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Disability cuts

Senators protested against the cut in mobility grant and transport allowance for people with disabilities (Seanad Eireann, Debates, 27th February 2013, 385).  Marc McSharry (FF, industrial & commercial) said that he could not understand what the government had against people with disabilities.  Grants of up to €10,000 were being cut by 20%: what clown in the public service or cabinet came up with this figure? he asked.  What alternatives were considered?  Despite the government’s claim that it agonized over the decision, there was no consultation with the disability sector.  It made him sick and there was no justification for it.  The minister must come to the house to account for his criminal behaviour.


On a topical debate in the Dail (Dail Eireann, Debates, 27th February 2013, 468-473), Billy Kelleher (FF, Cork NC) attacked what he called this ‘bolt out of the blue’: he could not accept its arbitrary removal with nothing to replace it.  It would have a devastating impact on people and their quality of life.  The grant of €208 a month meant that they had some independence, could get out and about and go to appointments.  This would stop them dead in their tracks.  This shameful decision must be reversed, he said, with a new scheme put in place that complied with the Equal Status Act.  The minister of state might have agonized over the decision, but the people who would agonize the most were those who found that the scheme had been discontinued.


Caomhghin O Caolain (SF, Cavan Monaghan) described it as a cruel, crass and ham-fisted cut.  He spoke of one of his constituents who was a double amputee.  He had found the scheme hard to qualify for in the first place but his home help hours had been cut from 9.5 to 8.5 hours and his prescription charges had risen from €5.50 to €16.50 – all cuts imposed by the present government, not its predecessors.  This was an especially cruel cut in rural Ireland where there was no public transport.  


The Minister of State at the Department of Health, Kathleen Lynch explained that up to 4,700 people received the mobility allowance and 300 the motorized transport grant.  Because the scheme was without the Equal Status Act, it could no longer be continued, so an independently chaired review group would look for an alternative system.  She stressed that the funding involved, €10.6m, remained committed and those currently getting the payment would continue to do so for four months.  She said that it had proved to be extremely difficult to resolve the issue and several policy options had been considered.  An extension could cost €100m for one scheme and €200m for the other, while keeping the same amount but for a wider age range would reduce each payment to a meaningless level.  Any additional cost must be met from current spending, so an expansion would be at the cost of front-line services.  The group would work in stages and review the circumstances of all those benefitting from the schemes.


Billy Kelleher expressed his fear about the concept of ring-fencing the money, because of previous examples of ring-fencing where mental health and GP care services money had gone elsewhere.  The best brains in the department had not come up with a solution in two years, but the review group was expected to in four months.  The scheme should be allowed to continue while waiting for it to come up with solutions.  The minister of state explained that they had explored every possible configuration.  It was not for want of trying and they had not given up on it.  This was not an action that the government had wished to take.


On leaders’ questions (Dail Eireann, Debates, 27th February 2013, 397-9) Micheal Martin (FF, Cork SC) described the change as scandalous and reprehensible – no one else had been asked to take a 20% cut.  It was very severe.  If we looked at all the cuts, people with disabilities were unnecessarily bearing the brunt of the government’s targets.  The Taoiseach, Enda Kenny, explained that the government had charged Sylda Langford to work with the disability groups and expand the remit to those involved in health, transport and revenue to come back with a new scheme in compliance with the Act.  The definition of disability had changed greatly since introduced by circular in 1970.  Mattie McGrath (ind, Tipperary S) asked for the the decision to be deferred.  People needed the scheme to go to the shops, mass, dental appointments and to vote.