Ireland is not a society of equals. A number of groups are unfairly treated, including disabled people. The 13% of the Irish people who have disabilities and/or mental health difficulties (CSO, 2012) are at significantly greater risk than non-disabled people of experiencing poverty, social exclusion, unemployment and lack of opportunity for education, training and retraining.
This unfair treatment of disabled people is not unique to Ireland but is a deep rooted global problem. So ten years ago the United Nations agreed on global action in the form of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD, 2006). Ireland took a leadership position when it signed the Convention on the first day possible in 2007 but the State has regressed in the intervening years.
To date, Ireland has not ratified the UNCRPD and this failure means that the convention is not yet in force in this country. In contrast, over 150 other countries including the overwhelming majority of EU member states, are implementing the Convention. The current government committed to ratification of the Convention in its programme in 2011 but that promise has not been kept. Furthermore, recession and austerity measures since 2007 have been especially and disproportionately severe in their impact on people with disabilities and their families. This is a very short-sighted approach as well as being unjust. Long term problems are being stored up which will impact negatively both on individual lives and on public spending in the future, especially where disabled children and young people are affected.
The UNCRPD maps out a very broad ranging set of requirements along with implementation mechanisms. These are aimed at improving the lives of people with disabilities across the whole of society including economic life, social life, political involvement, independent living in the community, transport, housing and many other policy areas. The plans were developed in consultation with the global movement of people with disabilities, including Irish representatives.
So the primary action to which the Social Democrats are committed is to ensure that any incoming government provides dignity and opportunity to people with disabilities by ratifying the UNCRPD as a matter of urgency. Ratification would then be followed by the development of a national implementation plan accompanied by monitoring, reporting and enforcement processes.
See our full proposals for empowering those with disabilities here.
The areas for priority attention in this programme of real and concrete change would include: