Tuesday, 23 May 2000
Dáil Eireann Debate
35. Mr. Deenihan asked the Minister for Finance if he will publish the report of the interdepartmental review group on disabled drivers' and disabled passengers' tax concession regulations, which has been completed, before the summer recess; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [14257/00]
Mr. McCreevy: As I have informed the House on a number of occasions, the interdepartmental review group which is examining the disabled drivers' and disabled passengers' tax concessions scheme is chaired by an official from the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform. The group has not completed its work.
Oral submissions were heard by the group in early May and an advertisement was placed in the press seeking written submissions from interested parties. The closing date for receipt of those submissions is Friday, 26 May. While I have no definite date for completion of the report, I hope the receipt of the submissions will facilitate the group  in its deliberations and in early finalisation. The report will be submitted to my Department for consideration and a decision to publish will be made at that stage.
Mr. Deenihan: Does the Minister agree that this scheme is restrictive, loaded with anomalies and discriminates against people with severe handicaps? Will he assure the House that the report, when completed, will be published immediately and that its recommendations will be implemented before the end of the year or in next year's Finance Bill?
Mr. McCreevy: The group is chaired by an official from the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform. It is intended that when the report is completed it will be published as soon as possible after the Government has considered it. Deputy Deenihan has been steadfast in pursuing this matter but, as I pointed out on many occasions, this is a difficult area because the scheme is extremely generous. I do not wish to have to differentiate between one form of disability and another. Each disability is a serious matter for the person who suffers from it. However, the cost of this scheme is so generous that one must take a rounded view.
Thousands of people suffer some form of disability. The purpose of the scheme is to cater for persons who are severely and permanently incapacitated with regard to physical mobility. I recall the furore that ensued some years ago when it was proposed to make changes to the scheme. The Leas-Cheann Comhairle will also remember it because he was the Minister for Health at the time.
Mr. Deenihan: Is the Minister aware that unless two similar limbs are affected – two hands or two legs – a person will not qualify for the scheme? Stroke victims whose arm and leg might be disabled do not qualify. I am seeking a small extension of the scheme to include these people. It is a generous scheme for the people who qualify but it is most unfair for those who should qualify but do not. The Minister should look at cases which do not qualify for the scheme. There might not be many and the scheme is most unfair to them.
Mr. McCreevy: The issue of the primary medical certificate is a matter for the area medical officer and is something over which the Minister for Finance does not have control. An examination of the parliamentary questions, particularly those submitted to my office for written answer, in recent years would show that there have been more questions on this than on anything else. It would not be appropriate to comment further on the scheme and on the criteria while the policy  review group is looking at the matter. Deputies have shown me examples of people who have not qualified and there are people I know who have not qualified, but all this is being examined by the review group in the total context. It would not be appropriate to comment on one form of disability as against another while the review group is examining this entire area.
Mr. McDowell: The Minister rightly points out that he has answered questions on this issue at virtually every session of Question Time in the past year. He has made it clear that he believes this issue is too hot to handle. In that context, the review is really nothing more than a fig leaf, and the Minister has no intention of doing anything about this in the next Finance Bill.
Mr. Deenihan: Would the Minister consider it a good idea if the review group came before the Committee on Finance and the Public Service because there are a number of us interested in this area? Would it be possible for it to come before the committee to take some of our proposals or to answer questions?
Mr. McCreevy: The review group is set up under the auspices of the Minister of State at the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform, Deputy Mary Wallace, and the official chairing it is from her Department. This is an interdepartmental group and it has advertised for submissions. I hope we will receive the report by the end of this year.
It is not that the question is too difficult to handle. The difficulty is to handle the question even-handedly and, for example, not differentiate in favour of one form of disability as against another. This is what this group is working on.
My Department made submissions to the group, but I will not give commitments at this stage without examining the group's report. It is the intention of the group to report by the end of the year and I will not have any hesitation in introducing in the Finance Bill whatever changes I think are appropriate, but it is a difficult area.
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