Speech for John Moloney, TD, Minister for Equality, Disability and Mental Health at the launch of Multiple Sclerosis Ireland’s National Activity, Exercise and Physiotherapy Research Programme

I am very pleased to be here today to launch Multiple Sclerosis Ireland’s National Activity, Exercise and Physiotherapy Research Programme. I would like to thank Anne Winslow, the Chief Executive of MS Ireland, for the kind invitation to my predecessor, Dr. Jimmy Devins, who has since moved on to pastures new.

The roll out of this project will offer the MS Society the opportunity to profile the physical and societal needs of people with MS.

At the same time it will provide a platform for people to engage in a more healthy lifestyle.

I welcome this innovative project which will see people with MS of various abilities participate in an array of exercise and/or physio classes and sessions over the course of two years. The aim of the programme is to help maintain or develop flexibility and overall wellbeing – an important factor for the health of people suffering with multiple sclerosis.

An interesting dimension to this programme is the research element, which is looking at the role of physiotherapy intervention. I understand that MS Ireland is working closely with the physiotherapy department of the University of Limerick on this reseach. I wish both parties every success with this initiative.

I know that this project has been funded through the fundraising activities of MS Ireland and the Tesco Ireland Charity of the Year Programme. I am also pleased that the innovation of the “Getting the Balance Right” Programme was recognised under the Dormant Account Funding Scheme. The Programme is being supported as a Dormant Account Flagship Project, with the approval of a grant of €860,098.

I would also like to take this opportunity to acknowledge the work of MS Ireland.

The services and supports which you provide have improved the quality of life for people with multiple sclerosis in Ireland.

With your network of Regional Offices and Voluntary Branches nationwide, your committed staff and volunteers, you continue to provide a lifeline of support to people with multiple sclerosis.

This fine Centre – the MS Care Centre – with its provision of respite care facilities, enables the person with multiple sclerosis to benefit from the range of therapeutic activities and also affords a carer to take a break. It provides important support to people who to coping with the physical and emotional challenges of a diagnosis of multiple sclerosis.

I understand that the MS Care Centre recently received an Excellence Award from Excellence Ireland Quality Association. MS Ireland has also been selected as finalists for the National Quality and Excellence Awards for 2008, due to be anounced in September.

It is important that people with disabilies are treated with the same degree of respect and afforded the same quality of care as all members of our society.

The Excellence Awards speak volumes about the ethos which clearly underpins the activities in this centre.

I would also like to bring to your attention the Government’s commitment to improving specialist support services for people with disabilities.

The Disability Act is a key element in this process. It provides for a comprehensive framework for delivering services to people with disabilities.

Part 2 of the Disability Act commenced for children aged less than 5 years with effect from 1st June, 2007. This prioritisation reflects the importance placed on intervention as early as possible in children’s lives.

The legislation is underpinned by the Multi-Annual Investment Programme announced in Budget 2005. This Programme, together with the enhancement of other key support services, will help to build the additional capacity required to put in place the framework set out in the Disability Act and the Education for Persons with Special Educational Needs Act.

Part 2 of the Disability Act 2005, provides a statutory entitlement to an independent assessment of health and education needs; a statement of services which it is proposed to provide and a complaints and appeals procedure. This was implemented for the under 5 age group on 1st June 2007 and will be rolled out to all others on a phased basis in the coming years.

Another key development in the area of disability was the Government’s decision in January 2008 to establish the Office for Disability and Mental Health. . The purpose of the Office is to assist me, as Minister for Disability & Mental Health, in exercising my responsibilities across four Government Departments: Health & Children, Education & Science, Enterprise, Trade & Employment and Justice, Equality & Law Reform.

The new Office brings together responsibility for a range of different policy areas and State services which directly impact on the lives of people with a disability and people with mental health issues. The Office will aim to bring about improvements in the manner in which services respond to the needs of people with disabilities and mental health issues, by working to develop person-centred services, focussing on the holistic needs of clients and service users and actively involving them in their own care.

Very substantial progress has been made in recent years in the areas of disability and mental health, but much remains to be done. In particular, there is a need to improve co-ordination and communication across different Government Departments and agencies in their delivery of services to this client group. This will be the main focus for the new Office in the coming months.

The key priorities for the Office for Disability and Mental Health are:

•supporting the implementation of the Health Sectoral Plan under the Disability Act 2005. The Office will focus in particular on facilitating the delivery of integrated health and education support services for children with special needs, by further developing existing mechanisms for co-operation and co-ordination between the health and education sectors, both at national and local level;
•developing an appropriate continuum of training and employment support services for people with a disability by working together with the Dept. of Enterprise and Employment, FAS and the HSE;
•Bringing a new impetus to the implementation of A Vision for Change, working in partnership with the HSE and other stakeholders to achieve implementation of agreed targets.
•Achieving greater cooperation between the health and justice sectors on matters relating to people with mental illness who come before the Courts, who are in the prison system or in the Central Mental Hospital.

The Director of the Office for Disability and Mental Health is Bairbre Nic Aongusa, formerly Deputy Director of the Office of the Minister for Children (OMC). During her time in the OMC, Ms. Nic Aongusa engaged extensively in the type of cross-agency and cross-Departmental work that is now required to achieve real progress in disability and mental health. She brings that experience and expertise with her to the new Office, in addition to her experience as a senior manager in the Department of Health & Children over several years. The Director of the Office will be a member of the Senior Officials Group on Social Inclusion, which monitors progress on the Government’s commitments in relation to social policy.

The Government has also agreed that meetings will be held on a quarterly basis between the Minister for Disability and Mental Health, the four Secretaries General of the relevant Departments and the Director of the new Office, to review progress in the priority areas.

The Government’s objective over the coming years is to move the disability agenda to a level which matches any other country in the world. We aim to do so in partnership with all stakeholders, thereby maximising the use of all our resources to promote the full involvement of people with disabilities in the social, economic, political and cultural life of Ireland.

In closing, I would like to congratulate all of those associated with the “Getting the Balance Right” Programme, the staff and volunteers of MS Ireland and those who organised today’s launch. The seeds of what I’m sure will be a fruitful venture have been sown here today. I wish you every success with it.