CHECK AGAINST DELIVERY
Tá an-áthas orm an tairiscint seo a thabhairt os comhair an Tí an tráthnóna seo le haghaidh díospóireachta, thar ceann mo chomhghleacaí, an tUasal Cathal Ó Flannagáin, Teachta Dála, an tAire Dlí agus Cirt agus Comhionannais. Ní haon ábhar iontais do chomhghleacaithe é a chloisteáil go bhfáiltím roimh an tairiscint chun téarmaí Choinbhinsiún na Náisiún Aontaithe ar Chearta Daoine faoi Mhíchumas a cheadú, agus go dtacaím go hiomlán leis an tairiscint sin, agus tá a fhios agam go bhfuil tacaíocht ann don tairiscint ó gach Páirtí sa Teach.
Ba mhaith liom, chomh maith, fáilte a chur roimh na daoine san áiléar poiblí a bhfuil spéis acu sa tsain-cheist seo.
The purpose of the Convention is to promote, protect and ensure the full and equal enjoyment of all human rights and fundamental freedoms by all persons with disabilities, and to promote respect for their inherent dignity.
Article 29.5.2 of the Constitution provides that the State shall not be bound by any international agreement involving a charge upon public funds unless the terms of the agreement shall have been approved by Dáil Éireann. The operation by Ireland of this Convention will involve a charge upon public funds and I am therefore asking the House for its approval. I call on colleagues here today to support the motion so that Ireland can internationally demonstrate its commitment to ensuring that persons with disabilities are afforded every opportunity to realise their potential in all facets of their lives.
Ireland signed the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities in 2007 and ratification of the Convention has been a top priority for me since I was appointed as Minister of State with responsibility for Disability Issues. Ratification was a key commitment in the Programme for Government.
As a result of this motion and in the event that is passed, my colleague the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade will sign the necessary Instrument of Ratification and arrange for its deposit with the Secretary General of the United Nations in New York. The Convention will enter into force for Ireland 30 days thereafter.
The Convention provides for the making of certain reservations, declarations and notifications by contracting States and Ireland will, on ratification make appropriate reservations and declarations to reflect our laws. It is Ireland’s practice to keep reservations to human rights treaties under review.
All sides of the House are proud of Ireland’s domestic human rights record and we are dedicated to continuous improvement where equality, and human and fundamental rights are concerned. The Convention offers us an opportunity to reassess our attitudes to people with disabilities and to place a renewed focus on their place in society, to rebalance the right of people with disabilities to make decisions for themselves, rather than have decisions made for them.
Disability is an issue that will affect all of us in our lifetimes. Many of us have family members, friends and colleagues living with a disability. In an ageing society we are more likely to live to an age where we could experience disability ourselves. According to recent results from Census 2016, there are almost 645,000 people living with a disability in Ireland.
Given the challenge in the appropriate allocation of resources to support people with disabilities, I have always placed a strong emphasis on securing adequate funding with €1.76 Billion allocated by the Department of Health for disability services in 2018 representing an increase of 4.4% on 2017. Furthermore, in December of 2017, I announced the securing of an additional €10 million funding for respite care.
But it’s not just about funding: we need to challenge attitudes and recognise the valuable contribution that persons with disabilities can make to our economy and society when supported to do so. We need to focus on ability rather than disability.
In Ireland, we have strong equality legislation which prevents discrimination on the basis of disability, however people with disabilities are still only half as likely to be in employment as others of working age. This is why we launched the Comprehensive Employment Strategy for People with Disabilities in 2015.
The Strategy sets out a ten-year approach to ensuring that people with disabilities who are able to, and want to, work are supported and enabled to do so. It is a cross-government approach that brings together actions by different departments and state agencies in a concerted effort to address the barriers and challenges that impact on employment of people with disabilities. In tandem with that, it seeks to ensure there will be joined-up services and supports at local level to support individuals on their journey into and in employment.
The Strategy contains commitments in relation to:
An increase in the public service employment target of people with disabilities on a phased basis from 3% to 6%.
Special public service competitions for people with disabilities and the opening up of alternative recruitment channels for people with disabilities.
The provision of an NDA-assisted employer helpline to provide expert guidance and peer support to employers in relation to the employment of staff with disabilities. (This was established in January 2016).
These are concrete examples of how Ireland will fulfil its obligations under the Convention.
There has been some criticism of the length of time it has taken for Ireland to ratify the Convention and the fact that we are the last EU member state to do so. While I do accept that the delay has been significant, I must also assert that Ireland takes its international obligations very seriously.
This country has embarked on an era of unprecedented change in services for people with disabilities over recent years which means were are now ready to meet those obligations. In July 2017, I launched the National Disability Inclusion Strategy. It takes a whole of Government approach to improving the lives of people with disabilities and contains more than 100 measurable and time-specific actions that relate to the areas of education, employment, provision of public services, health, transport, and personal safety and autonomy.
The strategy and the robust monitoring framework supported by the National Disability Authority leaves us well placed to respond to the requirements of the Convention.
In the context of ‘Living in the Community’, we will continue to implement Time to Move On, to give people with disabilities who currently reside in institutions the choice and control over where and with whom they live.
Relevant to this is the Programme for Government commitment to reduce the number of people living in congregated settings by at least one-third by 2021 and to ultimately close all congregated settings. The National Housing Strategy for People with a Disability 2011 – 2016, has been extended to 2020 to support this objective.
Another key commitment in the Programme for Partnership Government was the establishment of a Task Force on Personalised Budgets for people with disabilities, which I launched in September 2016. The Task Force has been asked to recommend an approach and an implementation strategy for the introduction of personalised budgets in Ireland.
The Taskforce is currently finalising its report on how Personalised Budgets can be used within the existing envelope of funding which provides supports to people with a disability under the HSE’s Disability Services programme. The work of the Task Force on sustainability, and on many other policy issues, is very much informed by the international evidence on personalised budgets and indeed by the pilot projects carried out here in Ireland in recent years. I am confident that the lessons learned from other jurisdictions will help to optimise the introduction of personalised budgets here. This Taskforce is an example of my thinking and belief regarding people with a disability - that we must allow them to say how they wish to lead their lives. It will be a core element in responding to one of the fundamental principles of the Convention that there be ‘respect for inherent dignity, individual autonomy including the freedom to make one’s own choices, and independence of persons.’
Since the publication of the 2015 Roadmap to Ratification we have embarked on a substantive programme of legislative reform to align our domestic legislation with the terms of the Convention.
The Assisted Decision-Making (Capacity) Act 2015 provides for a comprehensive reform of the law on decision-making capacity that aligns with Article 12 of the Convention and provides for the setting up of a new body called the Decision Support Service.
The Criminal Law (Sexual Offences) Act 2017 has reformed Section 5 of the Criminal Law (Sexual Offences) Act 1993 to align with Article 23 of the Convention and facilitate the full participation in family life of persons with intellectual disabilities and the full expression of their human rights.
I am determined that respect and dignity are at the core of Government decisions in this area. We have progressed a long way as a society from times where the existence of a disability was a reason for automatic segregation, from the dominance of the paternalistic medical model that viewed disability as something to be either cured or ignored.
Our focus is now firmly on inclusion and this is as a result of the efforts of committed family members, carers, public representatives and activists who have worked tirelessly to ensure that the voices of persons with disabilities are heard and that they can take up their rightful place as visible and active members of our society.
Becoming parties to the Convention provides a focus and structure to our journey, reaffirms our aspiration to improve the lives of persons with Disabilities in Ireland and holds us to account in our commitments.
Molaim an tairiscint seo don Teach.