Draft address to Pre Budget Launch

Issued on October 8 2009

Address to Pre Budget Launch 8th October 2009

(Check against delivery)

"Our economy is experiencing a deep recession." We so often hear this but it is not an accurate description of what is happening. What is happening is that our people are experiencing a deep and deepening services withdrawal. People with disabilities, their families and carers are living every day with the loss of necessary services and income supports. And they are living with a very clear expectation and fear of much more to come in this Budget and the following one.

They are reeling from the effects of what has happened to date, expecting worse to come for the next two years at least, and to add as it were, insult to injury, all this comes hot on the heels of the Governments proclamation in the National Disability Strategy to establish

"an Ireland where people with disabilities have, to the greatest extent possible, the opportunity to live a full life with their families and as part of their local community, free from discrimination".

As night follows day it is clear to DFI that the application of the "Bord Snip Nua" menu in the forthcoming Budget would wreak havoc on the disabled people of Ireland and their families. The NDS will not be worth the paper it is written on and the reputation of this Government will be severely compromised were that to happen.

Yes Government have difficult choices to make but those choices must demonstrate and reiterate clearly the States ongoing commitment to disability. Do further cuts in services to disabled people come before all other options have been considered? Clearly, decisions must be made between raising the levels of revenue through taxation, ending tax exemptions and / or reducing the cost of service provision through public service reform, reducing salaries and supporting more efficient ways of working. The income supports and the services that people with disabilities receive must be maintained, protected and unmet needs responded to.

We are told over and over of the significant level of investment that the State now makes in disability. We welcome that in fact, we appreciate it so much we are fighting hard to retain it but remember on thing, it is Government that strongly influences the cost base. Our services are hugely dependent on people. We quite simply are cost takers in this regard.

Disabled people require disability specific services but equally they require access to mainstream public services otherwise they will continue to be kept apart from society.

Unless serious and urgent action is undertaken the reduction in services, for those already receiving services will continue, and the substantial and growing levels of unmet need will be left unattended.

Set out above is what will happen unless Government takes strong action to protect the priority that it gave to the NDS in Towards 2016 and in the Agreed Programme for Government. Government must now put in place an "NDS Recession Implementation Plan" with the objective of protecting the current level of services and income for people with disabilities, while delivering further services and to ensure that there can be a substantial drive forward in services as soon as the recovery comes. This can be done.

There is no evidence available to DFI that Ministers and Secretaries Generals of the Departments are approaching this Budget from the perspective that the NDS is a Government priority and that new and innovative ways need to be deployed to protect and advance the Strategy. We have no reassurance that people with disabilities, their families and carers are not going to bear the brunt of the continuing fiscal readjustment that is required. Yes public service workers are very fearful that they will suffer further pay cuts. That fear for workers is real. The reality for disabled people, largely never employed, is that the Budget will further reduce their income supports on top of the withdrawal of the Christmas Bonus and that health and social services will be further eroded. An Bord Snip Nua is suggesting massive cuts in health and social welfare.

Government made a policy choice, made a policy commitment, to deliver a national disability strategy. It is clearly more difficult for Government to deliver now but deliver it must. Let’s see what the review of the Agreed Programme for Government says. If Government understands and continues to appreciate what the NDS was about, namely providing the wherewithal for disabled people to be free and equal citizens in this State then they know how they must prioritise and what they must prioritise.

Protecting the NDS and ensuring that it is progressed during the recession is a practical way to give expression to the Governments commitment to protect the vulnerable in that it is targeted at people who are vulnerable, who cross all sections of the lifecycle from childhood to old age, where there is strong community support and sentiment, where there are allies across the voluntary disability sector, where so much has been invested to date in developing the Strategy, where the expectations of disabled people have rightly been raised and where valuable social infrastructure will be lost if we don’t all find a way to keep moving forward.

For our part as the voluntary disability sector we know that we also have a role to play in deepening our commitment to working in partnership. Today we are giving practical expression to that with the "NDS Recession Implementation Charter" which DFI along with others have signed up to and we invite others to similarly commit to.

The Government is one part of the Oireachtas, there is also the Opposition. Each year we invite Government and Opposition to this launch and otherwise we continue to work with all members of the Dáil and Seanad. The stated intent of the NDS is not a contentious matter and there has been strong support for the Strategy from all sides. DFI is today putting a strong challenge to Government to protect and advance the Strategy and to set out clearly how it is doing that, and we would be putting that challenge to whoever was in Government.

As never before we need all members of the Oireachtas, both Government and Opposition, to prioritise the Strategy and to work hard for it. All of us gathered in this room can be part of delivering a great legacy for this State namely that its disabled members can be as much a part of what it has to offer as anyone else can rightfully expect of it.

With the clock ticking down to the Budget in December, we have a grave concern that there will be irreparable damage to the Strategy unless each Department approaches it from the point of view that it has to prioritise the protection of the Strategy and ensure that disabled people continue to have access to services provided by or through that Department. We came out of the last recession with disability poorly positioned to take advantage of the upturn. Our abiding fear today is that history will repeat itself but we know that need not be the case.

Whatever about others in this room, those of us from the broad disability sector- organisations, disabled people, families and carers-still dare to believe that this State has great things ahead of it but unlike the past that future can embrace disabled people.

Thank You.
John Dolan