First, I refer to the email that Senator Dolan sent us. It is important to record his point of view: “I have witnessed for the past 25 years the constant erosion of the practical life enhancing tool of a personal assistance service since it burst onto the political agenda in the early 90’s under the leadership of Martin Naughton and … People such as Dermot Walsh, Florence Dougall, Mairead Menton …”. The baton has been carried on by Shelly and James of Independent Living Movement Ireland.
It was not until I met Dermot Walsh who was a constituent of mine in Walkinstown that I really realised what the allocation of personal assistant hours actually meant to somebody. He was very active in his communit and a full-time disability advocate with Dublin Bus. His personal assistant used to get him into work in the mornings, would drive him in the car and bring him to conferences, including overseas. He had that support every minute of the day and lived independently. That is what I am talking about when I talk about independent living, not home help hours or assistance for a couple of hours a day.
The Disability Federation of Ireland made these points at a briefing last year and it contradicts completely what the Minister of State told the House. It stated clearly that only 0.3% of all people with disabilities received a personal assistant service. Joan O’Connor who wrote the briefing document noted that notwithstanding the definitional issues or conflation of personal assistant and home support data, the figures showed that overall there had been a drop of over 25% in the numbers in receipt of personal assistant and home supports combined between 2010 and 2017. She noted that, in the context of the personal assistant service, the majority received assistance for between one and five hours, that is, 957, and for between six and ten hours, or 538. There was only a target of 256 receiving between 21 and 40 hours in 2017. Only 5% of the HSE’s disability budget was expended on personal assistance and home support services.
Article 19 of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, UNCRPD, specifically mentions personal assistance under section b where it states: “Persons with disabilities have access to a range of in-home, residential and other community support services, including personal assistance”. This article means that a person with a disability has the right to live where they want, the right to be fully included in the community, that States must provide the supports needed to achieve these outcomes including personal assistants and that all community services should be available to people with disabilities.
There was no specific reference to independent living in budget 2020. It failed to bring a comprehensive coherent approach to resourcing the real inclusion of disabled people in Ireland despite commitments made by the Government that it would disability-proof budget 2020. I put it to the Government that it should respect and implement the UNCRPD to provide the personal assistance hours that people really need, not the home help hours or a couple of hours here or there, and comply with the article in its entirety and its precise meaning. The only way that can be done is by referring those rights to the HSE and telling them that those rights must be vindicated among citizens with disability.