Sinn Féin - On Your Side

Disability Bill a disgrace and must be withdrawn

4 November, 2004

Speaking during the Disability Bill 2004 debate in the Dáil today Sinn Féin's spokesperson on Justice, Equality and Human Rights, Aengus Ó Snodaigh TD called the Bill "a disgrace" saying that it was not rights-based and "may even cut access to services for people with disabilities". The Dublin South Central TD went on to call for the Bill to be withdrawn and for a new rights-based Bill to be drafted.

Deputy Ó Snodaigh said, "This is not a rights-based Bill, it is a resource-based Bill. It is regressive legislation that may even cut access to services for people with disabilities. Not only does it not rectify the deficiencies of the earlier Bill by allowing for peoples' rights to be vindicated through the courts if need be, it sets up the ultimate legal defence for the Government, who will now be able to cite resource restrictions as per the provisions of the soon-to-become-notorious section 5.

"As for the alleged commitment to multi-annual funding that is just not anywhere in the legislation. As far as we know, funding will still be at the Finance Minister's discretion. In fact, not only does section 5 not ringfence funding, it actually limits Ministers to spend on disability services or accessibility provision in line with available resources. Again, the absence of available funds will become a defence against a court challenge under this legislation, as appeals to the High Court of decisions of appeals officers for example, can be made only on a point of law.

"Another major problem with this legislation is that it exempts the private sector from accessibility obligations. This is in direct contradiction of the recommendations of the Commission on Disability. And it all but lets the public sector off the hook, giving it 10 years to fulfil its obligations.

"This Bill gives people with disabilities the qualified right to an assessment, and that is all. And how many people will even qualify for that is in question, given the unacceptably narrow definition of disability adopted by the legislation, one which is at odds with that provided in the other equality legislation. Ironically, this will set up two classes of people with disabilities in this state. This is just one of the Bill's many fundamental flaws.

"Particularly after all the waiting and promising and hoping, this Bill is a disgrace. It should not proceed today, but should go back to the drawing Board. This Government should redraw the Bill so that it conforms not only with Recommendation 9 of the Commission on the Status of People with Disabilities, but also with the recommendations of its own Disability Legislation Consultation Group in Equal Citizens. Nothing less than an unequivocally rights-based Bill will be acceptable to Sinn Féin." ENDS

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