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Mixed reaction to National Disability Strategy implementation plan

The Disability Federation of Ireland welcomed the plan, but said that there are a number of areas where it falls short.

A NATIONAL PLAN to advance the social inclusion of people with disabilities in Ireland has been launched by the government.

This new plan for the National Disability Strategy was prepared and agreed by the National Disability Strategy Implementation Group and submitted to Government on 23 July 2013.

Its publication is a commitment in the Programme for Government, and is described as “a significant step forward in ensuring progress is achieved in implementing the National Disability Strategy over the next three years”.

However, though the Disability Federation of Ireland has welcomed the plan, it is critical of it in a number of areas.

The plan

The National Disability Strategy is described by Minister for Disability, Equality, Mental Health and Older People Kathleen Lynch as “a whole-of-Government approach to advancing social inclusion of people with disabilities”. She noted that, “in spite of economic challenges, this Plan has been developed to build on the progress that has been made to date and to advance Government’s commitment to improving the lives of people with disabilities”.

The plan calls to action all individuals, organisations, local and national Government to think positively about disability, said Lynch, adding that it is a collaborative effort.

It is also an open invitation to the community and voluntary sectors to work creatively together with statutory agencies and government departments to improve the lives of people with disabilities over the next three years.

The scope of the plan includes a wide range of government departments, and recognises that the needs of individuals with disabilities change as they age.

It contains a number of themes, ‘independence and choice’, ‘participation’, ‘equal citizens’ and ‘maximise potential’.

The High Level Goals of the plan are:

  • that people with disabilities are free from discrimination; are supported to live the life they choose
  • live ordinary lives in ordinary places, participating in the life of the community
  • and are enabled to reach their full potential.

Each Goal has specific objectives and actions through which it will be achieved.

The Minister for Justice, Equality and Defence, Alan Shatter, TD, welcomed the plan and praised the work undertaken by Minister Lynch.

Reaction

The Disability Federation of Ireland has welcomed the plan, saying that it “gives a re-commitment to the high level goals of people with disabilities being treated as equal citizens, independence and choice, participation, and maximising potential”.

However, it expressed disappointment in there being a number of areas where it says the plan falls short of what Ireland has committed to achieving for people with disabilities.

John Dolan, CEO of DFI said that “overall it lacks ambition, and does not include many of the priority actions which DFI have suggested since the start of the drafting process for the Plan”.

He said that there is no priority given to the important role played by existing community services and supports funded through the HSE, and other Departments, that enable people’s access and participation in life in the community.

Equally, there is no mention of supports such as Personal Assistance, a vital support in independent living for many people.

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He described disability as a societal issue, and not a sectoral one, and said DFI’s key concern “is that we are not seeing the ambition at government level to deliver on these high level goals”.

Underpinning this whole process is inadequate public service reform which is crucial for the successful implementation of the National Disability Strategy. There is a conflict between the actions stated in the NDSIP, and the reality of Government decisions that have been taken over the past number of years. There has been a ‘chipping away’ at both disability specific supports and mainstream supports representing a complete lack of understanding of the challenges faced by people with disabilities trying to live an ordinary life with health and well-being in their own communities.

DFI and others have also emphasised on a number of occasions that timelines for achieving the various actions are “too weak or inadequate”, with the term ‘ongoing’ being overly used.

Dolan said the Plan is not comprehensive, and “lacks a true whole of government approach”.

He said that fulfilling the commitment made in the Plan to cross-departmental and cross agency working “will require new approaches and in many cases, a cultural shift in ways of working”.

“Although we welcome this Implementation Plan, we strongly believe that people with disabilities deserve better.”

He also said that robust implementation will be required if Ireland is to fulfil its obligations under the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, which is to be ratified shortly.

Fine Gael Clare Senator and Seanad Spokesperson on Justice, Disability and Equality, Martin Conway, said he has “no doubt [the plan] will spearhead improvements in the quality of life of people with disabilities by providing a clear framework for collaboration across Government and with the disability sector to achieve common goals”.

The National Disability Strategy Implementation Plan is available on the Department of Justice and Equality website: www.justice.ie.

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