Address by Minister Finian McGrath TD, Minister of State with special responsibility for Disabilities, Praxis Care Conference

What the Future Holds for Disability Services, and How to Prepare for a Changed Future


Good morning ladies and gentlemen, I am delighted to be here this morning to address Praxis Care’s conference on the future of disability services and how to prepare for it, and to thank Nevin for his kind invitation to speak to you.

The theme of the conference is very apt. We, in Ireland, have embarked on an era of unprecedented change in services for people with disabilities. A radical programme of reconfiguration of services is underway to support people with disabilities to make the type of choices available to other adults, in an environment that is as accessible to them as it is to everyone else in society, and to support them to live the lives they want to lead. And in doing so, support them to have the same successes and setbacks we all have in life.

It is incumbent on both Government and indeed society as a whole to transform services to a model of personally chosen supports, designed to enable the individual to live a normal life in society. The growing recognition by civil society of the right of people with disabilities to participate in and contribute to social and economic life has driven the development of service provision in Ireland in recent years and will continue to do so into the future.

Task Force on Personalised Budgets

One of the key changes which I see as shaping the future of disability services is the introduction of personalised budgets, and it is a change which I personally am committed to progressing.

This is a complex undertaking which will completely change the legal, administrative and governance basis on which services and supports for people with disabilities have traditionally been delivered. For some people it will involve unbundling the funding which traditionally has been channelled through service providers and giving control over this funding back to the individual and their family. For others, they may not wish to avail of personal budgets but would still want to have more choice in who delivers their service and supports, and what type of service they wish to avail of.

As many people here will be aware, I launched the Task Force on Personalised Budgets last September. From the outset, I was determined that people with a disability would be at the forefront of the Task Force’s endeavours and I see their role as being pivotal to the Task Force’s success. To ensure this I have appointed people with a lived experience of disability to the Task Force, including people who have a disability themselves and the family members of people with disabilities, in recognition of their expertise, wisdom and experience of both living with, and caring for, someone with a disability.

And I assure you, this is not to pay lip service to the disability community but to guarantee that their voices will be heard when it comes to the framing of services in the future, the cornerstone  of which must be greater independence through self-determination, choice, control and person-centred planning.

The Task Force have a challenging but rewarding job of work to do, and under the chairmanship of Christy Lynch and Siobhan Barron I have every confidence that they are up to the task.

Transforming Lives Reform Programme

The work of the Task Force also advances the Department of Health’s overarching reform programme for disability services, which is embodied in Transforming Lives, the programme to implement the recommendations of the Value for Money and Policy Review of Disability Services.

The implementation of the Transforming Lives Programme will result in a change in how disability services are funded and provided, shifting choice and control from professionals and administrators to where it rightfully belongs – with the individual with a disability and their family.

In addition, services and supports for people with disabilities will be delivered with greater efficiency, transparency and accountability.

Residential Services

I see that one of the themes of this morning’s session is “Where people will live and what they will do.”

This theme describes in a nutshell the important elements of living a normal, everyday life. We all know only too well the importance of having a roof of your own, and the absolute necessity of being independent, safe and secure in your home if you are to live a good life – a life of your own choosing. Having your own hall door key is such a simple aim that I am sure many of us take it for granted, but it is one of the key indicators of a successful, self-directed, way of life that has been denied to some of our fellow citizens with disabilities for too long.

Many people with disabilities already live in the community, and our aim will be to prevent people from being separated from their communities and their natural social support structures in the future.

For others however, this means reversing the practice of providing residential services in large, segregated settings. The Programme for Partnership Government contains a clear commitment to continue to move people with disabilities out of these congregated settings, to enable them to live independently and to be included in their communities.

Earlier this year I announced that we are providing €100 million in capital funding from now until 2021 towards the acquisition and renovation of properties for people who are currently priority institutions identified by the Health Service Executive.

This process of moving people to more suitable accommodation in the community will take place over a number of years and will be done in full consultation with all residents and their families.

I am committed to ensuring that the resources such as funding, equipment, community resources and staff are put in place to support the person moving out of a congregated setting.

Day Services

This brings me to the other foundation stone for living a good life. Having a home of one’s own is essential, but so too is having meaningful and personally chosen activities to occupy your time.

This is about giving people with disabilities a life of their own choosing – choosing how to spend their day without the constraints of a large organisation around them, while still having all the supports they need.

It means supporting young people in the key transition stage from second level education to further education and training. It also means getting and keeping a job that uses each individual’s talents and recognises their abilities and capacities.

Closing Remarks

As a society, we must move away from the negative emphasis of focusing on the individual’s disability and lack of capacity, and instead recognise and nurture each unique individual’s talents and capabilities.

The final session this morning is on Families, their Hopes for the Future. I would be surprised if the hopes expressed here today for our children with disabilities are not exactly the same as the hopes we have for all our children – to be happy, confident, independent people who are supported by society to realise their potential, realise their ambitions and celebrate their achievements.

I would like to finish by thanking you again for the invitation to address your conference.  I hope it will be an enriching and enjoyable experience for all concerned.  Thank you.