Dáil Éireann - Volume 546 - 13 December, 2001

Other Questions. - Legislative Programme.

11. Ms O'Sullivan asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform when he expects to publish the promised disability Bill having regard to the commitment that it would be published in this Dáil session; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [32106/01]

Mr. O'Donoghue: The Deputy last asked me this question on Tuesday, 13 November 2001. At that time I informed her that it was the firm intention of the Government to publish the disability Bill before Christmas. This remains the case.

The disability Bill is a positive action measure which will enhance and underpin the ability of people with disabilities to participate more fully in everyday life. The measures proposed to achieve these objectives clearly have cross-sectoral impact and have required a comprehensive, innovative and considered approach to be taken. Nonetheless, work has progressed rapidly and the Bill is being dealt with as a matter of priority at all levels to ensure that we meet our commitment to people with disabilities to publish a disability Bill.

The disability Bill will be the fourth piece of major legislation relating to disability equality to be introduced by this Government and has been [1122] progressed in the context of the legislative and infrastructural framework for equality which the Government has put in place. The Employment Equality Act, 1998, and the Equal Status Act, 2000. prohibit discrimination on nine specified grounds, including that of disability, in the workplace and in the provision of goods and services. The Equality Authority and the office of the Director of Equality Investigations, established to implement this legislation, are now fully operational. The National Disability Authority Act, 1999, provides for the establishment of the National Disability Authority as a statutory agency dedicated to disability policy and practice, and is now fully operational.

My colleague the Minister of State, Deputy Mary Wallace, indicated in the House during the debate on the Disability Commissioner (No. 2) Bill, 2001, that the main focus of the Government's disability Bill will be on positive action measures to remove barriers and to support access and participation by people with disabilities.

It is our intention to include a range of measure to ensure that all public services are made accessible to people with disabilities. For example, physical access to built facilities will be an integral part of this approach. Public transport is another area where barriers to people with disabilities need to be removed.

There is a range of other issues under consideration in the context of the Bill which will cut across areas as diverse as personal health services, landlord and tenant obligations, public procurement procedures, use of genetic testing for commercial purposes, e-accessibility measures and measures to promote the employment of people with disabilities.

We stand on our record of delivering good enforceable law to protect people with disabilities. The Bill will be a catalyst for change that is equitable in law through measures that recognise the fact that many people with disabilities need support in accessing employment and good services. We want to move away from the historical deficits in this country that leave people with disabilities with no option but to go to court for individual rights, by establishing statute based standards for service delivery and access. The disability Bill will further reinforce the principles of disability equality and greatly consolidate the strides made by this Government in creating a full framework for their implementation.

Mr. Howlin: The Minister is right in saying my colleague, Deputy O'Sullivan, has asked this question many times. Will the Minister accept that the commitment he gave her was to publish the Bill in this Dáil session? Will the Bill be published tomorrow, the last day of this session; if not, and if the promise is to be broken, has the Bill gone to Government; and if not, will it go to Government in the remaining Cabinet meeting scheduled for next week?

[1123] Mr. O'Donoghue: The Bill will be published before Christmas. That was the promise given and it will be kept. The disability Bill is and has been under consideration by the Government. I am satisfied that the Bill will be published before Christmas, as promised.

Ms O'Sullivan: We understand the Bill will be considered by the Cabinet next Tuesday. Will a complete and fully drafted Bill go to Cabinet? If Cabinet approves the Bill will it be available to the public before Christmas? The Bill needs to be available, not just to the Members of this House but also to the large number of groups who have an interest in this subject and who will wish to have as much time as possible to scrutinise it.

Is it the Minister's intention that Second Stage be taken as soon as possible after the Christmas break? The timeframe will be tight. The general election must be called before the end of June and there will be a need for wide consultation. The select committee will wish to hear the views of several groups before Committee Stage of the Bill is debated. The Bill has been awaited for a long time, a wide variety of groups have an interest in it and it will deal with a wide range of issues.

Will the Minister give some indication of the scope of what will be contained in the Bill?

Mr. Shatter: Can the Minister give the House a guarantee that Second Stage of the Bill will start immediately the Dáil reconvenes after the Christmas break and will he allow the time of the House to ensure the legislation is enacted in proper form before the Easter vacation?

Mr. O'Donoghue: I am pleased with the progress which has been made in the life of this Dáil in relation to people with disabilities. The Employment Equality Act, the Equal Status Act and the National Disability Authority Act represent major milestones along the road to creating a more equitable society for people with disabilities.

The Bill will be approved and published before Christmas. That is the promise that was made and I intend to keep that promise. Unfortunately, I do not order Dáil business. It will be a matter for the Whips to decide when the legislation will be taken. It is certainly my hope that the legislation will be passed through both Houses and become law before the Dáil rises for the general election.

In formulating the scope of the legislation there has been major consultation with various groups. Submissions have been taken and each proposal has been examined in meticulous detail by very dedicated officials within the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform. The measures to be covered in the Bill will be proactive in nature and will require all Departments and State agencies to participate in initiatives to advance and underpin the inclusion of people with disabilities. In deciding the scope of the proposed Bill, we have been guided by the recommendations made [1124] by the Commission on the Status of People with Disabilities and by consultations with people with disabilities. The recommendations of the commission with regard to anti-discrimination legislation have already been implemented.

The Bill will support the principle of mainstreaming through positive action measures, including the removal of barriers. In this regard, consideration is given to barriers which currently exist in a range of areas, including the built environment, access to information, transport and health services. Consideration is also given to issues which cut across areas as diverse as landlord and tenant obligations, public procurement procedures, use of genetic testing for commercial purposes and measures to promote the employment of people with disabilities.

This will be a very comprehensive piece of legislation and a flagship in the treatment of people with disabilities in our society for many decades to come. It will create the environment for the kind of equality to which we have always aspired.

Written Answers follow Adjournment Debate.