Labour Party Submission to the Consultation on the Draft Initial State Report under the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD).
Posted on April 09, 2021
This report is written in plain English. For an easy-to-read version, scroll to the end.
To read Ireland’s Initial Report under the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, click here.
The Labour Party believes that everybody is equal. However, our society does not always give people equal treatment. People with disabilities often do not receive equal treatment from the State. This is unacceptable. Ireland ratified the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD) in 2018, meaning that it has committed to taking steps to grant equal rights to everyone who has a disability. Labour welcomes the opportunity to make a submission to this public consultation on Ireland’s implementation of the UNCRPD.
People with disabilities still face many inequalities in 2021. Despite progress made in the areas of human rights and disability services, Ireland must do more to improve its treatment of the approximately 645,000 people in Ireland who have a disability.
Labour has always made an ambitious contribution to recognising the human rights of everyone. Former Labour TD, Mervyn Taylor introduced equality legislation when he was Ireland’s first-ever Minister for Equality. This law made it illegal to discriminate against a person because of their disability.
Former Labour Party Minister of State, Kathleen Lynch TD made sure that the Assisted Decision-Making (Capacity) Act was passed. This Act sets out how to give support to people to make decisions for themselves. People with an intellectual disability, mental illness, acquired brain injury or someone with a condition that affects their capacity are all helped by this law. Unfortunately, this important law is not yet fully operational. Labour will continue to campaign for this law to be ‘commenced’, or come into force.
Seán Sherlock TD represents the Labour Party on the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Children, Disability, Equality and Integration, which discusses the work and spending of the Department of Children, Disability, Equality, Integration and Youth. Senator Ivana Bacik represents the Labour Party on the Committee on Disability Matters. This committee considers all disability matters and monitors Ireland’s implementation of the UNCRPD.
The Labour Party campaigns and develops policy with Labour Disability, which is a section of the party for members with a disability. Labour Disability hosts meetings and events throughout the year on a variety of issues affecting people with a disability in Ireland. This submission was written with assistance from the executive committee of Labour Disability.
This document will outline some policies that can improve the lives of people with a disability who live in Ireland.
Labour urges the Government, above all else, to prioritise the views of people with disabilities in this process of amending Ireland’s State Report under the UNCRPD. This submission will focus on housing, health, education, human and civil rights, workers’ rights and children’s rights.
United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities
Housing and Independent Living
Article 19 - Living Independently and Being Included in the Community
Labour believes that universal design in housing should be more explicitly mentioned in the draft report. All newly built and acquired social housing in Ireland should be constructed in a way that will be easily retrofitted to suit a tenant with a disability.
Labour recommends increased funding for home help and respite care, so that more people can be cared for in their homes. There should also be an increase in the number of step-down beds, which allow people to make the transition from acute hospital settings back to their own home.
Many people acquire a disability that is related to age. As such, where an individual has developed an age-related condition, such as dementia, a home care package should be provided. Ireland has an ageing population. There should have a robust elder care strategy, building on existing knowledge in gerontology. This will include making available new technology, medical devices and remote access to medical consultation for people living in isolated areas. The success of telemedicine during the Covid-19 pandemic creates new opportunities for people with a disability living in a remote area.
The development of personal assistance services and individualised budgeting would give many people with a disability more autonomy and choice. Labour’s vision is to build an Ireland where people with disabilities are empowered to live independent lives with control, choice and options. The practice of housing young people with a disability in nursing homes should end immediately.
Article 23 - Respect for the home and the family
Section 3 of Article 23 should commit to the full restoration of Carer’s Allowance.
Article 24 - Education
Every child in Ireland has the right to an education. Extended school closures in 2020 and 2021 have been particularly disruptive for children with special educational needs. It is welcome that special schools were the first to reopen. However, many other children with special educational needs who are in mainstream classes continue to experience disruption.
A plan to issue guidelines on the use of reduced timetables should also be included in Ireland’s submission so that children with a disability do not miss out on school unnecessarily.
Ireland’s Initial State Report under the UNCRPD must provide a clear timeline for the full commencement of the Education for Persons with Special Educational Needs (EPSEN) Act 2004. This Act ensures that children with special educational needs can be educated in an inclusive mainstream environment, unless doing so would not be in their best interests.
Families should not be forced to go to court to provide a child with an education. As part of the EPSEN Act 2004, the Special Education Appeals Board must be set up without delay.
In line 310, the draft submission references the training for Special Needs Assistance. Labour recommends that the State examines the issue of accreditation for the new National Training Programme for Special Needs Assistants.
Article 7 - Children with Disabilities
HSE figures show that the average waiting time for a special needs assessment is 19 months and more than 5,000 children are waiting longer than the legally allowed time. The Disability Act 2005 states that special needs assessments must start within three months of application. The Disability Act 2005 also states that special needs assessments must be completed within six months of application. Without a formal assessment, many children cannot access supports and therapies as early as necessary. The State must comply with its own laws. Staff and other resources should be redirected towards early intervention for young children with disabilities and special educational needs to reduce waiting times. The State should also commit to providing appropriate services for all children after they have received a diagnosis. Families should not need to go to court for treatment and disability services.
Article 22 - Respect for Privacy
Doctors have a duty to respect the privacy of their patients, except for in a few limited circumstances. In recent weeks, it has emerged that the Department of Health, with the cooperation of the HSE and Department of Education, has been secretly using information from private doctor consultations to build dossiers on autistic children who were involved in legal actions against the State.
It is welcome that the Minister for Health and the Data Protection Commissioners are reviewing this matter. The Government should consider initiating a public inquiry and to investigate whether this practice was limited to children with autism, or if it took place in other cases too.
Article 11 - Situations of risk and humanitarian emergencies
To prevent the spread of Covid-19, schools in Ireland have been closed for much of the past year.
Although most school pupils have benefitted from the return to school this Spring, the negative effects of school closures continue to be felt by many. Children with disabilities and children with special educational needs are among the most impacted. The plan to provide five hours per week of home-based teaching and care for some children is welcome, but it is not a long-term solution.
Governments in many other jurisdictions have introduced measures to help children catch up on missed class time. Labour has called for the creation of a ‘Catch-Up for Children’ scheme in Ireland. This €100m scheme would provide supports for all children affected by prolonged school closures in 2020 and 2021.
As part of this scheme, an analysis is needed to assess the damage caused to children by missing out on school and extracurricular activities. The effects of the pandemic have not been felt equally by all children. Vulnerable children, children in poverty and children with disabilities or other additional needs would receive targeted supports as part of this Catch-Up scheme.
Many parents of disabled children and children with special educational needs have told Labour representatives that school closures have had a particularly severe effect on their children. Many children are struggling with anxiety and depression; others have lost important social and educational skills. The time to address this problem is now. The Government must intervene to stop children with disabilities from disproportionately suffering due to the pandemic.
Transport and Access to Public Space
Article 9 - Accessibility
As part of Section 1 of Article 9, the draft submission should make a greater commitment to accessibility for public spaces and universal design. A lack of public toilets and accessible seating areas in Irish cities, towns and villages make it more difficult for people with physical disabilities to plan a day out. Public spaces are for everybody. The Government should develop guidelines for local authorities to fund, provide and signpost accessible public toilets and seating areas.
In Section 5.102 of Article 9, the draft submission states that bus stops must be wheelchair accessible. It is also important to ensure that new cycling infrastructure does not impede access to public transport for wheelchair users and persons with a visual impairment. Labour Party representatives have been made aware of situations where new cycle lanes beside bus stops create a hazard for people with a physical disability when they disembark from a bus.
In Section 5.106 of Article 9, the draft submission references the need to reduce advance notice times for people with a physical disability who wish to travel by rail. The Government should aim to eliminate the need to provide advance notice entirely.
In Section 5 of Article 9, the draft submission refers to a commitment to use universal web design in public sector websites. As well as universal design, there should be a greater commitment to producing documents that are readable for people with literacy challenges, intellectual disabilities, dyslexia, acquired brain injury or other impairments. In 2019, Labour published the Public Sector (Plain Language) Bill, which would require the use of Plain Language in written publications from public bodies. Documents published by the Government and public bodies should be provided in plain language and in an easy-to-read form.
Article 20 - Personal Mobility
Labour calls for the immediate resumption of the Disabled Drivers and Disabled Passengers Scheme. Furthermore, Labour calls for the targeting of electric vehicle grants at people with a disability who are also car dependent.
Article 12 - Equal Recognition Before the Law
Line 144 of Article 12 states that the Decision Support Service will become operational in 2022. The Decision Support Service was created when the Assisted Decision-Making (Capacity) Act passed through the Oireachtas in December 2015. This important legislation creates a system of supports for adults who may need help with decision-making. People who may need support to make decisions include people with an intellectual disability, mental illness, dementia, Alzheimer’s or acquired brain injury.
The Labour Party is proud to have played an important role in passing this legislation under the guidance of former Minister of State and Labour TD, Kathleen Lynch. It is welcome that there are plans to make the Decision Support Service fully operational next year so that Ireland can stop the use of the Ward of Court system. The Ward of Court system removes a person’s ability to make decisions for themselves. Ireland must comply with the Assisted Decision-Making (Capacity) Act 2015 and end the Ward of Court system. Ireland’s Initial State Report under the UNCRPD should include a timeline for the Decision-Making (Capacity) Act 2015 to come into full effect.
Article 15 - Freedom from Torture or Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment
Although the Criminal Justice (United Nations Convention against Torture) Act 2000 gave effect to the United Nations Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (UNCAT), it still has not ratified the Optional Protocol to this Convention (OPCAT). Ratifying this Optional Protocol would compel the State to create a National Preventive Mechanism. In other words, it would create a system of unannounced, independent inspection and complaints procedures for all places where people are detained against their will. This would include nursing homes, psychiatric institutions and other congregated settings. The Government should commit to ratifying OPCAT to guarantee people with disabilities’ freedom from Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment.
Furthermore, people with a disability should not be made to live in inappropriate settings. For example, young people with disabilities should not be made to live in a nursing home.
Civic Engagement and Political Participation
Article 21 - Freedom of Expression and Opinion, and Access to Information
In order to realise the right to freedom of expression, assembly and association, public sector bodies should provide all text in Plain English or Plain Irish, as well as with an accompanying easy to read version. To complement the Web Accessibility Directive, the Government should introduce the measures set out in Labour’s Public Sector (Plain Language) Bill 2019.
Furthermore, all public consultations initiated by a Government Department should be made accessible, as has been the case for this public consultation.
Article 29 - Participation in Political and Public Life
Labour Disability, the section of the Labour Party for members who have a disability, advises the party on its election strategy as it pertains to promoting candidates with a disability. Labour Party candidates who have a disability have made clear that their experience of an election campaign was uniquely challenging because election campaigns are inaccessible.
Labour recommends that, in addition to repealing the prohibition on a person of ‘unsound mind’ from standing for election to the Dáil, the Government should implement a strategy to assist prospective election candidates who have a disability.
Article 25 - Health
The Labour Party supports the initiatives set out by the Government in its draft submission. Labour recommends the inclusion of an additional commitment to guarantee access to dental care for all people with a disability. Labour Party representatives have been made aware of multiple cases where people with Down Syndrome have been unable to find a dentist who will accept a patient with Down Syndrome or who will accept a medical card.
Labour recommends that the State redirect funding to local primary care centres to bring health services closer to communities. Improving services at local primary care level will reduce overcrowding and waiting times. Primary care is internationally proven to lead to more efficient treatment, is more cost-effective and reduces healthcare inequalities.
Labour calls for increased investment for services that help prevent blindness or hearing loss. Labour also calls for the provision of a GP Visit Card or Medical Card for all people with a serious disability. Mental health and women’s health should be specifically addressed. The State should be more proactive in providing post-natal care and mental health assistance for people with disabilities.
Article 23 - Respect for the home and the family
In Section 2 of Article 23, there is a reference to the Health (Regulation of Termination of Pregnancy) Act 2018. The upcoming review of this legislation must include the input of Disabled Persons Organisations to ensure that abortion services in Ireland are accessible.
Section 3 of Article 23 should commit to the full restoration of Carer’s Allowance.
Article 27 - Work and Employment
The Labour Party endorses the explicit inclusion of people with disabilities in the Roadmap for Social Inclusion 2020-2025. The cost of disability must be specifically considered when the Government is developing policies to address poverty.
The Labour Party recommends the introduction of a Living Wage for all workers to tackle poverty. Labour also recommends the inclusion of a specific strategy to promote trade union membership for workers with a disability.
We in Labour are grateful for the opportunity to contribute to this public consultation. We look forward to continued engagement on the implementation of the UNCRPD and we will continue to seek the view of Disabled Persons Organisations and activists. Their input will inform our approach to the campaign for disability rights.
Easy to Read Submission
The Labour Party is glad to have the opportunity to take part in this public consultation on the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD).
The views of people with disabilities are the most important to consider during this public consultation.
As many people as possible should be able to live independently in their community, All social housing should be accessible.
Telemedicine and personalised budgeting will also help people with disabilities to live independently.
Everybody has a right to an education. Commencing the EPSEN Act will make sure that our education system is inclusive.
The new Special Needs Assistant qualification in UCD should be recognised.
More staff and resources are needed so that children with disabilities and special needs do not have to wait longer than 6 months for a special needs assessment.
The Government should make sure that the privacy of people with disabilities is respected. A public inquiry may be needed to see if there are cases where trust has been broken.
€100 million is needed to help children with disabilities to catch up on school that they missed during the pandemic.
There should be more accessible public toilets and seats in cities, towns and villages in Ireland.
New bicycle lanes should not make the streets more dangerous for people with disabilities.
The Disabled Drivers and Disabled Passengers Scheme must be resumed.
Electric Vehicle grants should be offered to people with disabilities who need to use a car.
People with a physical disability should not have to give advance notice if they want to use a train.
All documents published by a public body should be given in plain language and easy to read formats.
The Assisted Decision-Making (Capacity) Act should be commenced, to give support to people who may need help making decisions for themselves.
Ireland should create a new reporting and investigation system to make sure that people living in nursing homes and psychiatric institutions do not suffer torture or bad treatment.
The Government should create a plan to support people with disabilities who would like to run in an election.
Every person with a disability should be able to visit a dentist.
More funds are needed to give people excellent healthcare in their community.
People with disabilities should be asked for their views during the review of the Health (Regulation of Termination of Pregnancy) Act 2018 this year.
The Carer’s Allowance should be increased.
Every worker in Ireland should be paid a Living Wage.
The Government should encourage people with disabilities to join a trade union so that they can fight for their rights at work.