in this light, Basic Income is a necessity to preserve democracy in the face of deteriorating social relations and withdrawal of participation by those who feel excluded”.

And that was written nearly 25 years before Brexit and Trump!

As a nation celebrating 100 years since the proclamation that promised so much, I submit that it is time for us to look at a better way of meeting the needs of our citizens – all of our citizens, equally and fairly and transparently. Let’s all start imagining . . .

 

References:

(1) Martin Luther King “Where Do We Go From Here: Chaos or Community” 1967

(2) Social Justice Ireland “Basic Income – Radical Utopia or Practical Solution?” Croke Park, 22nd November 2016 http://www.socialjustice.ie/content/civil-society-policy/social-policy-conference-2016

(3) Basic Income: Government Green Paper September 2002 http://www.taoiseach.gov.ie/upload/publications/1660.pdf

Author Bio

David Quinn is Managing Director of Pascal Software, is a member of the Board of Directors of Inclusion Ireland and is also a member of the Social Democrat party.

  • Adrian discusses important topics such as medical cards and charges
  • He thinks the government and ministers dont understand people with disabilities and their families
  • He thinks a proper dialogue and understanding needs to be had by all parties

Will Government Ministers and TDs listen properly to the needs of People with Intellectual Disabilities & their Families?

I don’t think so, because Government and most TDs don’t think the needs of people with intellectual disabilities and their families are important enough.

The Government and TDs  just don’t understand how hard life is for us as people with intellectual disabilities and our families, with the constant cuts to services and secondary benefits/allowances like the phone allowance and the mobility allowance.

The prescription charges are a tax on people’s medication and has to be removed, and this prescription charge is hard on people with disabilities who are taking medication. It has jumped since this government came to power From 50 cent to €2.50, and is a very low blow, to tax medication which is vital for people with disabilities to take. If you have to take five different medications the bill could reach to €20 euro a month.

With news of the abuse of People with Intellectual Disabilities in services breaking nearly every month, it looks like the disability sector is in a mess. This is due to the lack of action from government / previous governments to make sure these services are protecting the clients’ human and civil rights, by making sure the clients’ needs come first and not that of the management or service.

Government agencies (i.e. Social Welfare, HSE to name two) seem to work against people with Intellectual disabilities & their families and friends. That is a view of a lot of people with Intellectual Disabilities.

The amount of forms and meetings and phone calls you have to make or give information or sign just to get your disability, invalidity and domiciliary benefits/allowances and apply for medical cards is ridiculous and should be made easier.

Even when you sign and give all this information, you might not get your benefits or medical card, if your mother and father are working, or your disability is not on their list of certain disabilities you don’t come under.

Just because your mum or dad is working you should not be punished. Your disability allowance and your medical card are yours, not your parents’. That should be looked at in the way they look how much you earn, and not take your parents wages into consideration.

The amount this stress causes to people with intellectual disability and their families & friends can be very hard. This is why the process of access to government services/agencies should be easier to access, and look at the person with intellectual disability and their needs – see the person, not how much it will cost the state.

This is why we need Government Ministers and TDs, and agencies to be given disability awareness training, and listen to people with intellectual disabilities and their families’ needs on how to make our life better.

We as people with intellectual disability and our family, friends and Self/Peer Advocates want Government, TDs and their agencies to look behind the Form or the PPS Number and see the Person with intellectual Disability and our family, friends and Self/Peer Advocates and to listen to our needs properly, by sitting down and speaking to us face to face and show us and our family and the self-advocates/peer advocates the respect we deserve.

This is what Government TDs and other party TDs need to do if they want my vote.

Author Bio

Adrian-NoonanAdrian Noonan is a Disability Self Advocate/Peer Advocate. He is P.R.O. of Seasamh, the Inclusion Ireland Self-Advocacy sub-Committee, and also of The National Platform of Self-Advocates.

Jerome Corby argues that the disability sector in Ireland needs a strong voice at the government table, in order to ensure people with disabilities are adequately supported and resourced as the Irish economy emerges from recession.

  • Jerome takes a look at the outgoing government
  • He thinks Kathleen Lynch has done a good job overall
  • We need to make sure that the next government Health ministers have disability as one of their priorities
  • There is talk of the Ministry for Health being split in two. This might be a good thing for the disability sector

As we approach the possibility of a government being formed, it’s worth reflecting on what is required of a new Health ministry with responsibility for improving the lives of people with disability and their families.

After what can likely be termed an admirable performance by the outgoing Minister of State with special responsibility for Primary Care, Social Care (Disabilities & Older People) and Mental Health, Kathleen Lynch, it has to be recognised that the greatest problem during that time was that she and Ministers Reilly & Varadkar had way too many strings to pull to be able to bring improvement to them all. Resources which were deemed to be scarce in the early days of this administration are difficult to free up now we seem to be seeing some economic recovery. Fine Gael are historically good at keeping the reins pulled tight, even as the perceived need for austerity subsides.

When the general consensus would seem to be that recovery is not happening for all citizens, perhaps that situation can be helped if a minister is appointed in the next government with sole responsibility for disabilities?

Let’s see where we would appear to be at after 5 years of the Fine Gael / Labour coalition. Ms. Lynch lists among her government’s achievements the implementation of free GP care for under-6s and over-70s, and raising awareness of mental health issues; for advances, she has pointed to improvements in (among others) perinatal mental health, and dual diagnosis – all of these are potentially beneficial for the lives of people whose care may be served by multiple areas of the healthcare system.

Regarding free GP care, it would appear that extending it to all citizens is not on the cards, given that the outgoing government believed us to be light on GPs anyway – everyone knows that keeping newly-qualified GPs in Ireland is a concern. But in a government where Lynch’s voice was being heard, we might have expected free GP care to spread to a broader age range at least. At any rate, that whole area is set to occupy a large part of any new healthcare administration’s time over the coming 5 years.

The modern world gives us more than enough reason for close attention to the issue of mental health – the challenges are greater, and coming from a wider range of contributory factors now than ever before.  The outgoing government did make efforts to increase independence for people with disabilities, and those with mental health problems, and at least propounded the idea of strengthening primary care services by consolidation of GP practices into primary care centres.

Inclusion Ireland have expressed concern at the lack of attention to disability in various organisations’ short-term plans (see http://www.inclusionireland.ie/content/media-releases). Examples, among others, are the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission IHREC Strategy 2016-2018, the delay in implementing a volunteer advocacy programme in residential centres as advised by HSE following the Áras Attracta events, and the poor state of respite care services. During the early days of the last administration, http://IrishHealth.com observed that Minister Reilly needed to kick-start hygiene inspections by HIQA in healthcare settings. Add to these the concerns raised by various groups with the intrusive nature of those highly valuable HIQA inspections, and there would seem to be enough material to occupy a minister exclusively for a significant part of the next government’s tenure.

The Assisted Decision-Making (Capacity) Act 2015 has served to repeal the Victorian-era Lunacy Regulation (Ireland) Act 1871 and the Marriage of Lunatics Act 1811. The arrival of this legislation means persons with intellectual disabilities can make decisions for themselves in law. The new Act also removes a significant barrier to ratification of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD). This is surely a game-changer that will require some focus from the incumbent minister(s), senior or junior.

However, the focus of government to date, on simply smoothing the way for business, to the exclusion of other concerns, (“best little country to do business in” etc.), has meant increased disillusionment among the people who depend on government to provide adequate care and basic services. Moves towards the privatisation of water and public transport, the placement of private consultant services above public treatment in publicly-funded hospitals (which many believe to be the genesis and growth of the trolley problem), all are contributing to the national sense that profit is the purpose of good government, not the provision of a workable social and healthcare system for the people as a whole.

The obvious effort to “remove public housing from the nation’s balance-sheet”, which amounted to the dismantling of county-council-based building and maintenance services, is patently aimed at giving over this public concern to private interests. This has resulted in the building of little or no public housing in the period of the past government, which means homelessness for a considerable section of the population, and it is a major cause for concern throughout the country. Add to this the alarming situation where existing houses in the public system get boarded up for months on end with no repair or maintenance, and you have a population raising a serious eyebrow.

Simply put, the political tenet that economy wins over everything else is fuelling discontent. Most people in a sophisticated, educated society acknowledge that modern market-based economic conditions demand countries to be financially viable, but governments appear to be stumbling into electoral failure by working to that belief and ignoring the necessity for public services to remain public.

Fiscal function and the profit motive together can serve to change the focus of organisations or companies away from the provision of services, and swamp efforts to make a thriving economy serve all of its people equally. Compassion is easily relegated to the sidelines in this scenario, and history has shown time and again that there is much to be lost socially when we let that happen.

The last government spoke of the possibility of splitting the Senior Health ministry into two, one for urgent care/hospitals, and one for social services and primary care – this sounds interesting. One likelihood for people with disabilities and their families is that they will have greater need of more of the services typically provided by a healthcare system, than people without disabilities.

The provision of a junior ministry at least with sole responsibility for disability would seem to make sense, given that resources would appear to go to those that make most noise at budget time? We all know that one of the keys to unlocking budgetary resources is accountability – surely this separation of health functions would go some way to easing the job of reporting cost and expenditure information. The question there is, does government want financial information easily available to the public?

And of course, if you are more concerned on a national basis with profitability than care for those of us less fortunate, then carry on as before. Perhaps though, it is something for such a minister to bring to future discussions with government – to separate resourcing from finance generation and allow the principle of adequate service provision at least a competitive voice in the fight for resources in this more affluent modern world? If that voice was as strong and interested as that of Kathleen Lynch in the previous Dáil, it would be no bad thing.

Author Bio

Jerome CorbyJerome Corby is copy-editor for Frontline Magazine, and an interested citizen.

John Dolan, Seanadóir and CEO of the Disability Federation of Ireland, was successful in his bid for the Seanad in 2016. Here, he outlines his reasons for entering the race...

  • John Dolan works in the Disability Federation of Ireland (DFI) and he is running for election to the Seanad in 2016
  • One person in eight has a disability so they deserve a voice in the Seanad
  • The economy is getting better so we need to make sure that the disability area gets better funding

I have been asked to outline why I am a candidate for the Seanad election.

Put simply the Dail is the assembly of publicly elected representatives who elect the Taoiseach, eventually, and to whom the Government report. The Seanad is elected by less than 1,200 people, namely the members of every County and City Council, the newly elected TDs and the outgoing 60 Seanad members. Its members are to come from a broad array of areas of Irish society and are required to bring practical knowledge and experience to the work of the Oireachtas, where they complement the membership and focus of the Dail. This has not been the practice to date, as the Seanad is seen and used by political parties to support their desire for enhanced Dail membership.

The sixty Seanad members are spread across five vocational panels along with the two university panels. I am running in the Administrative Panel, which is concerned with public administration and social services.

Disability Federation of Ireland (DFI) along with eleven other voluntary disability organisations are entitled to nominate candidates to contest the Seanad election on the Administrative panel. After working with these nominating bodies it was decided that two candidates would be chosen to run, myself and Lorraine Dempsey, Chairperson of the Special Needs Parents Association.

Voluntary disability organisations have always comprised the majority of the nominating bodies. Over the years, with this in mind and being well aware that disability is a major societal issue, it was easy to come to the conclusion that the Seanad is a legitimate and potentially powerful place for the disability inclusion voice to be heard. One person in eight, 600,000 people, have a disability and then there is the impact on their families and loved ones.

The outgoing Government has recently, and eventually, committed to ratification of the UN CRPD (United Nations Convention on the Rights of People with Disabilities); Ireland has stopped being in recession; The severe cuts to services and incomes for people with disabillities, and the growing numbers – these were all critical reasons for me in putting myself forward to seek election. Allied to this we were hearing that the recovery had arrived and now there are constant demands by public servants and others for the restoration of pay levels and for increased spending on a range of public services. Quite simply, the voice of the 600,000 needs to be heard also.

All was far from well for disabled people and their families before the recession. Ireland was only at the start of a journey to ensure full and equal inclusion. We did not hear about too many disabled folk losing jobs throughout the recession simply because they were not in jobs to begin with.

There is another element to my reason to seek to be in the next Seanad. DFI ran a strong public campaign, DisableInequality.ie, in order to have disability inclusion as a core part of the focus of the new Government. Having someone from the broad disability movement in the Seanad would further support that objective. That campaign seeks a Cabinet Minister for Disability Inclusion to drive and co-ordinate a whole-of-government approach to ratification and implementation of the UN CRPD and an Oireachtas committee on disability Inclusion as well as the immediate reversal of the cuts that have taken place as a start on the road to inclusion.

Author Bio

10 - John Dolan - DFI and the Seanad Elections 2016

Senator John Dolan is CEO of the Disability Federation of Ireland, and was a successful candidate in the 2016 Seanad Éireann elections.
Twitter: @SenatorJDolan