Ahern to establish body which will aid public on social services


A new agency, Comhairle, which will provide information to members of the public on social services and civil rights, is to be announced shortly.

Legislation giving effect to the new agency is being prepared by the Minister for Social, Community and Family Affairs, Mr Ahern, and will be published in the new year.

The information will be dispensed at centres around the State. Under the National Social Service Board there are more than 80 Citizens' Information Centres in existence providing free information to the public. These centres, run by voluntary groups, are expected to become the focus for delivering the planned extended information service.

The Minister told The Irish Times yesterday these information centres would be supplemented under the aegis of Comhairle.

It has been decided the new agency should combine the NSSB with relevant functions of the National Rehabilitation Board. The provision of advice and information services for people with disabilities will become an integral function of the new agency.

The move to establish the new body follows a Government decision earlier this year to replace the NRB with a new National Disability Authority and to transfer certain functions to a number of existing agencies or Government departments.

"The improvement of information and support services for people with disabilities was among the key recommendations contained in the report of the Commission on the Status of People with Disabilities. Building on the expertise and resources of both the NSSB and the NRB at local, regional and national levels, Comhairle will ensure that services for people with disabilities will become an integral part of mainstream information, advice and advocacy services for all," the Minister said.

Confirming that he had appointed a 20-strong board to oversee and manage "this exciting process", Mr Ahern said the members would represent a wide range of skills and experiences "which will greatly benefit the development of independent information and advice services over the next three years".

Comhairle's board will be chaired by Dr Donal de Buitleir, a general manager at the head office of the AIB Group, who has been chairman of the NSSB since 1995.