Briefing for TDs and Senators on school leavers
At the end of June, the Disability Rights Coalition Ireland (DRCI) held a briefing for TDs and Senators on issues affecting school leavers. Every year young adults leaving school and training who need further supports from disability services face an anxious and stressful summer as they wait to hear what, if any, service will be available for them. The DRCI briefing aimed to shift the focus of this debate, and to educate politicians on the many issues involved. A spokesperson for the DRCI said ‘the debate usually centres on what money is available, and little attention is given to the ambitions of the young people affected and what they want from their post-school education or training service. There is also little attention given to the quality of the service, how many days at the service are being made available, or the way families and the young people are communicated with about what happens after school or RT.’ At the time of writing, there were many young people across the country who need a post-school service, who still did not know if a place would be available. The DRCI repeated its call for forward planning and consultation with families.
Where do Children with Disabilities fit in the new Child & Family Support Agency?
Inclusion Ireland has called for clarity on where children with disabilities will fit in the new Child and Family Support Agency. Newspaper reports in June suggested that psychologists within the HSE are very concerned at the impact of transferring child psychological services to the new agency, given the Agency’s primary focus on child protection and welfare. 80% of referrals to the HSE’s psychology service are not child protection issues.
Inclusion Ireland CEO Paddy Connolly said children with disabilities are in danger of being forgotten, and falling between two stools: ‘The transfer of large parts of HSE expertise into this new entity comes at a time when the HSE is undertaking a significant reform of children’s disability services under the Progressing Disability Services for Children and Young People change process. There is no sense of coherency between the two processes. Inclusion Ireland, along with other stakeholders involved in developing services for children with a disability, raised these concerns with the new Agency back in 2012. There has been no response to these concerns.’
Inclusion Ireland also looked for clarification on what the ‘family support’ part of the agency is, given the enormous strain on families as they battle waiting lists and bureaucracy.
Magdalene Report shows state repeating past failures
The Irish Human Rights Commission (IHRC) published a report on Magdalene Laundries in June, saying some of the past failures of the state ‘are still evident today.’
The IHRC’s Follow-up Report on State Involvement with Magdalene Laundries says Ireland must deal with the legacy of the laundries by ensuring ‘structural issues evident in the history of Magdalene Laundries’ treatment of girls and women do not recur.’ Many of these recommendations center on state-funded services for people with an intellectual disability, including:
■ Ensuring organisations carrying out services on behalf of the state are complying with the state’s obligation to respect, protect and fulfil the human rights of those being provided with a service;
■ Introduce modern capacity legislation;
■ End the inappropriate placement of people with an intellectual disability in psychiatric hospitals;
■ Address ‘residual concerns from the institutional care model’.
It also said comprehensive compensation was needed for survivors of Magdalene laundries, including unpaid wages and pensions and rehab for forced labour. It said: ‘Girls and women placed in the Magdalene laundries did not have their human rights fully respected in relation to equality, liberty, respect for private lives, education, and to be free from forced or compulsory labour or servitude.’ Earlier this year, Justice Quirke was charged with establishing an ex-gratia scheme and supports for the women affected. He recommended that the women in question should all receive cash payments of between €11,500 to €100,000-The full IHRC Report is available at www.ihrc.ie.
Resource hours cut reversed, but concerns remain over SNAs
Education Minister Ruairí Quinn announced cuts to resource teaching hours in June, but subsequently reversed his decision. However, concerns remain over allocations of Special Needs Assistants (SNAs). If the proposed cut to resource hours had gone ahead, it would have resulted in an effective 25% cutback in teaching supports for children with disabilities over the last three years, as there was a reduction in teaching supports in 2011 and 2012. The cumulative effect of these reductions (had they been implemented) would have meant that children who were entitled to five hours teaching support a week in 2010 would only receive 3.75 hours in the 2013/2014 school year. Following outrage over the proposed cut, Minister Quinn said an extra 500 new posts for resource teachers will be released this September to cope with the rise in demand.
However, in spite of this reversal, a planned protest still went ahead in June outside Leinster House and in towns around the country over education cuts affecting children with special educational needs, as many parents still feel children with additional support needs have taken the brunt of education cutbacks. There were also remaining concerns over SNA allocations. While the number of allocations for SNAs has not changed for the coming school year and remains at 10,575, there is a higher number of children requiring support from an SNA in the coming school year, so this cap will impact on the support children receive. A number of advocacy groups representing children with special education needs expressed concern that children will only have ‘shared access’ to an SNA. Speaking recently, Minister Quinn said €1.3bn will be spent in support of children who require special needs assistance this year. He added that cuts of €44 million are required for next year’s education budget and this will present a ‘difficult challenge’.
Publication of the National Disability Strategy Implementation Plan
The Minister for Disability, Equality, Mental Health and Older People, Kathleen Lynch, announced the publication of the National Disability Strategy Implementation Plan in July. The publication of the Plan was a commitment in the 2011 Programme for Government. Minister Lynch said it is a significant step forward in ensuring progress is achieved in implementing the National Disability Strategy over the next three years. She said it ‘calls to action all individuals, organisations, local and national government to think positively about disability… It is an opportunity to build on the progress achieved by the Strategy to date and ensure going forward that people with disabilities have more choice and control in their lives, can reach their full potential and can participate in the everyday life of the community.’
The High Level Goals of the Plan are that people with disabilities are free from discrimination; are supported to live the life they choose; live ordinary lives in ordinary places, participating in the life of the community; and are enabled to reach their full potential. Each goal has specific objectives and actions through which it will be achieved. The Plan is available on the Department of Justice and Equality website, www.justice.ie.
Decision-Making (Capacity) Bill published—Lunacy Act 1871 finally to be replaced
Inclusion Ireland was among the many groups who have welcomed publication of the Assisted Decision-Making (Capacity) Bill.. Once passed, the Bill will replace the Lunacy Regulations Act 1871, and the Wards of Court system. Inclusion Ireland CEO Paddy Connolly said Inclusion Ireland has been campaigning for change in this area for over ten years, and has published many booklets and information leaflets to help people navigate the difficulties arising from Ireland’s outdated decision-making law. He congratulated and thanked Justice Minister Alan Shatter and Junior Minister Kathleen Lynch for their commitment to getting the Bill published, in addition to the Oireachtas Justice Committee which had heard submissions on the issue in 2012. Mr Connolly said ‘previous legislation governing this area termed people with intellectual disabilities, those with mental health problems and older people with dementia, as “lunatics” and facilitated a system that took away a person’s right to make decisions about their life.’ He said the new Bill fulfils a key promise in the 2011 Programme for Government and will hopefully allow for ratification of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.
Inclusion Ireland is holding focus groups on the Bill in early September, in addition to an information seminar with Leap and NUI Galway in late August. This is in preparation for Inclusion Ireland’s submission to the Department of Justice on the Bill. The Department of Justice will hold discussions on the Bill at the end of September, and the Bill will proceed through the Houses of the Oireachtas stages when the Dáil resumes in September.