The international and domestic economies started to implode in 2008 in what has become known as the ‘Great Recession’. Ireland was particularly badly affected by the crisis and had to be bailed out by Europe and the International Monetary Fund. The subsequent five years saw the implementation of a series of austerity measures implemented by the Irish Government that essentially resulted in fiscal cuts to disability organisations together with cuts to the income of disabled people.
Looking at disability services in Ireland, the sector suffered a 14.7% drop in Government funding and a 17% drop in fundraising, whilst at the same time disabled people met an 8% cut in their disability welfare payments in addition to cuts to social housing, home care and the introduction of prescription charges to name but a few. What was happening during this period was a transfer of costs onto disabled people whilst at the same time the sector was experiencing significant resource cuts.
At one point in September 2012 the Irish Government tried to effectively scrap personal assistance services. They reversed this decision when leaders and members of the various Centers for Independent Living (CILs) around Ireland protested outside the Irish Parliament.
Over the course of the great recession, the relationship between the Irish State and the disability sector has changed beyond recognition becoming more commercial in orientation; the State to a great extent now viewing the organisations it funds as instruments to achieve particular contracted services rather than focusing on their wider societal benefit.
Tighter monitoring of these contracted services together with increased regulation has resulted in tension between the State and the disability sector. Boards of disability organisations have increased responsibilities and societal attitudes towards the sector is changing as recent scandals involving the spending of funds by some disability organisations on what has been perceived at best as being wasteful impact negatively on the reputation of organisations in the sector. Money was and is being wasted, CIL and others in the Independent Living movement in Ireland have been pointing that out for years; it took the great recession for the Government to wake up to this.
In 2012 the Irish Department of Health issued a report on its value for money and policy review of the disability services programme. Essentially it reviewed how effective and efficient the disability services funded by the Health Service Executive are. The review then made a number of recommendations, couched in the language of ‘person centred approach’, which were essentially designed to get more out of service providers: it was more about saving money than revolutionising the relationship between the State and its disabled citizens.
As green shoots now begin to appear in the Irish economy and the fiscal statistics become more favourable, the State is reversing cuts that were made during the recession although disabled people bore the brunt of the cuts, Government has put disabled people at the end of the queue when it comes to reversing those cuts.
On 15 September disabled people again held a 48 hour protest outside the Irish Parliament to highlight their plight. Some people stayed out all night. The following evening a two-hour meeting was held in Government Buildings between disability activists including Michael McCabe, Martin Naughton and Shelly Gaynor and the Irish Prime Minister Enda Kenny and his Minister with responsibility for Disability, Kathleen Lynch.
The meeting was disappointing in that nothing concrete was agreed and little was given back in the subsequent budget. However, the following week new Disability/Equality legislation was announced which according to the Government would lead to Ireland ratifying the UN Convention on Rights of People with Disabilities (UN CRPD) and make further technical amendments to disability and equality legislation. It also committed to passing long awaiting legislation in relation to capacity. However, both should have been attended to years ago. One thing is clear – disabled people are not a priority for this Government.
Chief Executive, Center for Independent Living (Ireland)
Front: Michael McCabe, Shelly Gaynor and Martin Naughton
Middle: Minister Lynch and Taoiseach (Prime Minister) Kenny
Back: Paddy Connolly and Gary Lee