State failing to provide personal assistants to disabled people, activists say

Ireland ‘not upholding fundamental rights’ over failure to accommodate disabled people’s needs, Oireachtas committee hears

Photograph: Alan Betson, Irish Times Staff Photographer.

Houses of the Oireachtas Commission suppliment
Close up Detail of seats in the Seanad / Senate  at Leinster House
taken on 26/3/07

Failures in the allocation of personal assistants (PAs) to disabled people has left Ireland unable “to live up to its ideals as a modern social democracy”, disability rights activists said on Thursday.

Speaking to the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Disability Matters, Damien Walshe of Independent Living Movement Ireland (ILMI) said that many disabled people do not live full lives of self-determination due to the State’s failure to give disabled people the right to a PA service.

Mr Walshe said Ireland is “not upholding the fundamental rights of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities”.

Dr Selina McCoy, also appearing before the committee, presented research conducted by the Economic and Social Research Institute that shows a “gap in the understanding” of the experiences of disabled people. The report details how some disabled people are “confined to their homes” due to a lack of PA hours, Dr McCoy said.


While there was some satisfaction expressed about services, “systemic shortfalls have had a clearly detrimental effect on the functioning and capabilities valued by the participants in relation to their ability to participate in everyday social and economic activities”.

Of particular concern to members of ILMI appearing before the committee was a lack of consistency of PA services across the country. Both Mr Walshe and fellow representative Shelly Gaynor outlined the example of disabled people being granted PA hours during their third-level education only to be told they needed to reapply once their studies were completed. Mr Walshe said “we are giving young people a taste of freedom, only to remove it from them”.

Ms Gaynor went on to call for a change in attitude towards PAs, saying their services should no longer be referred to as system of “caring” in a bid to reframe personal assistance as a rights-based model as opposed to a medical one.

Yvonne O’Neill, the HSE’s national director of community operations, agreed with the merits of a rights-based model of assistance. She said there had been a 15 per cent increase in the allocation of PA hours since 2020 but acknowledged the need for further hours.

Geographical consistency of services was also a concern for those speaking before the committee. Independent TD Seán Canney asked about the difference between PA services in urban and rural areas. Mr Walshe of ILMI said that a lack of standardisation in services means some disabled people are not aware of what is available to them, while others have access to different services based on where they live. Cavan and Monaghan are examples of counties where limited PA services can be found, said Mr Walshe.

Ms O’Neill acknowledged that the “postcode lottery” is of concern to the HSE and that the executive is aiming to standardise access to “flush out” differences in available services across the country. The HSE is progressing a new working group to address “common definition, consistency in assessment of and access to, PA”. The group will begin its work in April and hopes to conclude its operations by December.

Since 2018, the HSE has seen an increase in its personal assistance budget from €80 million to €110 million.

Nathan Johns

Nathan Johns

Nathan Johns is an Irish Times journalist