Dáil Éireann - Volume 313 - 29 March, 1979

Ceisteanna—Questions. Oral Answers. - Provision for Handicapped.

[846] 17. Dr. Browne asked the Minister for Health the assistance, if any, available to persons who are mentally or physically handicapped living at home.

18. Dr. O'Connell asked the Minister for Health if the existing services for the physically handicapped in Ireland are satisfactory; if not, the measures it is intended to take to improve and extend these services; and if he will make a statement on the matter.

Mr. Haughey: With the permission of the Ceann Comhairle, I propose to take Questions Nos. 17 and 18 together.

There is continuing development of the services available to the handicapped.

It is now well established policy to maintain handicapped people in their own homes, as far as possible, by building up the community care services.

Voluntary social service organisations for the handicapped are supported and encouraged in various ways. Resources are being made available for the provision of training and sheltered workshops and day care centres, home help and meals-on-wheels services. Where circumstances so require, health boards may supply special requisites which invalids may be unable to provide from their own resources.

The specific schemes of financial assistance for the handicapped are the constant care allowance of £35 per month payable in respect of handicapped children whose parents have to devote an exceptional amount of time to their care, and the Disabled Persons Maintenance Allowance for adults, the maximum rate of which is £15.20 per week with effect from 1 April 1979. A review of the organisation and staffing of the National Rehabilitation Board is under way at present with a view to equipping it for a more active role in the development and implementation of programmes for training and employing the handicapped.

19. Mr. M. O'Leary asked the Minister for Health if it is intended to make a grant to provide a mobility allowance [847] for those disabled who have no personal transport.

Mr. Haughey: Persons in receipt of disabled persons maintenance allowances are entitled to free public transport outside peak hours and health boards may pay grants of up to £1,000 to handicapped persons who require to purchase a car for the purpose of travelling to work.

Recently representations have been made to me to the effect that additional assistance in this area should be made available to the disabled. I will consider this in relation to other claims for development of services for the handicapped.

Mr. M. O'Leary: Could the Minister put a time limit on when he would finish his review and give an indication of any improvement he might have in mind?

Mr. Haughey: This is not a situation to which we should await some final, overall solution. Rather we should try to implement steps as the opportunity presents itself and resources become available.

Mr. M. O'Leary: I know the Minister met a deputation recently and I think they put this point to him—the problem of transport for the disabled is a bit more acute than the public transport can cope with in all the circumstances. This is part of their difficulty——

Mr. Haughey: I accept that. The Deputy is aware that, first of all, there is this provision of motor cars for those who can avail of them. Unfortunately that is not available to everybody in the handicapped or disabled category. Then there is the entitlement to free transport. But even allowing for both those things the Deputy will understand, as I do, that there are still a number of people who are in effect immobile.

Dr. O'Connell: Is the Minister aware that special transport grants for cars can be provided for those people only if they are working but, by virtue of the fact [848] that they are handicapped, they experience great difficulty in getting jobs?

Mr. Haughey: I discussed that with the deputation that came to see me recently. I was able to assure them that the position is that there need not be a catch 22 situation. In other words, if a disabled person can get a job, provided he has a car—if he can establish that to our satisfaction—the grant can be made available.

Mr. Boland: Is the Minister aware that disabled persons who have employment but who cannot afford a car feel they are being discriminated against because assistance towards public transport is given only at off-peak hours and that there ought to be consideration given to providing public transport facilities at peak hours also for the disabled who cannot afford cars, enabling them to carry out ordinary occupations in normal working hours?

Mr. Haughey: All of these points were put very cogently and trenchantly to me by the deputation I received recently.

20. Mr. M. O'Leary asked the Minister for Health if he has under consideration any plans to set up an investigative body to review the situation regarding employment of the disabled.

Mr. Haughey: In 1973 a working party was set up to examine comprehensively the question of training and employing handicapped persons. The subsequent recommendations of that group were accepted by my predecessor and subsequently by me and are now being gradually implemented.