Private Members’ Business - Disabled Person’s Grant Scheme: Motion (Resumed).

Wednesday, 30 June 2004

Dáil Eireann Debate
Vol. 588 No. 3

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The following motion was moved by Deputy Gilmore on Tuesday, 29 June 2004:

—deplores the failure of the Government to provide sufficient funding for the disabled person’s grant scheme, administered by the local authorities, which has created huge difficulties for persons with disabilities or mobility problems who need to make physical adjustments to their homes; and

—noting the further difficulties being created as a result of inadequate funding for the home improvement scheme for the elderly, administered by the health boards;

—provide sufficient funding to allow local authorities to clear all outstanding applications for the disabled person’s grant scheme;

—increase the maximum amount payable under the grant to at least €30,000; and

[809]—place the grant scheme on a statutory basis.

Debate resumed on amendment No. 1:

“acknowledges the achievements of the Government in significantly improving the housing grant assistance available to disabled and elderly persons in the past five years by:

—providing a substantial increase in combined funding for the disabled person’s and essential repairs grant schemes from €18.6 million in 1999 to €65 million in 2004;

—increasing the effective maximum grant available under the disabled person’s grant scheme from €10,158 to €20,320 and the essential repairs grants scheme from €1,143 in 1999 to €9,523;

—increasing the maximum disabled person’s grant available in individual cases from 75% to 90% of the approved cost of the works;

—increasing the level of recoupment to local authorities from the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government from 50% to two thirds;

—retaining the disabled person’s new house grant towards the purchase or construction of a new house;

—increasing the funding for the special housing aid for the elderly scheme from €7 million in 1999 to €11.6 million in 2004; and

notes that a review of the disabled person’s grant scheme is being finalised by the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government and supports the continued actions by the Government to respond to the housing needs of elderly and disabled persons through a range of targeted initiatives.”

Mr. O’Connor: Information on Charlie O'Connor  Zoom on Charlie O'Connor  I wish to share time with my colleagues, Deputies Callanan, Cregan, Nolan and Moloney.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Information on Séamus Pattison  Zoom on Séamus Pattison  Is that agreed? Agreed.

Mr. O’Connor: Information on Charlie O'Connor  Zoom on Charlie O'Connor  I often take the opportunity to speak on matters raised in Private Members’ business because I think it a good use of Dáil time and I am never afraid to compliment my colleagues on the Opposition benches on their skill. There are occasions when I am less happy about [810]the matter raised. However, this is a fair motion but it is tinged with the usual hint of politics. Even though the general election is three years away, a little bit of politics has to go on.

Mr. Costello: Information on Joe Costello  Zoom on Joe Costello  The Deputy should vote against the amendment.

Mr. O’Connor: Information on Charlie O'Connor  Zoom on Charlie O'Connor  I will not rise to that. The amendment tabled by the Minister of State is reasonable. It shows that progress has been made. We each look at the matter from our own perspective. I represent Dublin South-West, which is the administrative centre of South Dublin County Council and embraces not only Tallaght, but Lucan, Clondalkin, parts of Terenure, Templeogue and Firhouse.

It is extremely useful to look at the figures for South Dublin County Council as a benchmark. I would be interested to hear Deputy Rabbitte’s perspective. South Dublin County Council is doing exceptionally well and the figure for disabled person’s grants allocated in 2004 is almost €3 million. That is not to say that as a public representative I do not come across problems. As I deal with issues in my constituency office which is open full time, and at the seven different advice clinics I hold every week, I meet families who have concerns.

Mr. McDowell: Information on Michael McDowell  Zoom on Michael McDowell  Will the Deputy state the location and times of his clinics?

Mr. O’Connor: Information on Charlie O'Connor  Zoom on Charlie O'Connor  Unfortunately, I have only six minutes but I am sure the PD organisation in Tallaght will be able to tell the Minister the locations. I suspect they are tracking me as much as anybody else.

I find the staff and the housing manager in South Dublin County Council extremely helpful when I raise issues about schemes with them. I do not think Members should be afraid to advocate for the proper management of these schemes. The record will show that a great deal of money has been drawn down by South Dublin County Council and there are no difficulties in that regard.

This is a good scheme and we should keep the pressure on the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government and I know he will be responsive. Many families benefit from the scheme and that is good. I look forward to voting for the Government amendment.

Mr. Callanan: Information on Joe Callanan  Zoom on Joe Callanan  I welcome the opportunity to speak on the motion. Disabled person’s grants are given to adapt a house to suit the needs of a disabled person by building a downstairs bedroom and bathroom or other adjustments so the disabled person may continue to live in his or her house. It is Government policy to retain the disabled and elderly in their homes rather than in institutional care. The provision of a disabled person’s grant or essential repairs grants is part of the policy.

[811]I have personal experience of what it means to a person who cannot climb the stairs, to get a disabled person’s grant to build a downstairs bedroom en suite. It gives the person a new lease of life. The elderly are also delighted when repairs are carried out to a roof or when new doors and windows are installed under the essential repairs or housing for the elderly grants.

The level of funding by the Government has increased from €18.6 million in 1999 to €65 million in 2004. The disabled person’s grant has been increased from more than €10,000 to €20,000, and provides for a 90% grant. The essential repairs grant has been increased from €1,144 to €9,523. The Government provides two thirds of the cost and the county council provides one third. Providing one third of the cost of the grant was and still is a major problem for local authorities, but thanks to the decision of the Minister to allow the balance to be funded from internal receipts from the sale of council houses, which was approved by the Department in November 2003, it has become easier for councils to fund their share.

The disabled person’s and essential repairs grants are a major success. The number of applications has increased considerably in the past number of years, leaving a large number of unapproved applications. Councils now seek a certificate from a medical practitioner to define the level of dependency so the application may be prioritised. Where the applicant is in the category of full dependency there is no delay, otherwise the delay may be up to ten months, which is unacceptable.

The percentage level of the grant being paid by Galway County Council is far short of 90% and I will give examples. A grant of €6,000 was paid for an en suite bedroom extension; a grant of €2,600 was paid to convert a room to a bathroom; a grant of 50% of the cost, or €1,500, was paid to install central heating; a grant of €4,000 was paid to provide a bedroom extension or stairlift or bathroom; a grant of €1,400 was paid to provide a walk-in shower; and a grant of €800 was paid to provide ramps and handrails.

Many disabled persons are no longer able to avail of the disabled person’s grant due to the difference between the overall cost of the work and the level of grant paid. I was disappointed by the statistics provided by Galway County Council which shows a decrease in grants from €215,000 in 2002 to €127,000 in 2003 and also a reduction in essential repairs grants from €185,000 to €110.000. I have full confidence this Minister will ensure that the disabled person’s grant and essential repairs grant will continue to give a new lease of life to people who need it.

I acknowledge the co-operation of the health board and Galway County Council in the administration of the disabled person’s grant, the essential repairs grant and the housing aid for the elderly grant. This co-operation has given a better deal for all applicants. Another area that should be examined is the requirement for a C2 certifi[812]cate from employers for small jobs at low cost. In some cases it is difficult to get a contractor to do small jobs. I encourage the Minister to provide extra moneys in this year’s budget to continue the great work done under these schemes and to ensure that a once-off grant could be given to those people who have to make many applications so that their applications are dealt with more speedily.

Mr. Cregan: Information on John Cregan  Zoom on John Cregan  I am grateful for the opportunity to make a brief contribution to this important debate. The demand under this scheme has grown very significantly in recent years. The regulations governing the scheme provide that a housing authority may pay a grant to provide additional accommodation or carry out works of adaptation that in the opinion of the authority are reasonably necessary for the purpose of rendering a house more suitable for the accommodation of a member of a household who is either physically handicapped and the works are necessary for his or her proper accommodation or suffering from severe mental handicap. A physical disability is very obvious and readily seen but for too many years, local authorities did not recognise the need to look after people with mental disability. That has now been recognised and it is a very important development.

The scheme is quite flexible and that is to be welcomed. The regulations are loosely framed to allow authorities to deal with applications in a flexible manner. To open the grant to as many applicants as possible and to provide a service, which the local authority feels is appropriate in its own area has been one of the strengths of the scheme. However, it makes it more difficult to manage and to ensure that the available funding is directed to those who need most assistance on mobility and income grounds. The more flexible the scheme, the more applications will be received.

The huge increase in demand for assistance under the disabled person’s grant can be attributed to the improvements the Government has made to the scheme over the past five years. The maximum grant has been doubled from €10,158 to €20,320. The percentage of grant available has increased from 75% to 90% of the approved cost of works and level of recoupment at local county level has increased from 50% to two thirds. It is very important that the grant has increased because in many cases, applicants were unable to pay the 25% whereas in most cases, they are able to pay 10%.

I will quote figures from my own county. In 1998, Limerick Country Council administered 93 grants in total, spending €340,799. In 2003, it administered 187 grant applications, spending a total of €928,000. I am proud that my county can meet demand and can approve all applications, which fit the criteria and pay all grants on time.

At a recent Oireachtas joint committee meeting, Deputy Allen stated that Cork Corporation refused to pay a grant to an amputee. I thought [813]that was a shameful reflection not on the Government but on the members of Cork Corporation. It is important to obtain maximum funding from the Exchequer for all types of grants but it is equally important to ensure that local authorities acknowledge the local contribution necessary at Estimates time. If we feel strongly enough about the disabled person’s grant and essential repairs grant, we must put our money where our mouth is at Estimates time. The issue should be discussed with the housing officers and directors of service. They should be asked for their estimation of the demand over the next 12 months and that price should be delivered in the Estimates. That is the only way demand can be met. I am not having a go at the Opposition when I say it is shameful — many of own colleagues have been in control of county councils and corporations throughout the country — that county councils and corporations have failed to bring in a proper Estimate to ensure the necessary contribution is there from local funding to ensure we can meet demand for the grants.

The available funding of €65 million for expansion in 2004 was notified to local authorities on 20 May 2004. Local authorities were advised to notify the Department if their allocation was either inadequate or surplus to their requirements in order to facilitate the reallocation of funds to obtain optimum effectiveness from the funding available. A small number of local authorities have indicated they will seek increased funding. If funding is so scarce and is seen to be so inadequate, why have not more local authorities notified the Minister and sought more funding?

Mr. Sherlock: Information on Joe Sherlock  Zoom on Joe Sherlock  There is no problem in Limerick.

Mr. Cregan: Information on John Cregan  Zoom on John Cregan  I cannot quantify what a “small quantity” is. I ask how many counties have stated their funding is inadequate. Properly managed counties should be able to work within their allocated budget, provided they give the necessary local contribution.

Mr. McCormack: Information on Pádraic McCormack  Zoom on Pádraic McCormack  They are not taking applications.

Mr. Cregan: Information on John Cregan  Zoom on John Cregan  Unit costs, which are very important was mentioned. Limerick County Council revised its unit costs recently in line with inflation and to ensure the grants offered are within reach of the estimates from builders. I take the point made by my colleague, Deputy
Callanan, with regard to C2s requiring to be presented in all cases. That is difficult. In some cases, builders or developers are not willing to carry out small works. They prefer to work on bigger jobs and tend not to accept smaller jobs.

The housing aid for the elderly scheme is excellent. It provides for the installation of heating for elderly people. This is necessary. It is no longer considered a luxury. There are three schemes, the special housing aid for the elderly, the disabled [814]person’s grant and essential repairs grant. These schemes are being reviewed by the Minister and the Department which is to be welcomed. In some cases there is duplication and triplication and in other cases people fall between stools and do not qualify for any one scheme. It is very important to work out something so that all grant applicants can be facilitated.

With regard to the special housing aid for the elderly I mention the people on community employment schemes who are providing this service. When applying for a disabled person’s grant people are obliged to get an estimate from a contractor, but with regard to the housing aid for the elderly scheme, there are people who will do the work for the applicant. I compliment FÁS for its valuable work. I support the amendment. I encourage an increase in funding. My appeal is to my local authority colleagues to ensure they make every effort to prioritise their funding. Our elderly people should be a priority. We have an ageing population and more funding will be required. We must put our money where our mouth is and ensure there is sufficient local contribution to match the Government funds.

Mr. Nolan: Information on M. J. Nolan  Zoom on M. J. Nolan  I welcome the opportunity to speak on this motion. I commend the Opposition for tabling it. It is a subject that affects all local authorities and every Member of the House. In some way every public representative has come across the difficulties encountered by families who want to avail of disabled person’s grant schemes in particular. Listening to the debate last night and tonight, there seems to be a divergence among Members of the House as to the success or otherwise of this scheme. Some counties, as has been pointed out by Deputy Cregan, seem to have a better grip of the situation than others.

I can speak only for my own county of Carlow. We certainly have difficulties in respect of the funding aspect of this scheme. We are prepared to put up our one third and have done so over several years. The councillors are prepared to provide the one third which is necessary for this scheme on an annual basis when the rates are being debated. There has been a demand for this scheme because of its success and this demand far outstrips the supply. The success of the economy and the inflation costs in building have contributed to the cost of small alterations and some alterations are on a bigger scale and the moneys do not cover such work. Individual cases where work has to be carried out without prior applications being made is one aspect I ask the Minister and the Department to examine.

I am aware of a number of cases of individuals who had accidents or strokes or experienced major health problems and required immediate alterations to their homes, for example, the provision of a downstairs bathroom, temporary downstairs bedroom or, in one case of a mother confined to a wheelchair, the widening of doors and fitting of new doors. Unfortunately, as the people in question were returning home from [815]hospital, they did not have time to go through the long process of making an application, having it assessed and awaiting a decision. In the case of the woman confined to a wheelchair, her family went ahead and made alterations, for which I cannot blame them, only to find that by doing so they had debarred themselves from the scheme. Although the scheme is relatively flexible, health boards and housing officers in local authorities should be allowed more discretion in assessing cases where there appears to be genuine hardship.

I encourage the Minister to provide more funding for the disabled person’s grant scheme. While it has increased substantially in the past four or five years, it must be borne in mind that building inflation appears to be eating into the work that can be carried out for the sums involved. The scheme’s flexibility should be extended to give greater power to housing officers to assess genuine cases in which decisions must be made relatively quickly to accommodate the needs of the families of individuals. As I stated, difficulties have arisen in circumstances where members of families have suffered strokes and major alterations have become necessary.

Another problem arises in various local authority housing estates in which the first floor of two storey houses is not used by the occupants. This occurs mainly in the cases of elderly people who cannot use the staircase and have a downstairs bedroom. This accommodation could satisfy the needs of families living in overcrowded conditions. I ask the Minister to examine the possibility of addressing the problem of overcrowding by arranging to swap housing stock not being used to its full potential.

I support the Government’s efforts in the area of disabled person’s and essential repairs grants. I ask it to bear in mind, however, that building inflation is such that more and more funding is needed for the schemes.

Mr. Moloney: Information on John Moloney  Zoom on John Moloney  The debate on this important motion offers a genuine opportunity to improve the disabled person’s grant scheme, rather than a political weapon to embarrass the Government.

As regards possible improvements to the scheme, I have often come across applicants who have a difficulty with its name. I suggest the Department consider renaming it the disabled person’s grant-independent living grant scheme to facilitate fair minded people who would have difficulty applying for a grant because they do not believe they are fully disabled.

I have been impressed by the figures rolled out this evening and do not propose to go over them again, except to note that the €1.8 billion to be allocated in 2004 across the range of programmes must be welcomed.

I was a member of a local authority for 24 years until six months ago. The issues facing local authority members in the early 1980s were lights, roads and other matters affecting the public at [816]large. I am pleased to note that local authorities’ estimates in recent years have been primarily concerned with finding funding to improve the living conditions of people with disabilities, which is a major step forward. I also compliment those local authorities that have sourced sufficient funding from their own resources to ensure that the maximum grant aid was available to cover disabled person’s grant applications.

While the allocation increases each year, the number of people applying for the grant is also increasing. People can avail of the grant to increase their mobility in the home. We have spoken at length in various debates on health about the importance of ensuring people can live in their own homes for as long as possible. It is important we promote that policy.

I will outline the areas in which the scheme can be improved. While people often complain about the notion of means testing, I would welcome a means tested grant if it ensured that people with more severe disabilities would be given preference over persons with less severe disabilities and a greater income. I am not trying to create difficulties as one of the reasons I admire the scheme is that red tape is minimal. Those whose main difficulty is mobility or disability should be prioritised. Given that the number of applications will always increase, irrespective of the level of funding allocated each year, we should prioritise those most in need. As regards the level at which a means test should be set, I suggest that a figure above the ceiling for a local authority reconstruction loan would be appropriate. Despite proposing that the merits of a means test be considered, my preference is that the maximum possible number of people with disabilities benefit from the scheme.

Deputies have referred to the problems elderly persons face in trying to secure a contractor. I have encountered many cases in my local authority where those awarded grants towards the end of a given year could not find a contractor. A roll-over programme should be introduced to address such cases. In other words, if a local authority is satisfied that all genuine attempts have been made to secure a contractor but have failed, the funding should not be returned to the Department but held by the local authority for at least a year to allow the applicant to find a contractor.

While I welcome the fact that local authority occupants receive 100% grants, I have often found that home owners, who receive 90% funding, face equally difficult circumstances because they may be in receipt of a widow’s pension or old age pension. The stringent criteria applicable in such circumstances should be lifted.

To try to maximise the level of funding available and ensure it is spread as evenly as possible, and to involve as many applicants as possible, we must examine the possibility of introducing a claw-back mechanism. As regards grants for what are known as granny flats, for example, while I am aware that local authorities cannot determine the longevity of applicants, it should be possible [817]to insert a stipulation that, in the event of the applicant ceasing to live in the accommodation or moving to a nursing home within a period of perhaps two or three years — I do not want to raise the prospect of the applicant dying — the grant, or at least a percentage of it, would be clawed back.

I will now focus on the role of local authority members. New local authorities have been established throughout the State. My local authority in County Laois found €800,000 for the disabled person’s grant scheme from its own resources in last year’s estimates. It is always easy to complain about Government action or lack of it, but any independent observer examining the allocations for this year and the past ten years would have to conclude that the Government is serious about the disabled person’s grants. The focus should now move back to local authority members. I suggest that if the disabled person’s grant scheme is a priority, local authority members must ensure they deal with their lists of applications because it is in their interests that applicants are provided for.

Mr. Boyle: Information on Dan Boyle  Zoom on Dan Boyle  I wish to share time with Deputies Ó Caoláin, Finian McGrath, Cowley and Connolly.

I thank the Labour Party for tabling the motion as it allows Members to express their continuing frustration and dissatisfaction with the application and consistency of the disabled person’s grant scheme. The debate also allows the Government to account for its stewardship of a scheme which has significant potential and has been of benefit but which is proving more of a hindrance than a help to people with disabilities in meeting and improving their accommodation needs.

Part of the problem lies in the lack of consistency in the application of the scheme, which is a national problem. The Government has failed to define criteria on how the scheme should be applied from area to area. For instance, there is still too much onus on the disabled person or his or her family to do the running in making sure the grant is sought. They must provide medical reports from health board workers, housing suitability reports, engage a contractor and make sure he or she has a C2 certificate. A properly-developed scheme would provide a list of approved contractors in each local authority area. As a consequence, there would be less onus on the disabled person or his or her family to do such leg work and it would be easier to access the scheme.

Ultimately, the problem with the scheme nationally is it is demand-led rather than needs-led. It is similar to the higher education grants scheme, which is also administered by local authorities at a considerable cost to them. A person who receives a higher education grant must meet educational and means criteria. The amount guaranteed by the Government is a multiple of the number who meet the criteria. That is not the case with the disabled person’s grant. Until that [818]scheme becomes needs-led, local authorities will only be able to provide so much in each financial year due to their funding difficulties. The farcical position currently is that they can run out of money for the scheme three months into a fiscal year. It is not acceptable that approval for the grant is based on change and that is, ultimately, the responsibility of the Government. That is why I am glad the motion has been tabled.

Another difficulty relating to the scheme is the introduction of rules on a local basis. Deputy Allen has previously raised the case of an amputee in Cork whose grant application was refused. I have come across cases where a person was entitled to the grant on the basis of his or her disability or means but because he or she defaulted on local authority service charges, rent or commercial rates, funding under the scheme was withheld. A local authority official makes a determination in such cases for the sake of petty points scoring while the needs of a person with a disability are not met. This is the result of the Government’s failure to lay down proper criteria. I would like a better response from Government Members to the debate.

I agree the amount of the grant needs to be re-assessed. The scale of the redevelopment of houses must be taken into account. Cases may involved a bathroom renovation while others may involve significant room extensions. The economies of scale are high and, therefore, the capital and building costs are proportionately high. The grant scheme should reflect that because it does not do so currently. It is ironic that tax breaks are given to builders undertaking large-scale developments that can be built quite easily, yet the Government is not prepared to target investment at small-scale building redevelopment to meet the needs of people with disabilities. The Government is not prepared to put in the effort or demonstrate the leadership needed.

Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin: Information on Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin  Zoom on Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin  Ar son Sinn Féin ba mhaith liom tacú leis an rún in ainm Pháirtí an Lucht Oibre.

On behalf of Sinn Féin, I fully support the Labour Party motion. Reform of the disabled person’s housing grant scheme is long overdue. This should include both increased provision for those in need of the grant and an improvement and standardisation of its delivery across the State. Every Member can testify to the problems caused by the way the current grant scheme is rolled out. There is inconsistency and unfairness, as local authorities administer the scheme differently.

Spinal Injuries Ireland, which represents people who have suffered spinal injury and who are disabled, recently published a comprehensive survey and report which deserves praise. It shows that 45% of those surveyed experienced difficulty in acquiring the disabled person’s grant. Approximately 74% of respondents had to make adaptations to their homes as a result of their disability. There is, therefore, a major problem. The [819]report indicates the grant has become more difficult to access in recent years.

There is no excuse for this and we should not have to wait for the outcome of yet another departmental review, as mentioned in the Government amendment. I again refer the Minister to the report from Spinal Injuries Ireland. It sets out best practice relating to the operation of the scheme by one local authority and urges that this should be adopted on a State-wide basis. Time does not allow me to go into detail. Suffice to say it is not rocket science and it could be easily applied by all local authorities. Political will at national level is required first. This should be done and the grant should be put on a statutory basis.

The Disability Federation of Ireland is also to be commended for setting out the accommodation needs of people with disabilities in its programme for local government published before the elections entitled Housing — the Vital Element. My party endorsed that programme and in our manifesto we committed ourselves to campaign for the Government and the local authorities to develop a State-wide accommodation strategy for people with disabilities; all local authorities to have a dedicated access officer employed to inspect planning applications to ensure accessibility; all local authorities to work with voluntary and State agencies to develop and implement an appropriate accommodation strategy for people who experience mental illness and for the young chronic sick; and the disabled person’s housing grant to cover 100% of the cost of building work and standard qualification criteria to apply throughout the State.

We can campaign for these measures but as long as we are on these benches only the Deputies opposite can deliver them. The Government has tabled its customary self-congratulatory amendment. People with disabilities and a wide cross-section of opinion acknowledge that progress has been made. However, there is a long way to go and it should never be forgotten that every advance came about not as a result of vision and commitment on the part of successive Governments because this was absent, but as a result of the earnest campaigning, lobbying and protesting by people with disabilities. It is time we faced up to our responsibilities. I endorse the motion and commend it to the Government.

Mr. F. McGrath: Information on Finian McGrath  Zoom on Finian McGrath  I am grateful for the opportunity to contribute to the motion which seeks proper funding for the disabled person’s grant scheme and raises the urgent need to increase the maximum payable under the scheme to at least €30,000. I support the motion. It is a disgrace that, once again, people with disabilities are on a waiting list. This demonstrates clearly the type of Government we have and its priorities. It also demonstrates the need for a radical change in society. It is no longer a debate about lack of resources but about the way the Government dis[820]tributes those resources. Even if the Government lacks the bottle to pay for services for those with disabilities, it could still provide funding for quality services on the ground. Last week alone we saw €47 million collected from tax defaulters, while €52 million was spent in the electronic voting fiasco and €15 million was spent on Punchestown. I urge the Minister to consider these real issues. The Government seems to put horses before people. That is the reality for those with disabilities.

We have patients on hospital trolleys and 3,000 people with intellectual disabilities seeking respite, day care and residential places. There are homeless people on the streets and young couples cannot afford to buy a house in this city. This is a wealthy society and a booming economy but people are sick and tired of waste and inefficiency in the State. The Government can rush through a referendum in 60 days or a State Airports Bill in a few weeks, yet we are still waiting for a disability Bill which will give rights and services to people. That shows the Government’s priorities.

Today I visited a school for children with disabilities, Enable Ireland in Sandymount, where the Minister for Education and Science is refusing to grant €5,000 to fund the July programme for children with multiple disabilities, and 15 students will now be locked out of the July programme. Those children and their parents are devastated. This is a shame. I received a letter from one of those parents, the mother of a severely disabled child, which states:

This is the reality for people with disabilities. The school was short €5,000 and last week the Government had €47 million coming in. I urge the Minister and the Government to take their heads out of the sand and to support these children and their parents. I urge all Deputies to support this motion, which is about people, justice and equality. Above all, it is about delivering services for all people with disabilities and I urge all Members to support it.

Dr. Cowley: Information on Jerry Cowley  Zoom on Jerry Cowley  In supporting this motion I cite a submission to the Commission on the Status of People with Disabilities. Published in 1996 and entitled A Strategy for Equality, it states that people with disabilities do not want to be pitied, nor do they want their disabilities to be dismissed as of little importance. All that is required is a [821]little respect and basic needs and rights. Surely that is not too much to ask.

That is the question and I wonder about this history of neglect when it comes to disability. Fianna Fáil has great empathy with this motion but when it comes to voting that is another matter. The problem is that money is provided for these schemes but it is not enough. If it can be proven that a person with a disability has a need, why not provide the essential funds to allow that need to be fulfilled? We hear a lot about independent living and community care being the best option, but that is lip-service being paid to those with disabilities. This is a case where the Government should put its money where its mouth is and increase the grant, which is not sufficient to cover increased building costs. The grant is potentially a very good one and has been important to many disabled people but it could achieve much more. For example, the process by which the grant is paid out needs to be streamlined.

I was a member of an SPC in Mayo and I saw many applications from many disabled and elderly people seeking essential services, but the money was not there. Funding had run out and if more money came in it became necessary to prioritise allocations. Those applying were in great need and we were prioritising, but if one were a horse one would be better looked after. There was money for Punchestown and electronic voting but where is the money for those who deserve it? Where is the money to provide essential services which allow people to live independently in their own homes? This is a case of penny wise, pound foolish.

Mr. Connolly: Information on Paudge Connolly  Zoom on Paudge Connolly  The original concept of the disabled person’s housing grant scheme was one of the most progressive and far-reaching schemes ever devised to improve the lot of disabled persons. The grant was introduced to help disabled persons adapt their homes and to facilitate independent living. It covers 90% of the costs involved but is currently capped at €20,000. However, many of the grants are for amounts far lower than €20,000 and a lot of them are for less than €5,000. Unfortunately, many disabled persons are forced to go without essential facilities such as chair lifts or downstairs toilets due to cutbacks in the grant scheme which is administered by local authorities. The Government has failed to provide adequate resources for local authorities to adequately administer the scheme. County councils have been given a poisoned chalice in that they must say “No”, which is grossly unfair, and some of them have been forced to cancel the scheme altogether.

The delay in allocating grants to people with disabilities to enable them to adapt their homes to meet their specific needs is a national scandal and is another example of the Government’s callous indifference to the plight of disabled persons. Many wheelchair-bound persons have been waiting for over 20 months to have their homes adapted through the installation of ramps, the [822]conversion of baths to showers or the provision of disabled person’s toilets. Failure to complete such work invariably results in physically disabled persons having to remain in hospital for longer periods or being transferred to nursing homes at a cost of €2,000 per month to the State. This puts their next of kin and carers through torture night and day because they have neither the facilities they deserve nor the money to supplement the cost of the nursing home. This is grossly unfair on the carer who is left behind.

Several people have died while waiting for the disabled person’s maintenance grant to arrive to convert their homes. I wonder if this is part of the plan — that by waiting long enough the authorities know some of those who are greatly in need will pass on. It can be very distressing for the bereaved to receive notice of authorisation to proceed following the death of the disabled person. There is no doubt that the time spent processing the applications may exceed the time remaining for a terminally-ill person.

The treatment of the disabled is sometimes an affront to those who want to live at home, with unnecessary delays caused by the assessment of applications. In some cases county councils want to assess an application but the local health board cannot provide occupational therapists to carry out those assessments. This can cause delays of over 18 months and sometimes a date cannot be given for an assessment. A blame game is going on here in that people apply to the county council and are told the matter is with the health board. That is buck-passing and is grossly unfair, as the person falling between two stools is the carer.

I also wonder about the amounts being spent on assessments. An occupational therapist has to be paid to travel for the assessment and a doctor must also carry out an assessment. The amount of professional time eaten up like that can amount to 50% of the cost of the job. It should be possible for priority systems to be established which could expedite decisions and reduce red tape.

The grant ceiling of €20,300 is no longer realistic and is inadequate for major structural alterations. I recommend that it is increased to at least €30,000. Adapting and altering houses for those with disabilities frequently improves their health and in many cases it utterly transforms their quality of life. There is no doubt about that. If people can be treated in their own homes they are far more satisfied; they improve and have a far better quality of life. People who were formally compelled to live in residential care are able to choose to live in their own homes. That is the way we should go.

Mr. O’Shea: Information on Brian O'Shea  Zoom on Brian O'Shea  The disabled person’s grant has helped many people with disabilities over the years to reach a very much, improved quality of life. Local authority tenants do not have to pay anything towards the cost of the work carried out while house owners pay 10% of the total cost. The maximum grant available under the disabled [823]person’s grant scheme is €20,320. This is certainly not enough for certain types of work. The Labour Party motion calls on the Government to increase the maximum amount payable under the scheme to at least €30,000.

Another aspect of the €20,320 maximum grant payable under the disabled person’s grant scheme is the case where a person with a disability needs to carry out further work having already claimed the grant. As it stands, the person cannot be paid more than an accumulated €20,320 for two or more applications. Raising the maximum grant to €30,000 would at least be an improvement on the above situation. However, where it is clearly demonstrable that a second or third application is justified, each application should be treated as a new one with the €30,000 maximum payable applying. Where a person experiences an unexpected and dramatic worsening of his or her disability, he or she should not be prevented from having the necessary and much-needed work carried out because he or she has previously availed of the grant.

For a time, Waterford City Council approved the installation of central heating under the grant scheme but early in 2003, approval for applications relating to the installation of central heating was withdrawn in order to reduce the number of applications competing for approval from a limited fund. A disabled person who can deal with an open fire with difficulty, if at all, would find the installation of central heating an absolute godsend.

In Waterford city and county, there is another factor which is causing long delays in the processing of applications, namely, the shortage of occupational therapists in the employment of the health board. The input of the occupational therapist is vital in maximising the benefit from the adaptation or extension to the house where a person with a disability resides. Sometimes small alterations to the work proposed can improve matters greatly for the disabled person. This is where the trained eye and expertise of the occupational therapist is vital. The urgency of providing an adequate number of occupational therapists in each health board area cannot be overstated. On the face of it, there is little room for optimism in the short term in this regard. What this deficit amounts to is that scarce resources are not being employed to the best effect. The situation cannot be allowed to continue indefinitely.

Special housing aid for the elderly is a scheme which assisted in carrying out vital and very important work on the homes of senior citizens. The maximum grant under this scheme is too low in the context of today’s costs. The grant, a maximum of €2,540, is resulting in a significant drop in applications in my constituency. In regard to the disabled person’s grant scheme and the special housing aid for the elderly scheme, an ongoing problem has been the difficulty in obtaining estimates from builders for the work to [824]be carried out. To put it mildly, builders are not overwhelmingly interested in these small jobs.

These schemes are vital for senior citizens and people with a disability living an independent life with dignity in the community. Obviously, support services, such as those provided by public health nurses, home helps and home supports are vital, but if people are living in accommodation that is inadequate and unsuitable, the benefit of these services is undermined. The Government talks about a review of the disabled person’s grant scheme being finalised by the Minister for the Environment, Heritage and Local Government. The question must be asked about what exactly “finalised” means. Every day that passes is a day lost to many senior citizens and many people with a disability.

Ms Lynch: Information on Kathleen Lynch  Zoom on Kathleen Lynch  I have listened to the debate over the past two days. I must admit that every speaker, both from the Government and the Opposition sides, had a firm grasp of what this debate is about. Equally, every speaker was genuinely concerned about the situation. However, all the speakers I heard, apart from Deputy O’Shea, because of his personal experience, have a difficulty understanding exactly how people with a disability manage. A disability could be short term but, nevertheless, people with a disability are not a separate species. One could be born with a disability or one could acquire one. Disability can come through illness, old age, stroke, heart attack, diabetes and so on. There is a big pool into which any of us at any stage could fall. When one has a disability, it knocks one’s confidence but to be put into a category as if one is a different species is fundamentally wrong.

People with a disability can live perfectly normal lives but they need straightforward alterations to the structures in which they live. We can do virtually anything now. We like to tell ourselves that we can send people to the moon and find cures for new diseases so it should surely be within our ability to alter structures which we built in the first place to ensure people can live decent and respectable lives.

All the speakers I heard tonight who were, in the main, from the Government side, spoke about the need to ensure people with a disability have the dignity of living at home without the indignity of having somebody wash them, stand behind them as they go up and down the stairs or assist them into the toilet. These are things we all take for granted and which we could not imagine anyone watch us do. However, people with a disability must endure that every day. They face not only a physical or a mental disability, but also the indignity of having to go through this process.

Listening to the speakers tonight, one would say these are caring, compassionate people and that, after all, this is not a political issue, but it is. Not only is it a political issue but it was used as a political football in the city of Cork in 2002. This is a city that returned six out of ten Fianna Fáil Deputies. It is not as if Fianna Fáil looks after its [825]own; it does not. People who reward Fianna Fáil are not necessarily rewarded in return. The Minister for Health and Children comes from Cork but we have an accident and emergency service which is creaking at the seams. It was like a scene from “M.A.S.H.” last week. We do not have enough money to open the new accident and emergency service.

In 2002, the year we were all elected to this House, 300 applications for the disability grant were dealt with in Cork. They were streamlined or fast-tracked. Those people, without let or hindrance, were dealt with in 2002. There was a different scenario in 2003 when everything slowed down and only seven applications were dealt with.

  8 o’clock

In 2004, however, we have a waiting list of 200. This is in Steve Silvermint’s constituency — the Minister, Deputy Martin’s, turf. This is the man who is going to deliver to people with disabilities, yet 200 people are on the waiting list. Perhaps those 200 and the additional people who will go on to the list can wait until the next great splurge from the man himself in 2007, but I do not believe they can.

I do not intend to talk about people with disabilities as if they were a separate species. I want to tell the House about Maura, a woman of about my age. She had a very happy marriage until her husband contracted multiple sclerosis. She says that she feels in her heart for him because if he wants to use the toilet, which is upstairs, she has to physically help him up every step. He is a big man who always looked after himself, but now she has to stand next to him while he uses the toilet, which is embarrassing for both of them. All it would take to solve the problem is the construction of a downstairs toilet, but that man will not get such a facility because there is not enough money.

The Government side may be well-meaning but I cannot accept their argument that it is up to county councillors to ensure there is enough money for such facilities. It is up to the Government to make sure that sufficient funds are available. In Cork city the matter has become a political football and I pity the 200 people on the waiting list because they will have to wait until 2007 until the purse strings are reopened.

Mr. Sherlock: Information on Joe Sherlock  Zoom on Joe Sherlock  This Labour Party motion is a positive one, whereas the Government’s amendment is negative, talking only about something that happened in the past. We want to discuss what is happening now and what will happen in future. The processing of disabled person’s grants, essential repair grants and housing aid for the elderly is appalling, yet the Government parties boast about how well the country is doing. The Taoiseach and the Tánaiste are out of touch. The elderly and disabled are forgotten. The delay in getting occupational therapists’ reports, which are required for such grants, is deplorable. This is often the reason for the delay. Government representatives will know that some years ago such [826]reports were not necessary because a doctor’s recommendation was sufficient to qualify for a grant. I can see no reason that should not be the case still.

The Labour Party’s motion calls for sufficient funds to be provided by the Government and that the minimum payment should be €30,000 because building costs are higher now than they were last year or the preceding year. It is no excuse for Fianna Fáil and the Progressive Democrats to say that they have increased the relevant amount over the years. The increasing percentage of elderly in our population is being ignored. It is appalling to see a Government allocating €15 million to Punchestown racecourse and spending over €50 million on electronic voting, while at the same time people cannot obtain necessary grants.

Cork County Council has divided its grant allocation system into three priority levels, and grants were suspended in 2003. Despite the Government’s commitment to local authorities that the rate support grant would be 100%, the Department has reduced it by more than a half. This is creating financial problems for local authorities in that they cannot offer the services they are obliged to provide. The hallmark of any civilised society is the manner in which it treats the elderly and the disabled. The Government is failing in this respect.

Mr. Allen: Information on Bernard Allen  Zoom on Bernard Allen  This is the fourth Private Members’ motion we have had in the past year or so dealing mainly with the issue of the disabled person’s grant. Such motions were debated in the House in April 2003, July 2003 and May 2004. We are now debating a motion by the Labour Party on the same issue and it is an indication of how concerned Members are about what is happening in this respect.

After I spoke on this issue the last time in the House, I wrote about it elsewhere. On that occasion, I referred to an 18 year old amputee who was refused a grant application for a walk-in shower. I put on the record my appreciation of a gesture made by a kind, elderly priest in Cork who made the necessary sum available to that family. The priest had very little money himself but was appalled by what was happening, given that the Government is flush with money and can throw it left, right and centre.

It is a year tomorrow since the Minister of State with responsibility for housing, Deputy Noel Ahern, who is present, referred to the disabled person’s grant. Responding to a Fine Gael Private Members’ motion on housing, he stated: “We simply cannot continue with the level of increases in grants that have occurred — 3,000 grants in 1996, 6,300 in 2001 and 9,000 in 2002.” He concluded by stating: “I am suggesting that local authorities should live within their means, act intelligently and budget their money over a period, instead of just spending and then wondering how they will cater for urgent needs.” He spoke about local authorities whingeing and putting a millstone around their necks.

[827]The Minister of State was reported as having said that the disabled person’s grant was in need of reform because some counties approved too many grants, but what does he mean by this? Does he mean that some grants have been approved that should not have been? Does he think there should be a quota system in each county, which would mean that not everybody who needs a grant would get one, or is he saying that there are too many people with disabilities in each county, that they are a burden on the community at large and that, therefore, a quota system should be imposed on them? The Minister of State should clarify his careless talk on this issue.

During the last Private Member’s motion debate on persons with disabilities, an amendment tabled by the Minister’s party and the Progressive Democrats boasted about increases in the disabled person’s grant. In this debate, what one arm of the Government boasts about, the other says is unsustainable. The Minister of State should tell us what the hell is happening. This time last year, he said the system was under review and that an announcement would be made within a reasonable time. Twelve months later, however, we are still being told that the system is under review. Does that mean that disabled people who are dependent on these grants must wait indefinitely until the Minister of State gets his priorities right and focuses some money and resources on those who deserve them?

The housing stock is largely inaccessible to people with disabilities. Looking around me, it is clear that this Chamber cannot be accessed by disabled people so it would be difficult for them to exercise their duties if they were required to do so.

The maximum adaptation grant is €20,000 but in reality people receive far less. Many people are condemned to hospitals or are stuck inappropriately in nursing homes, thus contributing to accommodation waiting lists. They may also be living in potentially dangerous homes, putting immeasurable strain on the individuals concerned and their families. The disintegration and dismantling of the disabled person’s grant scheme cannot be allowed to continue.

As has been said by other Deputies, there has been a great deal of pious talk in the House for the past two nights. People have been crying crocodile tears about the suffering of others. However, tonight presents an opportunity for those people to put their votes where their mouths are and support the Labour Party motion, which is worthy of such support from anyone with compassion or conviction in their veins.

Minister of State at the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government (Mr. N. Ahern): Information on Noel Ahern  Zoom on Noel Ahern  Last evening, my colleague detailed the commitment the Government has made in regard to the disabled person’s and essential repairs grant schemes in recent years, [828]which has shown itself both in terms of the expansion of the terms of the schemes and the level of funding made available to finance them.

Although I hate citing statistics, it is important to place the various contributions of Deputies in perspective. The number of applications to local authorities for assistance under the two schemes has more than doubled in the five-year period between 1998 and 2002, from approximately 6,500 to nearly 17,000. Some Deputies referred to cutbacks but there has been no such thing.

Mr. Allen: Information on Bernard Allen  Zoom on Bernard Allen  There have been cutbacks.

Mr. N. Ahern: Information on Noel Ahern  Zoom on Noel Ahern  Demand for the schemes has rocketed. Allied to the increased amount of grants available and the higher percentage of work payable, it was obvious this would put severe pressure on the schemes and the Government has moved to cater for that situation.

Mr. Gilmore: Information on Eamon Gilmore  Zoom on Eamon Gilmore  It has not done so.

Mr. N. Ahern: Information on Noel Ahern  Zoom on Noel Ahern  No one can deny that not only has the funding increased but the absolute number of grants paid has risen significantly. Five years ago, the Government paid out approximately 3,800 grants at a cost of €18 million, whereas last year, the figure had risen to 8,500 grants in a four or five-year period. In money terms, the amounts rose from €18 million to €64 million. Money can often be misleading but by any standards the increase in the number of jobs undertaken from 3,800 to 8,500 represents a significant amount of work in a short period of time. It means that approximately 54,000 people in the past four or five years have had work done, which has allowed them to live in better comfort and enjoy a better quality of life.

I was in the Seanad last night and did not hear the debate in this House but I heard of the many genuine cases which Members raised and I can understand them because we have all come across such cases. However, in regard to Deputy Allen’s comments, it is important to point out that significant resources are going into these schemes and different local authorities spend different amounts. Some seem to manage what they get far better than others. The local authorities, which spend the most are not necessarily those which do not experience trouble. The review will examine the medical needs assessment.

Mr. Allen: Information on Bernard Allen  Zoom on Bernard Allen  For how long will the review continue?

Ms Lynch: Information on Kathleen Lynch  Zoom on Kathleen Lynch  Until 2007.

Mr. N. Ahern: Information on Noel Ahern  Zoom on Noel Ahern  We are working with the local authorities.

Mr. Allen: Information on Bernard Allen  Zoom on Bernard Allen  The Minister of State is not working too hard.

Mr. N. Ahern: Information on Noel Ahern  Zoom on Noel Ahern  Many of the issues, which will emerge from the final report are those which [829]different local authorities have tried to implement in the past year.

Mr. Allen: Information on Bernard Allen  Zoom on Bernard Allen  Punchestown was approved in two days and this review is continuing indefinitely.

Mr. N. Ahern: Information on Noel Ahern  Zoom on Noel Ahern  The local authorities are implementing many of the issues on which we are working. It is about trying to have a needs assessment and trying to prioritise. I accept that the cases referred to by Deputies are genuine because we all experience them in our local constituency work. However, the local authorities should be able to manage.

Mr. Gilmore: Information on Eamon Gilmore  Zoom on Eamon Gilmore  The Minister of State is responsible for housing. He should hear what the Minister for Finance is saying about him. He said the Minister of State was not doing his job.

Mr. Rabbitte: Information on Pat Rabbitte  Zoom on Pat Rabbitte  It was a good interview.

Mr. Gilmore: Information on Eamon Gilmore  Zoom on Eamon Gilmore  The Minister of State is the one with the power.

Mr. Allen: Information on Bernard Allen  Zoom on Bernard Allen  The Minister for Finance said the Minister of State is whingeing.

Mr. N. Ahern: Information on Noel Ahern  Zoom on Noel Ahern  The local authorities should have a system of prioritising so they can distinguish the cases most in need. That is what we have been trying to do and what many local authorities have done. They have a system in place. I acknowledge there are significant delays with occupational therapists but many local authorities manage to get over that problem because they are hiring private occupational therapists.

Mr. Allen: Information on Bernard Allen  Zoom on Bernard Allen  That is more money down the drain.

Mr. N. Ahern: Information on Noel Ahern  Zoom on Noel Ahern  Is the Deputy now worried about money? I thought he was worried about getting the job done.

Mr. Allen: Information on Bernard Allen  Zoom on Bernard Allen  It is taking money from the scheme.

Mr. N. Ahern: Information on Noel Ahern  Zoom on Noel Ahern  It is not doing so.

Mr. Allen: Information on Bernard Allen  Zoom on Bernard Allen  It is causing a significant reduction.

Mr. N. Ahern: Information on Noel Ahern  Zoom on Noel Ahern  It is a case of how the schemes are administered. Some local authorities do not seem to mind the delay because it removes the financial pressure. However, they have a responsibility to provide one third of the money and to have a system, which allows them to prioritise.

Mr. Allen: Information on Bernard Allen  Zoom on Bernard Allen  The Minister of State should lead from the front.

Mr. S. Ryan: Information on Seán Ryan  Zoom on Seán Ryan  Does the Minister of State propose a means test in respect of the schemes?

Mr. N. Ahern: Information on Noel Ahern  Zoom on Noel Ahern  The Government may well do so. Deputies will not admit to it in the House but [830]we all know cases — although they may be urban legends — of elderly people selling their houses, receiving large amounts of cash and moving into the homes of middle class sons and daughters in order to get grants for extensions.

Mr. Gilmore: Information on Eamon Gilmore  Zoom on Eamon Gilmore  The Minister of State is an urban legend himself.

Mr. N. Ahern: Information on Noel Ahern  Zoom on Noel Ahern  It is a case of prioritising and looking after those who are most in need.

Mr. Allen: Information on Bernard Allen  Zoom on Bernard Allen  The Minister of State should carry out his duty and finish his review.

Mr. N. Ahern: Information on Noel Ahern  Zoom on Noel Ahern  If people have sold one house and moved in with a son or daughter, they are not the most needy. It is my job to get more resources but, no matter what that amount is, it will always be finite. It is a case of how that is divided and how it is targeted towards those most in need. Enormous progress has been made. I do not suggest the system is perfect. We need to have a system throughout the local authorities, which allows them to provide for a greater share from their own budgets and prioritise the cases most in need.

Mr. Allen: Information on Bernard Allen  Zoom on Bernard Allen  When will the Minister of State finish his review?

Mr. Wall: Information on Jack Wall  Zoom on Jack Wall  It is with great regret that I have listened to the Minister of State try to cast blame and doubt over the integrity of local authority officials who administer this scheme. In Kildare, we have some of the best officials of any county in Ireland and I regret that the Minister of State is trying to cast doubts over their ability to carry out this work. I also regret his use of statistics in order to avoid carrying out the work. This is a sad reflection on a Minister of State who has failed miserably in his attempts to get money invested in this scheme to allow ordinary people suffering from disabilities to have as normal a life as possible if their families are eligible to receive the grant.

However, sadly, local authority officials against their better judgment must now put in place conditions to prevent people getting the disability grant. Officials now have to draw up conditions A, B and C for people to qualify for a disabled person’s grant, just like those for orthodontic treatment. In the latter case, a person in class A has a chance of receiving such treatment; in class B might receive it in two years’ time; and in class C would probably be in his or her grave before receiving it. Even worse is the disabled person’s scheme, as adopted by the local authorities, because it means people in class A have a possibility of receiving a grant, while people in classes B and C have no possibility of receiving it.

The Minister of State has suggested that local authority officials are taking it for granted and are perhaps pleased they do not have to carry out the work in respect of adopting the system.

[831]Mr. Allen: Information on Bernard Allen  Zoom on Bernard Allen  It is a disgrace.

Mr. Wall: Information on Jack Wall  Zoom on Jack Wall  What the Minister of State has said is an absolute disgrace. I hope he reflects on what he said in the House and perhaps he will withdraw it tomorrow. Local authority officials have no credence in what he said. Last night, I listened to the contribution of my constituency colleague, Deputy Seán Power. He spoke with great sense in regard to the Labour Party motion because he knows what has happened. He knows the problems he and I have encountered in Kildare. A total of 180 cases were sent back to the health board to be prioritised. When they came back just a handful were granted the money because of lack of funding. The money was not there despite what the Minister of State tries to suggest and the blame he has tried to cast on others.

Only a small number of disabled person’s grants have been allowed in Kildare this year. The applications sat there for at least six months while the health board tried to prioritise them. Yet all of the applicants who waited were suffering. This was not a case of having to prioritise since all the grants had been recommended by the occupational therapist. When it came down to the wire the local authority did not have the money as the Department had refused to give it. Now we have the unfortunate development of A, B and C categories in Kildare County Council and probably in every other local authority. Those in the B and C categories have no hope this year or in the foreseeable future of receiving any assistance under this grant scheme.

I will not put any more cases on the record. Every Deputy who has contributed, from whatever side, has outlined cases in their own areas. Another case will neither strengthen nor weaken the case. That the Minister of State tries to pass the blame to the local authority shows his lack of credibility. He should have admitted he had failed and failed miserably to obtain the necessary funding for local authorities to ensure that persons suffering from a disability could receive the grant which was recommended by the occupational therapist to enable them enjoy life.

There is a problem also in regard to housing aid for the elderly. Occupational therapists have said they will not take the rap for the local authorities. The local authority will deal only with matters that do not relate to an occupational therapist’s report. There was a time when if an occupational therapist’s report was submitted it to the health board the funding would be provided. That is not the case now. That compounds the problem for the local authority as it cannot reduce the waiting lists for disability grants. The health board will do only small works and nothing associated with a possible insurance claim. It will not change a bath to a shower facility for an elderly person unless that person signs a document saying he or she will not take legal action against the health board. All those unfortunate people will suffer because of the approach of the health board.

[832]The Minister of State has failed miserably. It is his duty, having listened to both sides of the House, to go back to the Minister for Finance and tell him of the need for extra funding to meet the demands of all local authorities. If he does that he will have done a good day’s work.

Mr. Rabbitte: Information on Pat Rabbitte  Zoom on Pat Rabbitte  I thank Deputies on all sides who contributed to the debate on an issue that is of the utmost importance to those who must rely on the disabled persons grant scheme to undertake improvements or adjustments to their homes and to live with a modicum of dignity in their community. The debate was characterised by a number of thoughtful contributions from both sides of the House. That is because Members on all sides recognise the genuine concern about the shocking situation in regard to the disabled persons grant scheme.

Deputy Wall has commented on the contribution last night by his constituency colleague, Deputy Power. I pay tribute to the remarks of Deputy Power because week after week, Government Deputies come in to defend the impossible on Private Members’ business and to assert the Government line that everything is rosy in the world of Fianna Fáil and the Progressive Democrats. It is seldom that Government backbenchers contribute to a Private Members’ debate in the honest way that Deputy Power did last night. It was one of those rare occasions. As Deputy Wall has said, it is because he recognises the crisis out there. He dealt honestly with the position in his constituency and pointed out that Kildare County Council would have less than €1 million this year for the scheme, compared to €1.6 million last year. He stated: “... with some shame I have to say that no grants have been paid in Kildare at all in 2004, though we are almost halfway through the year...” He went on to say, “A country can be judged on the way it looks after its citizens who cannot look after themselves”. He stated further: “In private, few Members of the House would disagree with the motion before us”. That is the truth for many Government backbenchers.

I heard my colleague, Deputy O’Connor, agree with the motion and the Government amendment. It was a grand motion and a lovely amendment. Other than that most Members recognise that the motion, tabled by Deputy Gilmore, is the truth of what we all encountered on the doors during the recent elections and in our constituencies every week of the year.

This was the first opportunity for the new caring face of Fianna Fáil to manifest itself. We have heard speeches about the social democratic wing, the caring disposition that was the true Fianna Fáil tradition, yet we had a speech from the Minister that would do any Progressive Democrats member proud. I listened this evening to the Minister for Finance, Deputy McCreevy, on television saying he is worn out with Ministers crying and whingeing. He tells them they are the Government and if they do not like it, change it. He told them not to pester him about it, to go out [833]and change it. He said that if they do not like the quango, the authority or the local authority, they are the Government and have absolute power to go out and change it. We have a perfect example tonight of what the Minster for Finance, Deputy McCreevy, has to put up with, a Minister of State who is prepared to blame everyone, except himself, for the fact that the scheme has run into trouble. In respect of the manner in which it is manipulated, in Cork last year seven applications were approved. In the previous year which was an election year there were 300 applications were approved. That is disgraceful, blatant, manifest manipulation of the scheme.

In proposing the motion last night, Deputy
Gilmore said the Exchequer returns for the first five months of the year show €632 million in revenue above the budget. What he did not say was that spending is €716 million less than provided for. The spend is down as compared to budget by €716 million. It is not just that the revenue is coming in at a level which was not anticipated, and not for the first time, but there is a deliberate contrived slow down of spend by €716 million.

Deputy Wall said there is no point in putting another case on the record. Since my friend Deputy O’Connor said his county is doing quite well he obviously has a route in that I do not have. I will have a word with him after this debate.

I give the House the example of a woman called Brigid from my constituency who first approached me about the disabled person’s grant three years ago. She had to climb stairs to reach the toilet and go to bed. The council lost the Estimates and is now concerned about the issue. The woman is dying in St. James’s Hospital and, because we have told the council this, someone [834]will be sent to inspect the house. Her brother fought in 1916 and she herself was peripherally involved. She rarely used her medical card as she did not believe in being a burden on the State due to the way she was reared. For three years there was no response from the local authority until it became common knowledge that the woman was dying in St. James’s Hospital.

This an example, of the kind of extremes to which local authorities are forced to go because they do not have the money they need. The Minster says they should manage better, which some do, but it is impossible to manage if the money is not available. All his suggestion advances is the argument in favour of a national scheme underpinned by statute, which can be implemented uniformly and fairly. Implementation will not be fair and uniform as long as local authorities must produce one third of the grant. Some can and some cannot while the need continues to build in the community. Despite the desperate need of people in some of the cases, which the Minister of State agrees we have all encountered, we can forgo millions of euro to give investors breaks to buy holiday cottages. While we have no difficulty with that, we cannot provide the basic wherewithal for people who have been waiting for years for the enactment of disabled persons legislation.

As I do not wish to make political capital out of the fact that Fianna Fáil backbenchers supported Deputy Gilmore’s motion, I conclude by hoping they will speak in private with the Minister. While they will not vote with us tonight, it was clear from their speeches that they supported the content of the motion. If the Minister of State, Deputy Noel Ahern, belongs to the social-democratic wing of the Government, it was, regrettably, in scant evidence in the debate.

Amendment put.

[833]The Dáil divided: Tá, 62; Níl, 49.

Information on Michael Ahern  Zoom on Michael Ahern  Ahern, Michael. Information on Noel Ahern  Zoom on Noel Ahern  Ahern, Noel.
Information on Barry Andrews  Zoom on Barry Andrews  Andrews, Barry. Information on Seán Ardagh  Zoom on Seán Ardagh  Ardagh, Seán.
Information on Johnny Brady  Zoom on Johnny Brady  Brady, Johnny. Information on John Browne  Zoom on John Browne  Browne, John.
Information on Joe Callanan  Zoom on Joe Callanan  Callanan, Joe. Information on John Carty  Zoom on John Carty  Carty, John.
Information on Michael Collins  Zoom on Michael Collins  Collins, Michael. Information on Beverley Cooper-Flynn  Zoom on Beverley Cooper-Flynn  Cooper-Flynn, Beverley.
Information on John Cregan  Zoom on John Cregan  Cregan, John. Information on John Curran  Zoom on John Curran  Curran, John.
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Information on Seán Haughey  Zoom on Seán Haughey  Haughey, Seán. Information on Máire Hoctor  Zoom on Máire Hoctor  Hoctor, Máire.
Information on Joe Jacob  Zoom on Joe Jacob  Jacob, Joe. Information on Cecilia Keaveney  Zoom on Cecilia Keaveney  Keaveney, Cecilia.
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Information on Donal Moynihan  Zoom on Donal Moynihan  Moynihan, Donal. Information on Michael Moynihan  Zoom on Michael Moynihan  Moynihan, Michael.
Information on Michael Mulcahy  Zoom on Michael Mulcahy  Mulcahy, Michael. Information on M. J. Nolan  Zoom on M. J. Nolan  Nolan, M. J.
Information on Éamon Ó Cuív  Zoom on Éamon Ó Cuív  Ó Cuív, Éamon. Information on Seán Ó Fearghaíl  Zoom on Seán Ó Fearghaíl  Ó Fearghaíl, Seán.
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Information on Dennis O'Donovan  Zoom on Dennis O'Donovan  O’Donovan, Denis. Information on Batt O'Keeffe  Zoom on Batt O'Keeffe  O’Keeffe, Batt.
Information on Ned O'Keeffe  Zoom on Ned O'Keeffe  O’Keeffe, Ned. Information on Fiona O'Malley  Zoom on Fiona O'Malley  [835]O’Malley, Fiona.
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Information on Denis Naughten  Zoom on Denis Naughten  Naughten, Denis. Information on Dan Neville  Zoom on Dan Neville  Neville, Dan.
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[835]Tellers: Tá, Deputies Hanafin and Kelleher; Níl, Deputies Broughan and Durkan.

[835]Amendment declared carried.

Motion, as amended, put and declared carried.

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