Dáil Éireann - Volume 681 - 30 April, 2009

Other Questions. - Citizens Information Board.

Deputy Joe McHughasked the Minister for Social and Family Affairs if the personal advocacy service for people with disabilities will be rolled out in 2009; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [17080/09]

  Deputy Mary Hanafin: The statutory basis for the introduction of a personal advocacy service under the Citizens Information Board was provided for in the Citizens Information Act 2007. However, having regard to the current budgetary circumstances, it will not be possible to proceed with this in 2009.

The Citizens Information Board is monitoring the programme to ensure that the projects are operating in accordance with the board’s advocacy guidelines. It is planned to undertake a full evaluation of the community and voluntary sector advocacy programme next year.

The Citizens Information Board also provides advocacy through the citizens information services, focusing on access to services, welfare entitlements and employment rights. This type of mainstream advocacy is also open to people with disabilities. The community and voluntary sector advocacy programme is creating close links with the citizens information services to ensure that people with disabilities are encouraged and supported to use the mainstream services where possible.

The advocacy capacity is being strengthened through the provision of advocacy resource officers who work to build the capacity of information providers within the citizens information services to advocate on behalf of clients. There are nine advocacy resource officers in operation across the citizens information services network.

I am satisfied with the developments undertaken to provide advocacy services for people with disabilities through the Citizens Information Board. Significant resources have been provided since 2005 and will continue to be made available under the auspices of the Citizens Information Board for the development and provision of advocacy services for people with disabilities. The Department will continue to work with the board to further enhance advocacy services for all citizens, including those with disabilities.

  Deputy David Stanton: I thank the Minister for her reply. What is the situation regarding the post of director of personal advocacy services, which was advertised in December 2007? It was envisaged that the director could be up and running by 2008, but was that position ever filled? I understand from a previous reply by the Minister in June 2008 that a person had been identified but that the post remained to be sanctioned. Was the person appointed? How much [593] has the Minister’s Department saved by not going ahead with the personal advocacy service? How many people were going to be appointed to the service initially? Is the Minister now telling us that the Citizens Information Act, which we passed in 2007, is more or less defunct? Is she going down a different route, using advocacy resources officers through the citizens information service instead?

  Deputy Mary Hanafin: The position is that the director was not appointed. When it was decided that we were not in a position to go ahead with the personal advocacy service last year, there was not much point in appointing a director to that service. That is on hold for the moment.

The amount spent on personal advocacy from 2005 to 2008 was €6.1 million. The amount saved on that service last year, when the decision was made, was €1.2 million. Had it gone ahead this year it would have been a greater amount, but it was not provided for in the budget because a decision was made last summer not proceed with it.

It is important to say, however, that the advocacy on offer around the country is being availed of by people with disabilities everywhere. Some 4,153 people have availed of and benefited from an advocacy service. The citizens information bureaux continue to provide that service, but the personal advocacy service was not possible in light of budgetary constraints.

  Deputy David Stanton: Is the Minister saying that there is no need to go ahead with the personal advocacy service, and that the resource officers she is putting in place are doing the job instead? Has she changed her policy in this area completely? When she says that this is being put on hold, does she envisage it happening sometime in the future and if so, how soon? Does she agree that there is a huge need for such a service for people with disabilities and other vulnerable people who cannot provide advocacy services for themselves?

  Deputy Mary Hanafin: The potential for a personal advocacy service is huge, including one that is dedicated to people with disabilities that can focus on their needs. It is always the intention of the Government to introduce it. It is just that because of the budgetary situation, both last year and currently, it was not possible to go ahead with it. That is why we did not appoint the director. It is only on hold, however, until we get out of the current economic crisis. It was purely a budgetary decision not to go ahead at the moment, rather than a policy one.

  Deputy David Stanton: The most vulnerable are being affected now.