Disability law needs rights basis, say groups


THE COST of providing for people with disabilities could be cut and their quality of life improved if human rights principles informed the law on disability, according to 15 organisations working in the area.

The groups came together yesterday at a seminar to publish a statement of principles that they said should underlie legal capacity law. The seminar was organised by the Centre for Disability Law and Policy in NUI Galway and Amnesty International.

Prof Gerard Quinn, head of the NUIG centre, said the capacity law, promised by this and the last government, had to be in line with the latest human rights standards so the Government could fully adopt the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.

This required a change in focus from a person’s “incapacity” to make decisions concerning their lives and welfare to an emphasis on their ability to do so and the provision of support needed.

Colm O’Gorman, director of Amnesty International in Ireland, said the law governing legal capacity was the Regulation of Lunacy (Ireland) Act 1871, which was out of date. “We simply can’t delay any longer,” he said.

Anna Nilsson of Lund University said when Sweden introduced a system of personal ombudsman in 1995 for people in psychiatric care, it cut the cost of services by €11,500 for each person. Eighty per cent of the savings came from a reduction in compulsory care.

The personal ombudsman helped people with psycho-social problems get closer to the labour market, interact better with others and provides domestic assistance to enable them to live independently, she said. It led to a major shift to community-based services.

Mary Kealy,of the Brothers of Charity Services in Clare said people in care were unhappy with the way they were treated and the lack of control about where they lived, and the organisation had started work on their behalf.

Nuala Coughlan, who lived in an institution for 10 years, said through this service she had got her own home and a job in a hostel in Ennis. “My life is much better,” she said.