Speech by Mr John Moloney, T.D., Minister for Equality, Disability and Mental Health at ICSH Midland Regional Meeting, Bridge House Hotel, Tullamore, Co Offaly

I want to thank the Irish Council for Social Housing for inviting me here this evening to their midlands regional meeting for 2008. I have great admiration for the role that the ICSH have played throughout the voluntary housing sector since it’s foundation in 1982. The professional guidance available through the ICSH has assisted many of the voluntary organisations over the years in providing advise, information, training and various other aspects of assistance associated with the housing needs of the most vulnerable element of our society, and I have no doubt that this valuable service will continue for many years to come. Therefore, it gives me great pleasure to have this opportunity to speak to you this evening.

The commitment of the ICSH in providing information, advice, specific training and general assistance to approved voluntary bodies throughout the country is noble and praiseworthy. A cornerstone of this government’s housing policy is to provide integrated, sustainable, safe and inclusive neighbourhoods where people want to live and work.

The ICSH share this vision and through their work in union with the voluntary organisations, local authorities and this government this vision is becoming a reality on a daily basis.

The provision of well-planned sustainable housing for the elderly, disabled, homeless and low-income families is a critical factor in fostering the desire for independent living in a safe and socially suitable environment. It is an essential component of a comprehensive and inclusive housing policy. This vulnerable element of our society, whether through age, disability or social situation, needs access to safe and suitable housing. If such housing is not provided, particularly in the case of the elderly and disabled, individuals can feel isolated and lonely where these simple needs are not addressed. For some it can be difficult to meet people and interact in the ordinary day to day life of a community.

It is absolutely necessary to make links between the dwelling unit and the neighbourhood and the wider range of supporting infrastructure and services which facilitate independent and quality lifestyles. Over the past 26 years, through it’s invaluable contribution to the voluntary sector, the ICSH, all be it indirectly, has enabled many people to live independent and fulfilling lives and they must be complemented for their tireless work in providing the much needed supports and services to so many voluntary organisations. I am delighted to have the opportunity to thank the ICSH for many years of positive service in this area.

In 2008 the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government is providing funding in excess of €130 million under the Capital Assistance Scheme towards the provision of special needs housing and a further €160 million for family type accommodation under the Capital Loan and Subsidy Scheme.

This funding will greatly assist in the promotion of sustainable communities and enhance the personal choice and autonomy of people who genuinely want to live and actively participate in the daily life of their community. Such can only come to being through the astounding work of the voluntary sector and local authorities alike. It is because of the efforts of these groups that many less fortunate individuals and families alike within our society, will have a brighter future ahead.

This government enthusiastically supports the voluntary sectors embracement of a sustainable housing agenda, in partnerships with local authorities, and encourages the continued planning and development of integrated projects with a mixture of social, voluntary, special needs and affordable housing. Voluntary organisations have a great capacity to respond to people’s needs in ways that challenge the public sector. They bring some of the best elements of the public housing philosophy into the private sector – good quality accommodation with security of tenure at reasonable rent levels.

The availability of funding under the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government Voluntary Housing Capital Funding Schemes has encouraged voluntary groups to undertake housing developments in all parts of the country. The schemes are making a significant contribution towards the provision of housing for elderly persons, homeless persons, persons with disabilities and for families on the housing authority waiting list. The schemes are now well established as an important feature of social housing policy. Over the last three years, over €618 million has been provided under the voluntary housing funding schemes. Some 4,200 units of accommodation were delivered on foot of this.

And I have no doubt that you are well aware that the midlands accounts for a fare share of these number through projects undertaken by Tullamore Housing Association Limited, Rights for the Elderly VHA Limited, the Mid Offaly VHA, Respond and the Sue Ryder Foundation to name but a few!

In recent times well in excess of 500 units of accommodation have been provided in this region of the country by these voluntary organisations under the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government’s Voluntary Housing Capital Funding Schemes. And I can assure you that in my new role as Minister for Equality, Disability and Mental health, I will encourage and support the voluntary and co-operative housing sector where ever possible.

The recently established Office for Disability and Mental Health will support the Minister for Disability & Mental Health, in exercising his responsibilities across four Government Departments: Health and Children, Education and Science, Enterprise, Trade and Employment and Justice, Equality and Law Reform. The Office provides for greater cohesion across the public service and brings together responsibility for a range of different policy areas and State services. The Office will aim to bring about improvements in the manner in which services respond to the needs of people with disabilities including people with mental health problems, by working to develop person-centred services, focusing on the holistic needs of clients and service users and actively involving them in their own care.

In line with a commitment in Towards 2016 and underpinned in the Government’s Housing Policy Statement, Delivering Homes, Sustaining Communities, the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government is responsible for the development of a national housing strategy for people with a disability.

Work on this strategy has commenced, under the remit of a National Advisory Group, and will be progressed with a view to completion in 2009.

In developing a housing strategy for people with a disability, we are faced with many challenges. The strategy is to have particular regard to the needs of people with significant disabilities and mental health issues.

In these cases, providing appropriate and accessible housing is only one element with regard to meeting need. In many cases people living with a significant or a mental health disability can be vulnerable to isolation and social exclusion. In tackling this, it is vital that the appropriate and necessary inter agency supports are provided in conjunction with meeting housing need, and this is an area which I look forward to seeing addressed comprehensively in the context of the development of the strategy.

I would like to conclude by again congratulating ICSH on their successful track record over the last 26 years. It took vision, commitment and determination to get where you are today and I know that this is only the beginning!