Varadkar and Martin row over disability services

Martin claims agencies in fear of speaking out because ‘it will be taken out on them’

There were heated exchanges between Taoiseach Leo Varadkar and Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin as each accused the other of failing people with disabilities while in government.

Mr Varadkar said that discussions on how €2.2 billion in funding for disability services in 2020 would be distributed had yet to take place and that the “vast majority of organisations” would receive increases.

But Mr Martin accused the Taoiseach of “implying that organisations are not spending the money they’ve got or they’re not doing it adequately” and claimed agencies were in fear of speaking out because they believed it would be “taken out on them”.

He also claimed the Government is “in denial” about the stress and anxiety of families of children and adults with intellectual difficulties who are “couch surfing” while waiting for necessary supports and services.


But Mr Varadkar rounded on Mr Martin and accused him of “trying to misrepresent and mis-characterise my response in order to score political points and make yourself look good”.

He added that Fianna Fáil was “no friend” of people with disabilities and had an “appalling record” having cut services when in government. “You should be ashamed of your record when it comes to disability,” he said to cheers from the Government benches and heckling from the Opposition.

‘Cry for help’

The row erupted as Mr Martin highlighted the "huge cry for help" by the Cope Foundation, a Cork-based organisation caring for children and adults with special needs, whose chief executive described the level of services as the worst he'd seen in almost 40 years.

He quoted a report in the Irish Examiner highlighting the concerns of the foundation which said it had 400 children waiting assessment for autism and of those who had been assessed 350 were waiting for intervention.

Mr Martin said that some children “will have aged out” by the time they receive services and he said that “over 40 per cent of the adults supported by Cope are over the age of 45”.

He said it was a “huge cry for help and huge call for the Government to change direction”.

Mr Varadkar said the Cope Foundation was a voluntary organisation that did “fabulous” work and that funding had increased year on year from €44.5 million in 2016 to €56.1 million this year.

Funding for disability services is more than €2.2 billion, Mr Varadkar said, adding that decisions had yet to be made on how that funding would be divided among the different organisations the Government supported.

The Taoiseach said it would not be right to comment on any one individual organisation’s application for funding, of which there would never be enough. “But there will be an increase for the vast majority of organisations.”

Budget cuts

Mr Martin then accused the Taoiseach of almost implying that organisations were not spending their allocations or doing so inadequately.

The Cork-South-Central TD said the Government “seems intolerant of criticism” and organisations like the Cope Foundation had not spoken out previously because of their fears they would suffer.

But rounding on Mr Martin the Taoiseach hit out at Fianna Fáil’s record in government.

He said the truth is that the Cope Foundation “does fabulous work” and had received at 26 per cent increase in budget in the past three years and would receive a further increase.

“The other truth is that when you were in government you cut the budget for disability services. You cut the disability allowance.”

Fianna’ Fáil should be ashamed of its record he said, adding that the Government had increased disability funding to a record high.

Marie O'Halloran

Marie O'Halloran

Marie O'Halloran is Parliamentary Correspondent of The Irish Times