Disability age limit illegal - O'Reilly


MINISTER FOR Health James Reilly is breaking the law and rejecting international human rights principles by failing to remove an upper age limit to an allowance for people with disabilities, according to a report by Ombudsman Emily O’Reilly.

She says the failure of his department to make a mobility allowance available to people older than 66 “raises fundamental questions about the strength of our commitment to international human rights norms”.

“The continued failure of the department to tackle this issue suggests it has a very weak sense of the importance of supporting human rights principles and, indeed, a very weak sense of the rule of law and of its obligation to act in accordance with the law,” according to a special report to the Oireachtas published today.

The department originally promised last year to review the mobility allowance scheme but is now saying it cannot afford to make the changes recommended by the ombudsman.

Implementing these would “ignore the very serious financial constraints” on the State and “create liabilities that the State could not afford”, department secretary general Ambrose McLoughlin said in a letter this week.

The report says the department has been operating a scheme for the past 12 years on the basis of a condition that was illegal and that it has known to be illegal for the past four years. Despite having agreed last year to remove the upper age limit from the scheme, it failed to do so. As a consequence, it has knowingly allowed the scheme to continue in operation on the basis of an illegality.

Since the department originally agreed to change the scheme, five new complaints have been made by people who were refused the allowance. These were from people ranging in age from 67 to 91 years.

The allowance is a monthly payment by the HSE to people with a severe disability “who are unable to walk and who would benefit from occasional trips away from home”. It is worth a maximum of €208.50 a month.

The latest report from Ms O’Reilly is a follow-up to an earlier report, published in April 2011. The department accepted the finding in this report that the age limit was illegal and said it would revise the scheme within six months.

Responding to the department’s contention the State cannot afford to remove the age limit, the ombudsman said that “the continuing disregard of the law by a key State body is not something we can afford”.