Closing Address for Minister Devins MS Ireland Neurological Information Day 14th September 2007

I would like to begin by thanking the MS Society of Ireland for inviting me here today to make the closing address at this information day. I would like to commend the initiative of the MS Society and the Neurological Alliance of Ireland to bring the health care professionals working in this field together.

Since its foundation in 1961, the MS Society has grown over the years into a network of branches throughout Ireland, providing information, seminars, social events, self help groups, to name but a few of its many services to people with Multiple Sclerosis and their families.

From my time as a general practitioner, I am all too aware of how debilitating this condition can be. This information day has been an important forum in which to discuss challenges facing professionals in the area of neurology and the developments in neurorehabilitation.

In this regard, I would like to take this opportunity to pay tribute to all those people who work to provide a wide range of supports and services to people with MS and for those who work in the area of research. A substantial contribution is made by the voluntary sector in the provision of services. These services form a vital part of the overall scheme of health care delivery in this country.

The Government is committed to ensuring that the needs of people with disabilities, their families and their carers are comprehensively addressed through a wide range of measures in the health, social, leisure and sporting areas. Experience to date suggests that, by working together, the statutory and voluntary sectors, can make a real impact on the development and delivery of services to achieve a better quality of life for people with disabilities.

The Government has a clear and effective strategy in relation to the planning and delivery of services to people with disabilities, including those with multiple sclerosis. The provision of services to meet the identified needs of people with disabilities is a key element of the National Disability Strategy. One of the most important parts of the overall Strategy was the Health Sectoral Plan on Disability published alongside the five other Sectoral Plans in July 2006. The plan details the right of persons with a disability to an assessment of need, and to a formal service statement which details the services to be provided. There is also a right of appeal.

These important provisions were implemented for the under-5 age group on 1 June 2007, and will be rolled out to all others on a phased basis over the four years that follow. I believe that this is a substantial step in our efforts to meet the assessed needs of people with a disability. The new system means that we must work hard to tailor individual services to individual people in a manner not generally achieved up to now. Implementing the Disability Act will bring great challenges, but I am convinced that successful implementation will bring a far more person-centred service to all.

Achieving the improvements I have outlined will require resources, as well as the commitment of all involved in planning and delivering services.

A multi-annual investment programme with a total value close to €900m has been put in place by the Government for the period 2006 to 2009. I am proud of this investment, and believe that, properly allocated; it will bring substantial improvements to services.

Finally, I am pleased to note that the mission statement of MS Ireland is in line with Government policy. “To enable and empower those affected by MS to live the life of their choice to their fullest potential” is a sentiment we all agree with.

I would like to stress the Government’s commitment to the on-going development of services for people with disabilities. It is now the responsibility of all of us to build on the substantial progress made by services like MS Ireland so we can all work together to bring about a disability service worthy of the Ireland of the 21st century.

Thank you.