Future generations will "hang their heads in shame" at the way people with disabilities are treated, the chairman of a new Oireachtas committee on disability matters has warned.
Fianna Fáil TD Michael Moynihan said it was "clear disability services are not resourced properly by the HSE or the State" and criticised a "belittling" attitude of some towards the sector.
Referring to community disability services funded under section 39 of the 2004 Health Act, he said: “I have seen this sneering, belittling attitude towards the section 39 organisations, from people who should know better, that provide so many of the vital services.
“In essence these organisations were set up as voluntary bodies, and they are providing services that the State should be providing. They are vital services and service users and their families have rights to these services.”
The closure of many day services since March had deprived people of these rights. “They have lost their routines, their friends, their social outlets,” he said, adding, “All of this has caused huge human damage. They are the forgotten people. This has to be reversed”.
He said he had often noted how readily parliamentary colleagues will debate the scandals of the past "the mother and baby homes, Tuam – and so we should. But we have not had a genuine national debate about what is happening in the here and now. In the future we will hang our heads in shame at the way people with disabilities and their families are treated.
“I want to see these services treated with the same importance at Government, to be at the forefront of Government thinking in the same way the Department of Education, of Health, of Agriculture [are]. They are as important.”
His comments come as Taoiseach Micheál Martin said in the Dáil on Tuesday he wanted to see the State “take a stronger role in terms of the provision of such services”.
The joint committee on disability matters is to begin work next Wednesday. Mr Moynihan said it would “invite in all the providers, families, carers, the HSE” between now and Christmas, “to identify the main issues” with a view to agreeing an agenda of work for 2021.
A key issue will be Ireland’s full implementation of the UN Convention of the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, ratified in March 2018. Signatories guarantee to “promote, protect and ensure the full and equal enjoyment of all human rights and fundamental freedoms by all persons with disabilities, and to promote respect for their inherent dignity.”
Among the areas it covers are equality in accessing education, healthcare, employment, justice, the right to live independently, freedom from abuse, and, freedom of movement.
Mr Moynihan said there was a “massive crisis” in waiting times for assessments for services such as occupational and speech and language therapies, and then a dearth of those services.