Decision-making workshops

by Máiríde Woods, Advocacy Executive, Citizen’s Information Board

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Capacity, consent and all issues around decision-making continue to account for a large volume of the queries received by Inclusion Ireland. Following on from a successful workshop on these issues in early 2010, Inclusion Ireland’s Training and Development Officer Sarah Lennon provided workshops for parents and professionals in Newbridge, Dublin, Castlebar and Galway in November 2010- Workshops include discussion on guardianship; ward of court; enduring power of attorney; inheritance, wills and trust funds; consent; and the future of law in Ireland.

Workshops aim to provide information on what can be a very complex, but important, area. Capacity relates to a person’s ability, or perceived inability, to make decisions in every area of their life, including moving house, signing off on a medical procedure and spending money. While Inclusion Ireland represents people with an intellectual disability, this issue also affects older people with dementia and people with mental 1871.

Despite repeated promises from Government, Inclusion Ireland understands that a capacity bill will not be introduced before the end of the current Dáil session. There have been repeated promises of new capacity law since 2008.

Modern legislation in this area is needed before Ireland can ratify the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. Ireland was among the first countries to sign the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities on March 30th 2007. Then Justice Minister Michael McDowell said it would be ratified “as soon as possible”.

Nearly four years later we are still waiting. Inclusion Ireland has a petition online calling for modern capacity law. This petition will remain online until new law is brought in.

A restructured service

Amid all the bad news—a small green shoot! A new National Advocacy Service is to be set up to provide independent, representative advocacy to people with disabilities. It builds on the work of the pilot advocacy projects which were set up by the Citizens Information Board and managed by different community and voluntary groups and agencies around the country. The new service will also be supported by the Citizens Information Board (the agency which received a legislative mandate to provide disability advocacy in 2007) and will be managed by five Citizens Information Services (CIS). The Minister for Social Protection, Éamon Ó Cuív TD made the announcement on 5 October 2010.

The restructured Service will operate within current CIB resources, which means that there won’t be any extra advocates. It follows many of the recommendations of the Round Table Evaluation report available on the CIB website.

The evaluators were extremely impressed by the services set up and the numbers of clients seen over the five-year life of the projects and found that advocacy was of major importance for people with disabilities. In some cases it empowered them to speak, in others it gave them a voice when dealing with officials and attending reviews and case conferences. In a few projects, the advocate also had a watching brief to see that very vulnerable people’s rights were respected. Some advocates engaged in long-term developmental work with people living in institutional care. However, there were gaps in advocacy coverage and the evaluation also recommended changes which would extend the reach of the service to all people with disabilities. By grouping advocates in teams under five managers it also aims to give added support, reduce isolation and make it easier to provide an independent service with consistent high standards.

Information Services

CIS offices in Dublin, Westmeath, Offaly, Waterford and Leitrim have been selected for the role of regional employers and are involved at present in putting together their teams. These will have a regional manager, a senior advocate and 5.8 advocates who will be located in different centres around the region, and who will meet together regularly for support, monitoring and review.

Everyone hopes that the new service will move advocacy into the foreground and make it more available and more powerful for the person with a disability. It will be difficult to spread the advocates over the numbers of people who will need them, but it is an important move towards better access to rights and participation for a disadvantaged group.