Wednesday, 19 March 2008
Seanad Eireann Debate
Senator Joe O’Reilly: Ba mhaith liom fáilte a chur roimh an Aire. The new unit for eight intellectually-disabled people at Milltown, Monaghan town, is a state of the art facility. The house is fully fitted and ready for use and was officially opened by President McAleese on Thursday, 17 January 2008. It is part of the implementation of Part 2 of the Disability Act 2005. The objective is to provide sheltered housing, with the services of support staff, to persons with intellectual disabilities and remove these individuals from inappropriate institutions such as psychiatric hospitals and geriatric homes.
I am aware of persons with intellectual disabilities who are wrongfully and disgracefully being imprisoned in psychiatric and geriatric institutions. People experience rapid deterioration in their psychological and physical health when they are wrongly placed in such institutions. This is criminally wrong and it is outrageous that a facility such as Brookvale House, Milltown, Monaghan, is not open, particularly in light of the great need that exists and the fact that people are awaiting admission. Tragically, a similar new building for six handicapped people at Billis, County Monaghan, is also idle.
I understand the reason for not opening the facilities to which I refer relates to the embargo on recruitment. This is wrong. An exemption or derogation in respect of them should be granted. Professor Brendan Drumm recently informed Oireachtas Members that derogations could be granted in respect of the embargo on recruitment, particularly in areas of acute need. Surely this is one such area. Some weeks ago, the Taoiseach stated that derogations are an option.
I appeal to the Minister not to inform me that this is an internal HSE matter. Bunreacht na hÉireann and the Disability Act 2005 are not internal HSE matters. I ask the Minister to exercise executive authority to ensure the immediate opening of the facility at Milltown. A real human need exists and people are suffering. I could cite individual cases but in the interests of sensitivity and out of deference to the families, I will not do so. My interest in this matter arises out of representations I received from those who are in real need.
It is bizarre that this expensive facility, which is located on a beautiful site, is not open as a result of reasons relating to staffing and that those who should be admitted to it are being kept in inappropriate institutions. That beggars belief. What is happening is beyond comprehension. This matter would be funny if it were not for the sad circumstances of the individuals involved.
Deputy John Gormley: I wish to emphasise the Government’s commitment to providing a high-quality service to all people with disabilities. This commitment is illustrated by the substantial investment we have been making in disability services in recent years.
The national disability strategy, which was launched in September 2004, reinforces equal participation in society of people with disabilities and provides for a framework of new supports for these individuals. Together with the enhancement of other key support services, this strategy is a major factor in building the additional capacity required to ensure services best meet identified needs.
The strategy builds on a strong equality framework, which is reflected in several items of equality legislation. It puts the policy of the mainstreaming of public services for people with disabilities on a clear legal footing. The main elements of the strategy are the Disability Act 2005, the Education for Persons with Special Educational Needs Act 2004, the sectoral plans published in 2006 by six Departments, the Citizens Information Act 2007 and the multi-annual investment programme for disability support services for the period 2006-09.
An integral part of the strategy is the multi-annual investment programme announced in the 2005 budget. This programme provides a commitment to a cumulative capital and revenue programme of €900 million. The bulk of this funding will be spent on certain disability-specific services during the period 2006 to 2009. Commitments in this regard include the development of new residential, respite and day places for persons with intellectual disability and autism in each of the years covered by the programme.
As the Senator is aware, the Tánaiste and Minister for Finance, Deputy Cowen, allocated €50 million in Budget 2008 in respect of the provision of disability services. This money will be allocated in the following ways. In respect of services for persons with intellectual disabilities and those with autism, 200 additional residential places will be provided in 2008, bringing the total number of places to 8,462 by the end of the year; 467 additional day care places will be provided in 2008, bringing the total number of places to 25,196 by the end of the year; and 53 additional respite places will be provided, bringing the total number of places to 4,533 by the end of the year. With regard to services for persons with physical or sensory disabilities, 80 additional residential places will be provided in 2008, bringing the total number of places to 914 by the end of the year and 200,000 additional hours of personal assistance-home support hours will be provided, bringing the total number of hours to 3.2 million by the end of the year. Some 140 multidisciplinary team posts are being allocated to disability services in 2008 to provide assessment and ongoing intervention services to children with disabilities and, in particular, with reference to the implementation of the provisions of the Disability Act 2005 for children under five years of age, which commenced on 1 June 2007.
By the end of the current multi-annual investment programme in 2009, it is expected that 1,235 new residential places, 398 new respite places and 467 new day care places will have been commissioned in respect of intellectual disability services. In addition, there will be 380 new residential places and 1.15 million extra PA-home support hours for people with physical and sensory disabilities.
With regard to the matter raised by the Senator, the HSE has informed the Department of Health and Children that the official opening by President Mary McAleese of Brookvale House took place in January 2008. Brookvale is a seven-bed community group home for people with intellectual disabilities who have medium to high-support needs. This development is one of two side-by-side group homes, known respectively as Brookvale House and Millbrooke House, which will provide a high standard of residential accommodation in a beautiful, quiet and rural-type setting.
The Department of Health and Children understands from the HSE that work is ongoing to identify the client group that will, based on community priority waiting lists, live at Brookvale and that arrangements are being put in place to address a number of other issues, including the recruitment of appropriate staff. The Department of Health and Children understands that the HSE has arranged to meet, later this month, representatives of the Monaghan Parents and Friends Association, which was involved in the development of this facility, to discuss progress on these issues.
I congratulate the Monaghan Parents and Friends Association on its great work and dedication in delivering on this high-quality development. The tripartite approach to this project which involved the association, Monaghan County Council and the HSE is a model of good practice that will enhance the quality of life of people with disabilities and their families in the Monaghan area.
It appears there is a glimmer of hope for the people of Monaghan in that meetings are due to take place. Sanity may be about to prevail. I appeal to the Minister to inform the Minister for Health and Children that it is beyond belief that a facility of this nature remains unopened, merely on the grounds of staffing issues. This is particularly strange when one considers that staff who are highly competent in their areas of expertise are required to keep people in institutions where they should not be. It beggars belief. I ask the Minister to convey to the Minister for Health and Children that I am genuinely concerned about this, as are many people in the area. There is a glimmer of hope that perhaps sanity is about to prevail.
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