Minister of State with responsibility for disabilities Finian McGrath has been quizzed over the delay in ratification of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD) during a lively debate in the Joint-Justice Committee (Wednesday, December 14th).
The Committee was debating the Equality Disability (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill, which is one of the final pieces of legislation required to ratify the UNCRPD such as issues around reasonable accommodation and deprivation of liberty.
Minister McGrath admitted that the Bill would not be enacted by the end of the year as had been hoped and said he was “personally very disappointed” about this.
Speaking about the UNCRPD, the Minister acknowledged that Ireland was “one of the few EU-member States yet to ratify the Convention” and that this was a recurring point of criticism by the United Nations and by NGOs.
The Minister said that “in terms of quality of service and actual position of persons with disabilities in society, Ireland is in many respects in advance of other EU States”.
Minister McGrath also stated that Ireland only ratify international agreements when there is a guarantee that commitments can be met and confirmed that Ireland will sign the optional protocol of the UNCRPD which provides for individual complaints to the UNCRPD Committee.
Senator Martin Conway said that it was a “pity he didn’t meet his target” and asked the Minister to elaborate on reasons for delays to which the Minister replied that the delays had been borne out of “people wanting to be really sure … the legislation was well thought out and not rushed.”
Senator Conway also asked if the Minister felt he was meeting his expectations in relation to his new role as Minister for Disabilities and if he was making the inroads that he had expected. McGrath said he was honoured and felt that he was making major progress and transforming services.
Senator John Dolan asked whether ratification was a “pie in the sky” endeavour and that while he accepted the Minister’s commitment that “non-ratification is simply unjustifiable”, the ongoing dragging of feet was “a disgrace”.
Senator Dolan pointed to poverty and exclusion that people with disabilities live with in Ireland and that it wasn’t good enough to “be better than others” and asked the Minister to “level with us ... as to why the Convention has not been ratified”.
Minister McGrath rejected that there was any hidden political agenda and reiterated that change took time to implement pointing to what he had already delivered such as €10 million spend towards medical cards for children on Domiciliary Care Allowance; €31 million for emergency residential and supports; establishment of the Taskforce on Personalised Budgets; and securing €20 million per year to move people out of congregated settings.
Jack Chambers TD enquired as to whether there was an action plan for inter-departmental co-operation saying that the Convention would mean very little without co-operation between Departments. The Minster said that he was in regular contact with between 10-15 people from different departments and has a special disability advisor.
Jim O’Callaghan TD said that he wouldn’t blame the Minister for non-ratification, but asked the Minister to “become an irritant” to make sure it gets done. The Deputy asked about ‘Head 3’ referring to deprivation of liberty and said that it was unfortunate that it wouldn’t be included until a later stage, saying that the Oireachtas should have an opportunity to debate the issue.
Chair of the Committee Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin asked about monitoring of the Convention - in particular about the advisory committee and whether it will comprise members who have the lived experience of disability and whether carers would be involved.
The Minster said that while he couldn’t “micro-manage the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission” he felt that carers would be included as persons with “lived-experience” of disability.
The meeting of the Committee concluded with the Chair reiterating that it was the view of the Committee that the Bill be enacted at the earliest possible time to allow for the ratification of the Convention without delay.