Government not rushing Bill aiming to end ‘draconian institution’ of wardship, Minister says

Legislation aims to replace system with legal framework for supported decision-making for adults who need assistance and support

The Government is not “rushing” legislation that will bring an end to the wardship system, Minister for Equality and Disability Roderic O’Gorman has said.

He said a “tight timeline” has been set for passing the legislation and there are “a number of reasons why we need to move swiftly”.

Mr O’Gorman was speaking as the Assisted Decision-Making (Capacity) (Amendment) Bill 2022 was debated in the Dáil on Thursday.

The proposed legislation will bring an end to the wardship system in Ireland and replace it with a new legal framework for supported decision-making for adults who need assistance and support to maximise their ability to make decisions about themselves.

Mr O’Gorman noted that a number of TDs felt the legislation was being rushed through but said he did not accept this. He said he was happy to engage with TDs and Senators to address certain issues at committee stage and had always indicated that the Government was looking to pass the legislation in June.

“I don’t think it should be a shock to the system that this is coming at this point,” he added. “I accept the point in terms of the publication of the Bill, that was too tight,”

The Minister said wardship was a “draconian institution” that entirely robs people of “any recognition of their individual capacity”.

”They’re denied any sort of personal agency, and we have to remember that,” he said.

Mr O’Gorman said more than 2,100 people are in wardship at the moment, according to figures from the Courts Service, with between 200 and 300 added to the total each year. He said a decision support service was “ready to go” to provide graduated levels of support to those who had impairments to their capacity to make decisions.

Outdated system

The Minister said there was “strong agreement” across the House about the need to end the “outdated system” and he did not “fully understand” how legislation introduced in 2015 was “never fully initiated” or why “it has taken this long”.

“I don’t want the next Oireachtas scratching their heads to say why has wardship still not been abolished,” he added.

Inclusion Ireland, the national association for persons with intellectual disabilities, has said the Bill as it currently stands “does not recognise the need for meaningful engagement with people directly impacted”.

”People were not consulted with in an effective and accessible way on the proposed changes to legislation,” it said.

“It feels rushed now and there were major flaws in the original 2015 [Bill] which still have not been addressed, particularly in relation to advanced healthcare directives.

“The Bill is not compliant with the [UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities] because it still has a functional test of mental capacity, which means that we will have substitute decision making rather than supported decision making, denying legal capacity of individuals because another person makes decisions.”

Sarah Burns

Sarah Burns

Sarah Burns is a reporter for The Irish Times