Minister of State with special responsibility for Disabilities Finian McGrath introduced the Disability (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill 2016 in the Dáil last evening (Tuesday, January 31st) and while there was broad support for much of the Bill, serious concerns were raised by all opposition TDs - but especially in relation to the lack of consultation on the provisions of the Bill.
Regarding the title of the Bill, Deputy Donnchadh Ó Laoghaire (Sinn Féin) asked where the word ‘equality’ had gone from the original title.
Introducing the Bill, Minister McGrath admitted that it had taken longer than expected, but he was delighted to bring the Bill forward to allow for the ratification of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD) and that “enactment of this Bill will strengthen the position for this (people with disabilities) even further”.
Although Deputy Jack Chambers (Fianna Fáil) pointed out that Ireland was the last EU country to have ratified the Convention, Minister McGrath said that once Ireland ratifies "there will be no legislation on the Irish Statute books that contradicts the Convention - not like other countries”.
Minister McGrath did, however, admit that Ireland would not be fully ratifying the Convention in the area of ‘reasonable accommodation’ on the advice from the Attorney General that a right to private property prevented a higher standard for private services.
Deputy Margaret Murphy O’Mahoney TD (Fianna Fáil) responded that Inclusion Ireland and the Centre for Disability Law and Policy had both expressed concerns about this different levels of reasonable accommodation.
Minister McGrath mooted a raised quota level for people with disabilities from the current level of 3% saying he had "set a target of 6% - which was ambitious and he had a vision and strategy".
The Minister has also confirmed that all remaining incidences of the words “lunatics” and “persons of unsound mind will be removed from Statute by the passing of this Bill".
As the Minister confirmed that not all heads of the Bill were ready and that the Department of Health were preparing the ‘deprivation of liberty’ section of the Bill.
Deputy Murphy O’Mahoney TD said there was disappointment that the Bill is incomplete, “half a bill is hardly the best way to honour the ratification” of the UNCRPD and Deputy Jonathan O’Brien (Sinn Féin) criticised the "raft of amendments" planned for committee stage.
Minister McGrath said it was a very important part, but that further work was required and would be introduced at Committee Stage as an amendment.
He said: “Clearly depriving a person of his or her can only be accepted as a last resort and an appropriate balance must be struck between protecting individuals who may be a danger to themselves or others by ensuring that we can provide social care in suitable setting for vulnerable individuals and recognise citizens are free to make decisions for themselves except where persons decision-making capacity is lacking.”
Deputy Murphy O’Mahoney said that organisations had not been consulted and that amendments being brought at a later stage meant that there could be no meaningful consultation.
This view was echoed by Jonathan O’Brien TD (Sinn Féin) who asked when the Committee Stage would actuall take place.
Deputy Chambers also said that the Department “did have time” and that it was a “missed opportunity” to properly consult key stakeholders.
Deputy Murphy O’Mahoney also said that persons who campaign for disability rights and inclusion had concerns and pointed to Inclusion Ireland’s concern that legislative clarity is required relating to deprivation of liberty and additionally the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission (IHREC) was worried that significant numbers of amendments were planned for the next stage and that this limits scope of meaningful analysis.
The concerns of both Inclusion Ireland and the Centre for Disability Law and Policy relating to barriers to participating in jury service were also raised by Deputy Murphy O’Mahoney.
Deputy Murphy O’Mahoney put forward Inclusion Ireland’s concern that the “advisory body” envisaged under the bill to monitor the UNCRPD should comprise wholly of persons with personal, lived experience of disability that this committee should be representative of all forms of disability and should be adequately resourced, facilitated and its members accommodated and supported.
At present, the Bill is proposing that only half the body would have such lived experience. Deputy Chambers said the involvement of persons with disabilities in monitoring was crucial.
The debate on the Bill continues tonight (Wednesday, February 1st) after the Report and Final Stages of the Criminal Law (Sexual Offences) Bill – another key aspect of the roadmap to ratification of the UNCRPD.