Speech by Mr. Tim O’Malley, T.D., Minister of State at the Department of Health and Children, at the Opening Ceremony at the National Advocacy Conference

I would like to thank the Brothers of Charity for inviting me here to-day to perform the opening ceremony of their 2006 National Advocacy Conference.

Many people can advocate for themselves most of the time. Indeed I understand that many of the presenters, who will speak after me here today, will show how they can contribute in a meaningful way to society. As individuals they wish to be treated like all citizens and have equal opportunities afforded them.

However, some people need support from time to time in order to express verbally or in writing their concerns. Advocacy is something that many people do for others on a daily basis. Parents advocate for their children every day. Relatives and friends speak on behalf of vulnerable persons when necessary.

To put it simply, it is the act of supporting or speaking up for someone. I would like to thank all those people who from time to time perform this role.

In its broad sense, advocacy is quite a traditional concept linked to the notion of the citizen taking responsibility not only for him or herself but also for his or her neighbour. It is not to be confused with the giving of information or the offering of advice per se, although both of those functions are aspects of the advocate’s role.

Most experts consider self advocacy as ideal but unfortunately most disadvantaged people are unable to do this all the time. However, the need for advocacy is not just confined to people with disabilities. It can cover such categories of persons as older people, Travellers, people with literacy difficulties, and the marginalized, who could all possibly but not necessarily need advocacy.

I am pleased to inform you that the Citizens Information Bill, 2006 is currently going through the Legislature. The Bill envisages advocacy services as supporting people with disabilities in identifying and understanding their needs and options and in securing their entitlements to social services.

The Citizens Information Bill 2006 is a key element of the Government’s National Disability Strategy designed to ensure that people with disabilities are supported to enable them, as far as possible, to lead full and independent lives, to reach their full potential as individuals and to participate fully in society.

This Bill, together with the Disability Act 2005, the accompanying Sectoral Plans and the Education for People with Special Needs Act 2004, demonstrates very clearly the Government’s intention to have an effective combination of legislation, policies, institutions and services in place to ensure equal access to services and full participation in everyday life for people with disabilities.

The primary purpose of the Bill is to amend the Comhairle Act, 2000, to enhance the functions of the statutory body in supporting the development of advocacy services, in particular for people with disabilities. Most importantly, the Bill provides for the introduction of a Personal Advocacy Service for certain people with disabilities, who would otherwise have difficulty in getting access to the services that are there to assist them.

There is an important link between the provision of information and advocacy in that access to information and a range of options flowing from that information are two key aspects of empowerment and indeed, citizenship. That is particularly relevant for the functions of the newly named Citizens Information Board in the provision of enhanced services for people with disabilities.

The proposed service as set out in the Bill will provide for the assignment of a personal advocate to assist, support and represent a person with a disability in applying for and obtaining social services and in pursuing any right of review or appeal in connection with those services. It is envisaged that the arrangements for the new personal advocacy service will be completed without delay, when the legislation is in place.

The introduction of the Personal Advocacy Service by the Citizens Information Board is important in enhancing the services available to people with disabilities. A lot of progress has been made since 2001 when the prospect of such a service was mooted. The views and the experience of people with disabilities and of those who work with them have made a significant contribution to the development of the advocacy programme already underway and to the development of the proposals in this legislation.

As we are all aware people with disabilities face many barriers to full participation in society. The Personal Advocacy Service provided for in the Citizens Information Bill 2006 has a significant contribution to make to ensuring that every person with a disability has access to appropriate assistance and support in securing their entitlements to social services. It represents an important step forward in delivering the Government’s commitments in the Disability Strategy to the full integration of people with disabilities in all aspects of society.

Finally, I would like to thank the Brothers of Charity Services and all those who were involved in the organising of this National Advocacy Conference. I wish all concerned every success in their future endeavours.

Thank you.