The Government has been urged to stop dragging its heels on the introduction of a scheme to help people with serious disabilities to get out of their homes.
Hundreds of people in Galway had benefitted from a similar scheme that offered payments towards transport costs of people who cannot access public transport, until it was scrapped for new applicants in 2013.
Galway West Independent TD Noel Grealish, who has been campaigning since for a replacement scheme, has criticised the slow progress of a long-promised Bill, after he raised the issue again in a Dáil question to the Minister for Health.
“We are talking here about a limited number of people with severe mobility issues who are virtually trapped in their own homes because they cannot get out and about.
“Their disabilities prevent them from driving themselves, or from getting a bus — and they can’t generally afford to be paying for taxis every time they want to go somewhere,” he said.
Up until 2013, people with a severe disability and who could not walk, could avail of two schemes to hire transport or get a specially adapted car.
But the Ombudsman found one scheme contravened the Equal Status Act as it excluded applicants aged 66 and over, and in February that year it was closed to new applicants.
Monthly payments of up to €208 were being made to about 4,700 people under the Mobility Allowance Scheme at the time it was closed to new applicants, though payments continue to be made to people in receipt of the allowance at the time.
In reply to Deputy Grealish’s Dáil question last week, Junior Health Minister Finian McGrath said that work on the policy proposals for the new scheme was at an advanced stage, with the next step being to seek Government approval to the drafting of a Bill for the scheme.
But Deputy Grealish said that progress on bringing in the new scheme was far too slow, and it had seen many ‘false dawns’ before.
“We have yet another Dáil term coming to an end without it seeing the light of day — it will be at the very least six months before there is going to be any progress now, and who knows how much longer it will be before the scheme is up and running.”
The Independent TD also urged the Government to have a change of heart on its plans to alter the terms of the new scheme.
“Last year, the Government made a sneaky change to the description of the Bill, limiting the scheme for the first time to people ‘on a low income’. That just brings another layer of bureaucracy and another barrier of access to people who have, by the nature of their disability, no chance of any sizeable income coming in.
“These people have enough problems in their lives without the state being mean-spirited about helping them,” added Deputy Grealish.