Tuesday 21 October 2014

Scandal could open the door to empower people with disabilities

Simon Harris

Published 18/01/2014 | 02:30

I have been angered at on many occasions at revelations that have emerged at the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) over the past three years. This week, though, was the first time I was sickened.

The revelations about the Central Remedial Clinic (CRC) speak for themselves. Hard-earned and badly needed charity funds being used to provide a sweetheart deal for a departing chief executive of nearly three quarter of a million euro. A board charged with running this vital organisation which was, at best, asleep on the job.

Witnesses who contend they know so little about top-ups and pay-offs that they must expect us to believe they spent their time at the CRC blindfolded.

There is an understandable feeling of disgust and anger across the country. I fear there are more revelations to come. And I know there is a lot more work to be done.

But the question that must be answered is where to now? We need to expose fully the powerful elites running fiefdoms -- but we also need to do much more than that. We need to challenge ourselves and seize the opportunity to once and for all reform how we fund services for people with disabilities and three key areas need to be addressed:

* Common corporate governance standards: it's not good enough to simply have a financial agreement between the HSE and agencies. We need corporate governance agreements as well. We need to know how these boards are elected, the skill set they require, when the AGM is and ensure that the clients and staff are represented. The new measures put in place by the HSE will mean that from January 31 all organisations providing services to it will have to sign a compliance statement. This is a good step forward but needs to be stress-tested and kept under constant review. We need boards that work in the interest of organisations and clients and which respect the taxpayer.

* The establishment of a charity regulator: so many charities do incredible work, often providing services and supports which the State has historically failed to provide. These good organisations deserve to operate in a sector that is regulated and that roots out problems and sets standards. There is provision in the Charities Act for a regulator. This is needed and I know the Government intends to put such a structure in place this year. The PAC has a job to do and so does the HSE, but there is clearly a role for an independent regulator.

* Introduce individualised budgets for people with disabilities: this point is probably the most important, in my view. The State gives large sums of money to many organisations to provide services for people with disabilities. Why not provide access to the funding directly to the person with a disability? Why not move away from charity and to an environment of dignity and empowerment? The Programme for Government contains a commitment to introduce an individualised model of funding for people with disabilities. This means allocating funds to people and allowing them choose their services rather than allocating funds in a block grant to service providers. This would completely shake up the relationship between people with disabilities, those who provide the services they require, and the State.

This weekend my anger remains for the minority who let down so many in need of vital services. But anger alone is not a policy. The three simple proposals set out above are policies and ideas which need to be explored and advanced.

Let's harness our collective disgust and make a difference.

And let's also remember the many brilliant frontline staff who work day in, day out, in the CRC -- and so many other places -- to provide excellent services. They and their clients deserve our determination to fix this mess.

SIMON HARRIS IS A FINE GAEL TD

Irish Independent

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