John Dolan Statement 12th May 2014
Outside Leinster House
Check against delivery
Today is not really about these elections, and we have two by-elections also. It is about the future for people with disabilities and their families. More correctly it is about whether they will have a future. It is also about the future of the people of Ireland.
Since 2008 there have been consistent and growing cuts to necessary services and income supports directly to people and also to their families. People with disabilities and their families are now the taken for granted and left to fend for themselves.
There is not sufficient ambition or a coherent whole of government plan to ensure that services are protected and to accommodate the growing levels of need.
Let me remind you of what our Taoiseach and Tánaiste said in the final televised debate two days before the general election, when they named disability as their key social justice issue,
"I think it would be looking after people with disabilities............the first area that Labour in Government would address, in terms of equality and in terms of giving decent supports to people would be the area of disabilities. I think, as a country, we need to set that as a priority." Eamon Gilmore,
He was followed by Enda Kenny who said "That's very laudable. I share that, and I feel an absolute priority should be the 300,000 people who suffer from mental illness every year and 75,000 who attempt self-harm, and a ratcheting up for the people who have the tragedy of suicide."
In August 2012 it was announcement that €10m was to be cut from the Personal Assistance budget because the Troika required it. This cut would have caused the immediate closure of that scheme for the rest of the year, meaning that people would not have support to get them out of bed and organised to get on with the day like anyone else. In February 2013 the Government abolished the Mobility Allowance and Motorised Transport Grant schemes citing "equality" issues.
The Government commitment that people on the Long Term Illness card would, as a priority action, get access to a free GP card, to commence in 2012, was scrapped and now there is a commitment to give free GP visit cards to all under six children. Resources are scarce yet the Government are not able to prioritise where the resources go while continually talking of "looking after those most in need".
There are now repeated calls for pay increases and tax cuts. There must be no further consideration of these until Ireland has a credible and functioning infrastructure to support for people with disabilities and their families.
Those involved in the government of Ireland whether at national, European or local levels have to confront one question, how to make decisions about the spending of public money and to understand that what they do makes clear what their priorities, values and motivations are.
The people to be elected to our local authorities and the European Parliament need to name this area and consistently work for its achievement because there will be no credible or sustainable recovery that underscores our reputation unless this is included. The voters, every one of whom has someone in their own family or a close friend with a disability, mental health need or chronic illness, can help them make up their minds by saying that the disabled amongst us must be supported as a priority.
- public funding needs to go to building up the availability of health and social services for people with disabilities before we start conceding pay rises or tax cuts,
- those on the long term illness card should be first to get the GP visit card,
- the medical card needs to be available on the basis of need and not simply on income grounds.
"One for everyone in the audience" is fine for weekend television entertainment but right now people need to say to candidates and their parties that we need a system that guarantees "the right and timely response to everyone who is in need".
Disability and long term illness are things that take up residence in every home at some stage and no amount of private health insurance will successfully protect people against it. Only a strong and thoughtful public health and social services system will give the protection. Only a confident and determined State can deliver that and it needs the active engagement of the community to support it.
Remember that a local person providing in-home support, working as a personal assistant or providing support in a class room is most likely coming off the live register and is putting money into local circulation. So let us support the economic recovery and at the same time the recovery of the social infrastructure. The economic and the social are two sides of the same coin and so they must be minted together. That is real value for money.
There is rightly much concern about confidence in order to create the virtual cycle of some increased spending to generate growth and employment but it must be remembered that people get confidence from sources other than from commercial activities. They get confidence from knowing that the necessary services are there for them and their families as and when they are needed.
The cost of providing public services needs to be kept to a minimum so that the dividend of available services is there for whoever needs them. People often seek increased income because they are trying to compensate for the non-availability, or the fear of non-availability, of public services.
It is now clear that our public and social services are not succeeding to protect the life chances of people with disabilities. There no longer exists a functional or sustainable infrastructure of social supports in this State to be there for people and their families when they are needed.
This is the critical problem to be solved by this State at national and local levels in order to have a credible and sustainable recovery that befits a Republic.
We therefore call on all candidates to the local and European elections to sign our "Leave Nobody Behind" pledge to "work consistently to ensure that Ireland, as a matter of urgency has a credible and functioning infrastructure of services and supports available to people with disabilities as a necessary part of Ireland’s recovery programme."