Friday, 20 December 1996
Seanad Éireann Debate
Mr. Finneran: I thank the Minister for coming in to respond to my call for funding for the proposed national respite and holiday centre at Donamon, County Roscommon. I appreciate that funding for the centre may not be the total responsibility of the Minister for Health, but it is not possible for three Ministers to come into the House to reply. However, a Government response is required and I hope what I say will be conveyed to the Minister's colleagues with responsibility in this area.
The Irish Wheelchair Association is a national organisation dedicated to the achievement of full social, economic and educational integration of people with disability as equal, independent and active members in the general community. The association aspires to be the leading organisation for people with physical disability, giving a voice to the demands of all members and taking action at local, national and international level to achieve those objectives. In response to the demands for holiday facilities for persons with a disability, the association proposes setting up a national respite and holiday centre at Donamon in County Roscommon. There are very few  locations where it is possible for people with disabilities to go on holiday. Only the more expensive hotels provide such facilities, but the cost is generally outside their reach.
The Irish Wheelchair Association employs 158 full-time staff, 205 on a part-time basis and 360 on community employment schemes, a total of more than 700 people directly involved in providing facilities for the disabled on a national basis. In some cases schools have been used on an ad hoc basis to provide holiday facilities for such people. While we appreciate the good work done by the Irish Wheelchair Association and by voluntary groups and carers, the question of proper holiday facilities for people with disability has not been adequately addressed. Consequently, the association proposes providing a custom made hospital respite centre, with the necessary facilities, equipment and support, and accommodation and meals provided at a reasonable cost.
In 1995 they began discussions with the Divine Word Missionaries in Donamon, County Roscommon for the use of their 30,000 square feet pastoral centre. In May 1996 a lease on the property was agreed, including a token rent of £3,000 per annum. The Irish Wheelchair Association intends to develop the building into a modern, friendly and innovative respite, holiday and development centre available to all people with a physical disability, other organisations, the local community and tourists. The building comprises a three storey block, with 64 bedrooms, seven large workrooms, showers, toilets, kitchens, dining and laundry facilities. In addition, a conference facility for up to 300 people is available in a modern, almost unused chapel.
I ask the Government and Department of Health to support the Irish Wheelchair Association in converting this property into one suitable for a holiday and respite centre for people with disability. The association also intends to make this facility available to Irish and foreign disabled and able-bodied visitors alike. That is an important component of this proposal, bearing in mind the connection between the Irish Wheelchair Association and international disabled groups and mobile international associations.
The Donamon Centre in County Roscommon is located at the gateway to the west, an ideal base for people with disability touring the midlands, west and north-west regions. The association further proposes that it will constitute a respite and holiday centre for people with disabilities, their families and carers in addition to providing employment opportunities for people with disabilities. They intend to run educational courses for people with disabilities and able-bodied alike, driving tuition, assessment of people with disabilities, art and recreation, including painting, sports, music, acting etc., a corporate training centre, angling and boating for the disabled, horticulture and capacity-building courses for people with disability with low level esteem. It will be seen that this constitutes a very extensive and welcome proposal by the Irish Wheelchair Association.
 The reason I have tabled this motion is to draw the attention of the House to the costs involved. The Irish Wheelchair Association needs Government support to implement this plan. I understand the costs will amount to approximately £350,000 capital, along with revenue costs of approximately £150,000 to cover the salaries of a staff of seven needed to run the centre, to be backed-up by participants in the community employment programme and others from the voluntary sector. In my view that constitutes a very modest staffing complement but, in order to get the centre off the ground, they must be allocated adequate funds, particularly in respect of the capital costs involved.
To date I understand that all the association has received is approximately £100,000 from the Department of Health and has raised the remainder in the form of a bank overdraft. The association cannot continue on that basis. It has applied to a number of other groups, including the European Regional Development Fund. I am most disappointed that the latter has failed to respond to their appeal. Under the Bord Fáilte heading, surely the administrators of that fund have a responsibility to back-up the provision of a holiday facility for the disabled in addition to those provided nationally for the able-bodied. Surely people with disability have an equal right to European Union money for a tourism facility.
I hope the Minister will be in a position to respond to this most worthwhile proposal by the Irish Wheelchair Association which would be enormously beneficial for everybody, but particularly those in the midlands, west and north — west. I compliment the Irish Wheelchair Association and all support and back-up groups locally and nationally who have supported this project.
Donamon Castle is one of the oldest inhabited buildings in Ireland, an erstwhile fortress, the earliest reference to which can be found in the Annals of the Four Masters in 1154. Is it not all the more appropriate that that building, which is still inhabited, should provide an adequate opportunity for respite and holiday breaks for people with disability? If ever a cause merited the attention of Government, the Minister and all of us in public life, surely it must be to constantly highlight the difficulties encountered by people with disability, particularly in gaining access to buildings and holiday opportunities. This proposal affords the Government an opportunity to row in behind the Irish Wheelchair Association to provide this respite centre for people with disability.
Hopefully the Minister will be in a position to respond on behalf of the Government and announce good news for Donamon, for the Irish Wheelchair Association, especially for those with a disability, so that some time in the coming year they will have available to them there a fully equipped holiday and respite centre.
During the year the Irish Wheelchair Association was offered the use of extensive accommodation by the Divine Word Missionaries on the Donamon Castle complex. My initial commitment to the project was a capital grant of £105,000 which I paid through the Western Health Board, for necessary refurbishment work to enable the new centre to become operational. In addition, I made a lottery grant of £38,000 available for the purchase of a bus for this service.
The Donamon Centre will provide a range of services for people with physical disabilities. These will include residential respite care, ranging from crisis intervention to planned regular breaks, day activity services for people in the locality with physical disabilities, personal development, activity and support programmes for people with disabilities and their carers, along with holiday breaks and recreational programmes.
The services to be provided in the centre will be open to people with disabilities from all areas, but particularly the west. While the centre will be managed by the Irish Wheelchair Association, various organisations providing services for people with disabilities will be involved. It is also planned to involve other community-based organisations to provide as high a degree of integration as possible for people with disabilities.
Respite care and day activity services are priorities in the development of services for people with physical disabilities. I will sympathetically consider proposals for the continuing funding of the Donamon Centre. I met the Irish Wheelchair Association recently when I expressed my support for the project. I am optimistic that I will be able to provide additional support for the centre in 1997. As a first step, I have asked officials of my Department to convene a meeting between the Irish Wheelchair Association, the health board and my Department to discuss additional funding requirements for 1997.
From the very beginning I have welcomed this project and officials of my Department and the Western Health Board have been working with the Irish Wheelchair Association to progress it. I readily agreed to approve a capital grant to enable the premises be converted for this purpose. This grant represented a commitment on my part which enabled the Irish Wheelchair Association to get the project off the ground by entering into a five-year lease for the premises. I am glad to report that a number of people have already benefited from services in the centre. In ensuing years I look forward to a progressive development in the Donamon Centre of much needed services for people with physical disabilities.
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