Seanad Éireann - Volume 182 - 15 February, 2006

Adjournment Matters. - Employment Support Services.

  Mr. Bannon: I welcome the Minister of State and thank him for taking this important matter on community employment mainstreaming. I ask him to provide us with an update on funding for community employment project staff on whom the Irish Wheelchair Association relies for the provision of care and driving personnel for core and essential services within its resource and outreach centres in 62 locations nationally.

I have received many representations on this issue, particularly in the run up to and since the last budget, asking that I raise the issue of funding for community employment project staff. The Disability Act was passed in the last 12 months. It claims to protect and develop services for people with disabilities. It is unsatisfactory that [1350]the most vital and basic services are being delivered by community employment participants. As the Minister of State knows, the Irish Wheelchair Association relies on community employment schemes to provide care and driving staff to core and essential services in its resource and outreach centres in 62 locations nationally serving approximately 3,000 people weekly.

I acknowledge the great work of community employment schemes. They have played a major role in the development and provision of services for the disability sector in several areas over many years. The Irish Wheelchair Association also acknowledges this. However, use of community employment is no longer sufficient or appropriate to those very necessary services and the quality and number of participants available to community employment is threatening the ability to continue to deliver this service. That has been highlighted to me in clinics over the past few months by people involved in the Irish Wheelchair Association. I cannot overstate the importance of addressing this issue and I hope the Minister of State has good news for me.

Last year the Irish Wheelchair Association and the Disability Federation of Ireland made a joint presentation to the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Health and Children. As a result of this presentation, we were guaranteed the situation would be prioritised and a budget submission was made to the Minister outlining the possible solutions to guarantee core funding for the critical positions. They also presented their concerns to Ministers and Members of the Oireachtas.

We continue to get representations on this issue. On behalf of the Irish Wheelchair Association and people with disabilities, I appeal for funding on an incremental basis to secure staff and services beyond 2006. I would welcome a favourable response from the Minister of State who is trying to do his best in this area. I hope funding will be put on a firmer footing in the years to come. Community employment schemes have done a good job and many services have been provided but there has been much insecurity. It is important funding is available on a permanent basis.

  Mr. S. Power: I thank Senator Bannon for raising this matter. It gives me the opportunity to clarify the position in regard to the employment of staff by the Irish Wheelchair Association. I am replying on behalf of my colleague, the Tánaiste and Minister for Health and Children.

In the Estimates for 2006, significant additional funding totalling €100 million has been included for the improvement of health services for people with disabilities. As part of this provision, funding of €10 million has been made available to address core underfunding and core staffing issues in services provided by the non-statutory sector. The Health Service Executive has been asked to allocate this funding on an equitable basis, having regard to the needs of people with disabilities. I [1351]expect the executive’s consideration of these needs will take into account any urgent case for funding of necessary services which may be made by the Irish Wheelchair Association.

In this connection, I am aware that the Irish Wheelchair Association is highly dependent on community employment schemes to provide services to people with disabilities. This means there is a regular turnover of highly experienced, well trained and committed staff when their stints on community employment schemes expire. For agencies such as the Irish Wheelchair Association which have a significant involvement in community employment schemes, there can be particular difficulties associated with the lack of eligible participants, difficulties in recruiting people [1352]of the required calibre and problems associated with training participants who must then leave the schemes after a defined period, resulting in the need on the part of the agency and service user to recruit and train all over again.

If the association is of the view that such services should be fully funded by the Health Services Executive instead, it should make this case directly to the executive. It will then be a matter for the HSE to decide on the level of priority to be given to this funding application, taking into account the advice of the regional co-ordinating committees and bearing in mind other competing demands for funding for disability services.

  The Seanad adjourned at 7.35 p.m. until 10.30 a.m. on Thursday, 16 February 2006.