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Something to chill your heart?

category national | health / disability issues | news report author Friday April 28, 2006 12:59author by Miriam Cotton Report this post to the editors

McDowell turns his gaze on disability

An advertisement has appeared in national papers today inviting applications from voluntary disability organisations to apply for money for, er, well, it's difficult to say actually. But it's definitely got something to do with 'developing operational capacity'.

The ad is reproduced here, with commentary below, in the hope that other readers might be able to shed more light on what this is all about. If the road to hell is paved with 'good' intentions then surely this is a particularly large slab falling into place along the route:

"The Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, Mr Michael McDowell, TD, invites applications for funding under the 'Enhancing Disability Services Project Funding' from voluntary, not for profit organisations working in the disability sector based in the State.

As part of a Multi-Annual Investment Programme for Disability, a sum of E6million is being made available for 2007-8 from this distinct funding programme. The programme aims to contribute to the development of improved services for disabled people through:

*promoting the development of collaborative approaches and innovative linkages between existing infrastructure and new needs;

*improving coordination between disability organisations; and

*enhancing existing structures & developing operational capacity

To assist this process three public information meetings have been organised as follows, and will commence at 10am sharp:

*18th May 2006 - Glenroyal Hotel, Maynooth
*23rd May 2006 - Carrigaline Court Hotel, Carigaline, Cork
*24th May 2006 Galway Bay Hotel, Salthill, Galway

Prospective applicants are strongly encouraged to attend one of the information meetings. Attendance at a specified venue to be notified to Pobal ( by 15 May 2006

Appraisal of the applications and the management and support of successful projects will be undertaken by Pobal on behalf of the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform.

Application forms for the EDS programme together with progr4amme guidelines are available from the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform's website ( and also from Pobal's website ( They are also available directly from the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform by telephoning 01-4790252."

So, a large sum of money is going to be set aside, again, for people to talk about how they do what they do. It is true that the disability 'sector' needs to be better coordinated but when you hear terms like 'developing operational capacity' from McDowell you know, don't you, where you are really going. How many voluntary groups will come out of this exercise alive, I wonder, once it arrives at its conclusions - timed nicely for not too long AFTER the next general election, incidentally, but yet a good while before the one after that. If good news was anticipated I suspect the timetabling would be very different. This government has perfected the art of smiling beatifically at its citizens, claiming that it's heart is large and generous - even while it is chopping your hands and feet off.

If you go to the Pobal website, as you are invited to in the ad, you will discover that in fact no further information is available there. What you are told is that the application forms and other information will not be available until the 18th of May which is, coincidentally, the day of the first public meeting. All of the public meetings will have been concluded within a matter of 6 days, including a weekend. So that's just four working days of consultation before the project, whatever it is, gets underway.

Meanwhile, we can only speculate about exactly what it is that voluntary organisations are being asked to do. Can anyone help with that? Is there something in the ad that I am missing? Why would anyone go to a meeting when they dont know what it's about?

You might notice also that we are not talking about an open meeting as such: 'Attendance at a specified venue to be notified to 15th May 2006'.

Well, I've just registered to attend the meeting in Cork and will be anxious to report back once I've understood what this is all about. But I don't like the sound of it, at all. 'Enhancing disability services' is a pretty straightforward thing, really. You build and staff well-run respite homes, for example. You train and appoint an adequate number of pshychologists, therapists and others so that people with disability can have assessments when they need them and therapies when they are most likely to make a difference. You require employers and public authorities to ensure that disabled access is a prerequiste in the building of all new facilities and that arrangements are made for converting old buildings. You supplement that effort with taxes (preferably collected from foreign companies exploiting our natural resources). You fund the voluntary organisations themselves adequately so that where they are providing services they can ensure all their potential and actual users can have the facilities they need. And so forth. Oh, I wish I was McDowell for even one month. Let me rephrase that. I wish I had his job for one month.

If anyone can get along to the Galway or Maynooth meetings, it would be interesting to compare notes here afterwards.

author by M Cottonpublication date Fri Apr 28, 2006 15:42author address author phone Report this post to the editors

After a little more digging around I’ve found some information on the Department of Justice website (all caps are my emphasis):

The most striking thing to note is the disparity between the way the project is advertised - ‘Enhancing Disability Services’ in big bold letters across the top of the ad - which implies making additions to those services – and the real purpose of the project: ‘ Enhancing Disabilities Services PROJECT FUNDING’. So this is about funding. As I look at the advertisement again I see that the real project title was referred to once in passing within the text of the ad but nowhere does the ad specifically state that this exercise is intended to discuss HOW funding is awarded and to whom. We should all be very worried.

Here are some quotes from the website:

‘Funding will be granted to proposals which are deemed to demonstrate and innovative and cost effective APPROACH to service provision…and which have the capacity to be mainstreamed in the future. The Department of Justice Equality and Law Reform wish to ensure the Enhancing Disability Services Project Funding is used as strategically as possible to MAXIMISE THE ADDED VALUE arising from each project.

Translation: ‘Added Value’ everywhere it is applied = cutbacks. ‘Approach to service provision’ is not at all the same thing as service provision itself. Attached to the expression ‘cost effective’, it is arguably the complete opposite of service provision in that it almost certainly means a diminution of what services are already available.

‘Priority will be given to applications from umbrella groups or consortia that have a wide reaching impact and the capability to influence best practise among all organisations under the aegis of the applicant and across the disability field.’

Translation: Only the big boys need apply, smaller voluntary service providers will be stuffed. This is about relocating services to a handful of the mainly government controlled, larger players, almost all of whom are headed up by obedient government placemen. It’s about cutbacks, again and most importantly, control. And to make absolutely sure, the conditions for applying state that voluntary groups may be required to match the funding (up E250K per project). You can count on the fingers of your hands the number of organisations that would be able to do that.

And just to reinforce that point:

“Promotion of increased mainstreaming and cohesion of services CURRENTLY being provided through specific targeted initiatives.”

“It must be emphasised that it is intended that structural integration will play a key role in the next round of the Enhancing Disability Services Project Funding. To facilitate this emphasis a significant portion of the funds will be made available to projects that feature integration with other agencies on a long-term basis.”

That’s pretty clear, isn’t it? The end of all this is that the idea of local services for local people is likely to disappear down the toilet. It also clearly spells the end of services which are parent driven – those are the most vocal, pesky and truly independent. They are often the most innovative and person-centred too.

We are also invited to nota bene that ‘The Enhancing Disability Services Project Funding is not intended for activities, which replicate existing service provision for persons with a disability.’

Translation: nobody should propose to add to existing service provision, even though mostly it is woefully scarce.

‘It is essential to identify a VARIATION OF APPROACH to existing measures.’

Why do we have such a quiet, ambiguous call for applications in respect of something so significant? This advertisement signals a massive change in funding for the disability sector. Where is or was the discussion about it? No doubt the advertisement and the ‘public’ meetings will be cited as evidence of ‘open’ or ‘full’ communication with the disability sector in due course. We should start asking questions, loudly, before it is again too late to stop this government from inflicting further damage on an already Fianna Fail and PD-battered disability sector.

author by M Cottonpublication date Fri Apr 28, 2006 17:49author address author phone Report this post to the editors

My guess is that the whole thing has already been worked out i.e.:

It's already been decided who will get the initial money to work out the schemes for future disability funding. Tha'ts why the call for groups to participate is so ambiguous and restricted to the big players;

What those schemes are and how and who is going to get funding in the future (certainly not any organisation that is critical of government policy)

author by John Ahernepublication date Fri Apr 28, 2006 23:30author address author phone Report this post to the editors

Hello Miriam,

Is it possible to go to all three meetings? If so I will attend all three, if not I will attend the one in Galway and would be only happy to compare notes.

I have already encountered a politician from the labour party who once challenged seems to have done a disappearing act. “I only asked for a meeting, ”

I wonder is that part of party policy?

Kind regards

author by MCpublication date Sat Apr 29, 2006 14:15author address author phone Report this post to the editors

I reckon they will present the same spiel at each of them.

It all adds up to this:

What we are intended to believe is that the Department of Justice is calling for applications from voluntary disability organisations to apply for money to be used to conduct studies into alternative forms of funding for the disability sector.

However, the guidelines for applying to do the study make it very clear that the applications for tranches of the study money must more or less state the conclusions that the proposed studies will arrive at before they have even been conducted.

This exercise is actually about weeding out the voluntary organisations that the government will appoint to control and regulate services for people with disability in future. The application process for the study money is in effect an organisational interview for who will get to be the regional service providers and it will have been completed by 14th July this year.

The studies themselves will, it seems, actually be about carving up the responsibility for disability services regionally and might well be done without reference to any agency other than the chosen few. Theoretically, there is room for collaboration between smaller agencies but my guess is that the stipulation that bidders MAY be required to match the study funding from government will be used to deter anyone they dont want involved. How many vol orgs could stump up 100-250K to be allowed to conduct a study? It just wouldnt be a priority even if they had the money to spare.

We really need to make people aware of what is happening - this has huge ramifications for everyone and questions need to be asked now. We should be emailing/contacting all our TDs and getting them to ask questions in the Dail etc etc. The thing that worries me most of all is that there is a clear intention to lump services for different sorts of disability under the control of fewer organisations. It almost certainly means a loss of specialist knowledge where existing services are aimed at specific conditions/disabilities.

We also have the increasing problem of the lack of accountability of voluntary organisations the biggest of which are really private businesses. To take just one example of an issue we need to be concerned about, now that the government has relocated the responsibility for inspecting residential facilities to one of its newest quangos (HIQA) and will not declare any enforceable service standards (which is really rights by another name), things can only get worse for individuals if are really to go down this road.

I despair.

author by Kathy Sinnott MEP - Hope Projectpublication date Mon May 01, 2006 19:47author email hope.project at esatclear dot ieauthor address St. Joseph, Ballinabearna, Ballinhassig, co corkauthor phone 021 4888503Report this post to the editors

Thank you for highlighting the latest move by Minister McDowell . Remember, he was the Attorney General in the case against my son's and every persons with a disabilities' right to education. He was the Attorney General in the Supreme Court Appeal to the Sinnott Judgment . In it he sought successfully to establish that persons over 18 did not as the High Court found, have a constitutional right to education and that judges had no right to make mandatory orders to ensure that people with disabilities are no longer neglected by the State.

As Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, he with his junior Minister for Equality proposed a Disability Bill that ignored the rights and recommendations of the disabillity community. He then passed in opposition to us.

There are a great number of disability groups. If Minister McDowell wants to limit the number of groups he only has to see that people with disabilities have their rights vindicated. Then we won't need some many campaigning groups. In the meantime a lot of groups does not mean we don't work together. The unity shown during the long campaign for a Rights Based Disability Bill and against the terrible bill we got shows that we can work together when we need to.

Maybe this is what Michael wants to avoid in future. Whatever his motive, I am sorry if I must suspect it is not for our benefit.

author by John Ahernepublication date Fri May 05, 2006 19:41author address author phone Report this post to the editors

I have notified Pobal through the email addy stated above on Sunday, April 30th, that I wanted to attend the meeting in Galway. As of yet there has been no reply. Is that normal?

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