Ward-of-court replacement scheme allocated just €3m

New framework will let adults with mental disabilities make decisions over their lives

Minister for Justice Charlie Flanagan: “There are many complex strands to this work.” Photograph: Garrett White/Collins Photo Agency

Minister for Justice Charlie Flanagan: “There are many complex strands to this work.” Photograph: Garrett White/Collins Photo Agency

 

The Government has allocated €3 million next year for the establishment of a scheme to replace the much-criticised ward-of-court system, less than a third of what was requested.

The funding shortfall means the Decision Support Service will not be operational until 2020, five years after the introduction of legislation providing for it.

The Assisted Decision-Making (Capacity) Act 2015 lays out a framework for assisting adults with intellectual disability in making important decisions about their lives.

It is intended to replace the ward-of-court system, established under the Lunacy Act of 1871, which sees such decisions made by the High Court or a committee appointed by the court. These decisions range from buying or selling property to the choice of whether or not to leave a residential care setting.

There are nearly 3,000 wards of court in Ireland. The Courts Service controls more than €1 billion in assets on their behalf.

Under the new system, adults will have much more input into making decisions, including decisions about their personal assets.

‘Complex strands’

As part of the new scheme, the Mental Health Commission was tasked with establishing the Decision Support Service to work with vulnerable adults in making choices.

The commission requested €9 million from the Department of Justice to establish the new service next year. Last week Minister for Justice Charlie Flanagan confirmed €3 million would be made available.

“Every effort is under way to ensure that the Decision Support Service has all necessary capacity to open for business as soon as possible,” he told Social Democrats TD Róisín Shortall. “There are many complex strands to this work, including involvement of multiple organisations.”

The Minister said the service would be operational by early 2020.

The commission said it submitted cost estimates for 2019 to the Department of Justice before the budget.

“The plan is to cover essential running and staffing costs as well as start-up costs. The start-up costs include the design and development of an ICT system, project management, recruitment of panels to support people in decision-making, and drawing up detailed codes of practice,” a spokesman said.

The allocation this year falls very far short of what is required. It’s only a third of what was requested by the Mental Health Commission

“The allocation we have received covers the full staffing costs and covers certain essential services but leaves very little for the start-up requirements.

“Without adequate funding, the commencement of the [service] will inevitably be delayed. The Mental Health Commission is committed to the DSS, as is the Department of Justice. We remain hopeful of a resolution so that this important project can be progressed and that we can provide a fit-for-purpose service to deliver on the needs of vulnerable people.”

Dragging heels

Ms Shortall said the service needs to be up and running before 2020.

“The allocation this year falls very far short of what is required. It’s only a third of what was requested by the Mental Health Commission,” she said.

She accused the Government of dragging its heels on implementing the 2015 legislation.

“A huge amount of time has been lost,” she said.

“It calls into question the Government’s commitment to the UN convention [on the rights of people with disabilities] and it’s just not good enough.”