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'Every other option was illegal' - Minister defends disability payments cut

Junior health minister Kathleen Lynch could provide no guarantees as to what will happen to the payments to those in receipt of the Mobility Allowance when it is axed in four months time.

Minister of State for Disability, Equality and Mental Health Kathleen Lynch
Minister of State for Disability, Equality and Mental Health Kathleen Lynch
Image: Wanderley Massafelli/Photocall Ireland

JUNIOR HEALTH MINISTER Kathleen Lynch has said that the government had no other option but to axe two disability transport payments saying that to have kept them would have been unaffordable for the State.

Lynch could provide no guarantee that those in receipt of the payments – the Mobility Allowance and the Motorised Transport Grant – would continue to receive it through another means once they are scrapped altogether in four months time.

“We now have the HSE going to do an in-depth look at who receives it, what their transport needs are and how we can ensure that their transport needs are met in the next four to five months,” she told RTÉ Radio.

“That’s what we’re looking at now and that’s the only guarantee I can give anyone.”

Her comments follow the announcement last night from the Department of Health that the payment of the Mobility Allowance of around €208 per month to 4,700 people will end in four months time in addition to the scrapping of the Motorised Transport Grant paid to 300 people.

This follows a finding by the Ombudsman Emily O’Reilly that the exclusion of people over the age of 65 from the scheme was illegal and breached equality law. The government says that it would cost too much to widen the scheme.

On RTÉ’s Morning Ireland Lynch said that to expand the scheme to include those over 65 would cost the State  €170 million to €300 million and said that “every single option we came up” as an alternative “was considered to be illegal”.

‘We simply cannot afford it’

She said the choice was either to open it up or to close it down and said that the latter was chosen with a view to taking “a serious look as to how we would develop a transport system for everyone in the country”.

Lynch said: “The facts are that if we keep this scheme going as it now exists then it will be open to everyone who is over 65 and who, within the Disability Act, is defined as having a disability.

“We simply cannot afford it, we are trying desperately to deliver  services within the health service to everyone.”

She said that the Departments of Transport, Environment, Public Expenditure and Reform, Local Government and officials from the Revenue and disability groups would consult with the chair of an independent review group, Sylda Langford, to devise alternatives.

The Department siad last night that the €10.6 million funding for the two schemes would remain in place. Mobility Allowance is a means-tested grant paid to people who are disabled and are unable to use public transport.

The Motorised Transport Grant is paid to people with a disability to allow them to adapt their cars or vehicles for driving.

Earlier the Ombudsman Emily O’Reilly told RTÉ that it was “puzzling” that the Department had taken the decision to scrap the payment.

“We never expected that they would abolish the scheme in this way,” she said.

More: ‘A sick bureaucratic monster’ – Department slammed after disability payments axed

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Hugh O'Connell

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