John Dolan's speech in Mansion House Pre-Budget 2012

Issued on October 5 2011

John Dolan's speech in Mansion House Pre-Budget 2012

Mansion House Pre-Budget 2012

John Dolan, Chief Executive Officer

Disability Federation of Ireland, 5th October 2012

Check against delivery

Ireland is now getting some credit in the international media for learning from its mistakes and sorting out its problems. Our Government may well be protecting the economy, it certainly is implementing plans to do so, but is it protecting people with disabilities? We are still calling for a plan to protect and implement the National Disability Strategy. Sometimes clichés are correct, “if you fail to plan you plan to fail”.

Last month ten national voluntary organisations, including DFI, representing people across the range of disabilities and disabling conditions, issued a Joint Statement alerting the Government to the issues at stake. We expressed our collective judgement that further pressure on people with disabilities is unsustainable.

Since 2008 we have had four budgets and a bailout; now we face the first of three (or more) austerity budgets. Budget 2012 will reveal what this Government’s fundamental values and priorities really are.

DFI warmly welcomed this Government naming disability including mental health as its social justice priority. This commitment came in statements by the Taoiseach and the Tánaiste during the final debate of the election campaign, and in the comprehensive focus on fairness in the Programme for Government. Some eight months later, we call on Government to demonstrate its commitment to these values, of social justice and fairness for people with disabilities, through Budget 2012.

We appreciate that resources are tight and we all must work ‘smarter’ and differently, but we cannot accept that social justice priorities fly out the window when times get tough. When decision-making is driven by fire fighting alone, it destroys social investment and the prospects for people with disabilities. While we are committed to ensuring that people will no longer be forced to live in congregated settings we are allowing the daily erosion of services and supports that make community and family living work for people. To take one example, PA, the acknowledged back bone of independent living is now becoming a euphemism for “in home supports”.

After Ireland eventually extricates itself from fiscal austerity what level of chronic un-met need will it face? Way more than is necessary when we have not in place a plan, that all of us need to work within, to protect services that people need.

DFI’s Pre Budget Submission outlines where action is required - in terms of protecting the income supports and services that people with disabilities need in the Budget and publishing its Implementation Plan for the National Disability Strategy.

The Central Statistics Office estimates that almost one in five people have a disability. That is an alarming count, except for one other fact. Investment in prevention, early intervention and amelioration and in a supportive environment where disability is accommodated reduces the societal burden of disability. Such investment is actually a social insurance scheme for everyone in Ireland. None of us can buy private insurance against the adverse effects should disability happen to us or to a family member. Budget 2012 must recognise that we cannot afford to ditch this social safety net, just as we cannot afford to impose further austerity on people with disabilities.

The disability infrastructure built up over the last decade, in particular, is on the point of collapse.

In four or five years’ time as Ireland gets back to financial sustainability and growth the State will face a way greater burden of need to be dealt with and at much greater cost. If this happens we will have learned nothing from the last recession.

Social services, skill sets and expertise are equally valuable public utilities, just as much as any of the commercial semi states. Part of the necessary offering of Ireland to investors is a country where the extent and burden of disability and disabling conditions is minimal and where all its people know that they can get the services and supports they need when they need them. All too often disability reduces the contribution of people and their families in the social and economic life of Ireland.

There is a huge and unenviable responsibility on Government but as never before there is a great responsibility on the Opposition also; to both hold Government to account and to assist them to also focus beyond the moment. To consider the medium and long term effects of decisions that are being made today. We must now make social decisions thinking five to ten years ahead if we are to do the right thing for disabled people. If the Taoiseach and Tánaiste are slow to honour, in their actions, the social justice priority that they gave to disability it is there for the opposition to pick up and champion.

We may be broke, we may be in receivership, as Minister Quinn so often puts it, but Government has social as well as financial responsibilities. Speaking in Dublin recently AJ Chopra, from the IMF, stated “It is important the poor and the vulnerable sectors of society are protected”. Disabled people and their families know about all the plans, budgets, spending reviews and the IMF / EU arrangement but they know nothing about the plan to protect the services that they need to survive through this period. Lets have a plan that we can all work to.

5th October 2012