Speaking Notes for Minister Moloney at the launch of: Best Buddies Schools Programme Evaluaton Report “Changing Lives – One Friendship at a Time”

I would like to say how pleased I am to have been invited here this morning. It is one of the more interesting and pleasant tasks to fall to me in that I get an opportunity to attend the publication of this report on the “Best Buddies” initiative here in Galway.

I see from this Report how the Best Buddies Programme offers young people with an intellectual disability the opportunity for increased social interactions and friendships with young people their own age where they can spend time together on shared interests and concerns. The report also highlights the highly positive impacts of the Best Buddies Programme on teenagers’ understanding of the capabilities of people with an intellectual disability.

I congratulate Ability West on their vision in implementing this programme in the west of Ireland. I am very impressed by this initiative in which AIB, a private sector organisation, has worked together with Ability West and the local community to bring about a real improvement in people’s lives.

The Government has an on-going commitment to providing high quality services to all people with a disability through the National Disability Strategy, which has the objective of putting in place the most effective combination of legislation, policies, institutional arrangements and services to support and reinforce equal participation for people with disabilities. The National Disability Strategy will be the framework used to enact positive action measures to support the participation of people with disabilities in Irish society.

Two key legislative elements of the National Disability Strategy are the Disability Act, 2005 and the Education for Persons with Special Educational Needs Act, 2004 (EPSEN Act, 2004). The provisions of both Acts are complementary and are designed, once implemented, to provide a framework within which the educational and specific health and personal social services needs of persons with disabilities will be addressed.

Part 2 of the Disability Act 2005, provides a statutory entitlement to:

  • An independent assessment of health and educational needs;
  • A statement of the services (Service Statement) which it is proposed to provide; and
  • The right to pursue a complaint through an independent redress mechanism if there is a failure to provide these entitlements.

Part 2 of the Disability Act 2005 commenced for children aged less than 5 years with effect from 1st June 2007. This prioritisation reflects the importance of intervention early in life, which can have a significant impact on the disabling effects of a condition or impairment.

It had been intended to have the Disability Act 2005 fully implemented during 2010 in respect of children between 5 and 18 years of age. This would have required significant additional investment in 2009 and 2010 to prepare the health sector for the operation of the legislation and to support the statutory processes that would be required.

In the light of the current financial circumstances, it has become necessary to defer further implementation of the Act.

However, this does not in any way dilute the Government’s commitment in the areas of disability and mental health. Overall approximately €1.6 billion is spent annually by the health services on disability programmes (residential, day care, respite, assessment and rehabilitation services).

In recent years, very significant additional resources have been provided for services and supports in this area. The Multi-Annual Investment Programme 2006 – 2009, which is a key component of the Government’s Disability Strategy, had by the end of 2008 provided for approximately

-804 new residential places;

-307 new respite places, and

-1,863 new day places

for the intellectual disability service, and

-275 new residential places, and

-911,626 extra home care/personal assistance hours;

for people with physical and sensory disabilities.

The HSE is working to improve access to multi-disciplinary services including therapy services across all care disciplines throughout the country. Since the establishment of the Executive, the number of speech and language therapists has increased by 235 to 733, an increase of 47%, the number of occupational therapists has increased by 326 to 1,031, an increase of 46%, and the number of physiotherapists has increased by 302 to 1,434, an increase of 27%. In 2006 and 2007 alone, over 2,245 additional health and social care professionals, including therapy posts, have been recruited to provide services for people with disabilities.

The Government further emphasised its commitment to people with disabilities by allocating an additional €20 million in the 2009 Budget for health and education services for children with special educational needs. €10 million was allocated to the Health Service Executive (HSE), and €10million to the Department of Education and Science, to enable the services provided to children with special educational needs to be enhanced and strengthened.

Government policy and best practice recognises that clients and service users need to be at the centre of service delivery. This is especially true for children. On an ongoing basis, we are examining the way in which services are currently delivered to ensure that children with disabilities and special educational needs are provided with the best possible services in an efficient and appropriate manner.

I have already outlined the greatly increased funding base for disability and mental health services that has been built up over recent years. The additional resources which were announced as part of Budget 2009 will maintain momentum and allow progress to continue. I want to take this opportunity to emphasise that children with special educational needs will continue to receive an education appropriate to their needs.

Finally, I wish to congratulate all those who are involved in the Best Buddy Programme and would commend them for the enthusiasm that made this initiative such a success.