Healy O'Connor

Disabilities Rights Legislation Due

A law dealing with the legal rights of people with disabilities will be published in the first quarter of 2012, according to the Minister of State for Disability.

Kathleen Lynch told a conference organised by Amnesty International and the NUI Galway Centre for Disability Law and Policy that the Mental Capacity Bill, much of which was contained in a 2006 Law Reform Commission Report, had been delayed by the priority given to financial legislation required in the EU-IMF programme.

However, the delay had been useful in permitting improvement to the bill and taking into account the Exchequer position with regard to the funding needs that would follow.

The enactment of this Bill would enable Ireland to ratify the UN Convention on the Rights of People with Disabilities, she said, as the State would then be in a position to comply with the legal obligations imposed by the Treaty.

The new Bill will reform the law relating to adults who are vulnerable and lacking some or all capacity to make important decisions for themselves. It would replace the Wards of Court system with a new framework, with a flexible and functional approach to decision-making. It would provide for supported decision-making for those who needed such assistance and allow the courts to make declarations on capacity and appoint personal guardians for people in these circumstances.

It would also establish an Office of the Public Guardian to supervise personal guardians and those who received enduring powers of attorney, where a person expecting their capacity to become limited nominates a person to act for them, she said.

Oliver Lewis, executive director of the Mental Disability Advocacy Centre, an international advocacy NGO based in Budapest, told the conference that the key challenge in framing such legislation was balancing autonomy with protection of a vulnerable person against exploitation, violence and abuse.

This did not mean protecting them against their own decisions, he said.

The UN convention on the issue said that states should develop laws and policies to replace substitute decision-making (as in the wards of court system) with supported decision-making. It was based on the premises that everyone has the right to make their own decisions, and everyone has the right to get support in doing so.

This could take various forms, he said, depending on the circumstances. It could include assistive technology, as in the case of someone like Stephen Hawking. It could mean another person playing an assistive role in communicating between the person and others, or it could mean a person explaining the context and background of the individual to assist in making the most appropriate decision where they had very limited ability to do so themselves.

Professor Gerard Quinn, director of the NUIG centre, said that supports need not be cost intensive and there were a number of international examples where a system of support for exercising legal capacity was put in place without great cost.

Paul Alford, an advocate with Inclusion Ireland told the conference he spent many years in residential care because of an intellectual disability and worked in a “workshop” for 10 pence a day. He has now moved into independent housing, works as an administrator with Inclusion Ireland, runs his own bank accounts and has travelled widely and independently.

“More people with disabilities should live in an independent home. They should do what they want to do, not what other people want them to do,” he said.

(The Irish Times, 1st December 2011)

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