Ratified, up to a point

UN disability convention

Minister of State Finian McGrath, who has special responsibility for disabilities, has said there is legal disagreement over whether parents and families are allowed to place elderly or disabled relatives in institutions against their will. Photograph: Gareth Chaney/Collins

Minister of State Finian McGrath, who has special responsibility for disabilities, has said there is legal disagreement over whether parents and families are allowed to place elderly or disabled relatives in institutions against their will. Photograph: Gareth Chaney/Collins

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The Department of Justice has, once again, found reasons for not doing the generous thing for a disadvantaged group of people. This time, it was decided not to endorse a citizen’s complaints protocol when the Government finally agreed to ratify the United Nations Convention on the Rights of People with Disabilities. These rights will now be officially recognised, but those affected will not be allowed to complain to the UN.

Ratification of the convention will have knock-on effects in terms of the necessary legislative changes and administrative procedures. These range from a re-working of wards of court legislation to permitting individuals make personal choices regarding the expenditure of State financial supports and, critically, to ensuring that persons are not lawfully deprived of their liberty in residential facilities. The last consideration was highlighted by Minister of State Finian McGrath, who said legal opinions differed over whether parents and families were allowed to place elderly or disabled relatives in institutions against their will.

The Disability Federation of Ireland regards the decision not to adopt the complaints protocol as “deeply worrying’ and a reflection on the inadequacy of existing services.

The convention recognises the rights of people with disabilities to respect and dignity; to make autonomous decisions; to equality of opportunity and to fully participate in society. This will require a dramatic shift in cultural attitudes within State and voluntary agencies and by members of the public. Significant investment will also be required to bring cash-starved services up to UN standards.

The funding of disabled people on an individual basis, so that they can customise the services they require, has been successfully introduced in Britain. But it is in its infancy here. Freedom to make choices lies at the heart of personal confidence and independence.

That is why the dreadful practice of committing family members to institutions against their will must be stopped.

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