PASNow Campaign Update
Photo shows an image depicting the words PASNow!
On Tuesday 19th November, the Dáíl unanimously agreed a motion put forward by Deputy Thomas Pringle TD on a right to a Personal Assistance Service (PAS) for disabled people. Tuesday night was a huge step in the right direction, but this is by no means the end of the campaign. However, it is a huge step towards real inclusion and independent living for disabled people, based on rights and not charity.
Seeing PAS as a human right and having legislative protection is something the Independent Living Movement has strived for decades to achieve and is based on the work of leaders past and present.
How did we get to a Dáil Motion on the Right to a PAS?
The #PASNOW campaign began last March when ILMI began discussions across the country around what leaders wanted from their PA Services:
- Define the PAS,
- Invest in it by ensuring people had the hours they needed,
- Standardise the assessment,
- Promote the PAS among disabled people and
- Legislate to guarantee a right to a PAS as per article 19 of the UNCRPD.
Last September, ILMI held training workshops with disabled people across the country to look at how disabled people could effectively lobby their politicians to bring around change in Irish society. ILMI members locally and nationally began that process of building relationships and raising awareness of what the PAS was and how it needed to be legislated for as a right. Since November last year, ILMI have had several conversations with political parties and independent TDs and Senators about the best approach to bring legislation into the Dáil to do this.
The Centre for Disability Law and Policy at NUI Galway collaborated with ILMI to produce a report on options for recognising the right to personal assistance in Irish law which we launched with support of Senator Colette Kelleher in the Oireachtas AV room in May this year. This created further awareness of the issue and build more political alliances. At this stage ILMI had offers from two parliamentary parties to explore bringing in legislation as a Private Members Bill (PMB), but Independent TD Thomas Pringle also expressed an interest and given that Indepedents4Change had a greater likelihood of getting a Bill into the Dail before an election would happen ILMI began the process of working with him.
As a member of the Public Interest Litigation Association (PILA), ILMI applied for pro-bono legal advice to draft legislation for a right to personal assistance. Eoin Mac Aodha of Eversheds Sutherland gave a huge amount of his free time to drafting a bill which was then lodged with the Bills Office in October of this year. This Bill was based on work carried out with CIL / ILMI members back in 2013 and drafted to recognise the PAS as a separate service that needed to be provided for as a social support service within the Department of Social Protection and not within the HSE.
Why a Private Members Bill?
A Private Member’s Bill (PMB) is a draft law which is proposed by a single TD or group of TDs rather than by the Government. PMBs differ from Government Bills in several respects; a Government Bill has prior approval from Cabinet and usually is expected to pass without difficulty.
While the aim of legislation generally is to have it voted on and enacted as law, Private Members bills are often used to initiate debate on legislative and policy change. While successfully steering a PMB from publication to the statute book is one way of achieving legislative or policy change, Members use PMBs in different ways and with different objectives, for example:
- To encourage the government to change policy/legislative approach to an issue;
- To address a gap identified in the law (either through its passage and enactment or government taking it on board);
- To bring new ideas into the legislative process and ensure they get a hearing;
- To respond to topical public and media concerns about an issue and, as such, act as a culmination of the policy debate;
- To attract publicity and build a campaign for a proposed change in the law.
Normally a TD or opposition party brings a Bill through two stages, and once Government has an outright majority, they can vote the Bill down at second stage. Since 2016 Ireland has had a minority Government which means that more Bills are getting to Committee stage to look at how laws that the Government might support could be enacted. To avoid having opposition Bills become law, the Government has been using article 17.2 of the Constitution to block new legislation by issuing a “money message”.
In working on a cross-party basis, ILMI knew that a money message was always going to be issued on the PAS campaign, but recognised that a debate on legislation was needed and would set the foundations for a future Government to adopt the legislation drafted. It also would create a debate at the highest level in politics about the PAS and Independent Living, and get most parties supporting it in advance of a General Election next year.
However, the rules that govern how the Dáil works (“standing orders”) changed over April this year which further limited the ability of opposition TDs to introduce Bills for debate in the Dáil. None of the TDs we were working with had even heard of Standing order 179 which now means that no opposition TD can bring a bill forward if it proposes to spend taxpayers money "A Bill which involves the appropriation of revenue or other public moneys, other than incidental expenses, shall be initiated by any member, save a member of the Government".
Why bring a Motion on the PAS to the Dáil instead of a Private Members Bill?
The Bill we worked with Eversheds on was about a right to Personal Assistance for disabled people and it clearly involved proposing to spend exchequer funding. Therefore under SO 179 the Bill, which Thomas Pringle TD was bringing with our support was ruled inadmissible.
Deputy Pringle worked with ILMI and the Bills Office to draft a motion which captured the aims of the Bill but which proposed only minimal initial State funding to establish a Commissioner for Independent Living position within the Department of Social Protection and Family Affairs. This compromise was about getting the motion accepted into the Dáil for debate but was also about beginning a process to pave the way for future legislation as well as tasking DSP to explore how the PAS would be transferred and managed.
We found out on Tuesday 12th November that the motion was accepted to be heard on the 19th and with that we began mobilising members to lobby their TDs. The response was fantastic. A huge thank you to everyone who made an effort to contact their TDs and raise awareness of the #PASNOW campaign before the debate. Tuesday night was an historical moment for the Irish Independent Living Movement and one we should all be proud of.
Does the Motion being unanimously mean that everyone now has a right to a PAS?
Unfortunately, no it doesn’t. For disabled people to have a right to a PAS, we need to have legislation enacted, and as outlined above, the current Dáil rules mean only the Government can bring those Bills before the Dáil. The motion was a way of getting as many politicians behind a rights-based approach to disability and Independent Living.
The debate showed that many TDs and parties responded to disabled people lobbying them directly and shows us collective action can work. You can listen and watch to the debate on this link skip to 06:11:00 Private Members' Business (Independents 4 Change): Motion re Right to Personal Assistance Services (Item No. 250). Alternatively you can read the full text of the debate here.
The next stage for that motion is for Deputy Pringle, ILMI and Eversheds to draft specific legislation to enact a Commissioner for Independent Living which can be brought into the Dáil in January which again gives us an opportunity to garner more support. However, even if this limited Bill is enacted, it is still a far cry from what is needed- but it moves the debate further into the direction of a legal right to personal assistance.
We also have momentum with all parties now. All TDs and all local councillors have been contacted by ILMI and this debate has had an impact. Politicians are now learning about the difference between the PAS and home help. There are allies out there we can work with. We need to build on those discussions and make sure that when there is an election next spring, the new Programme for Government has a commitment to enacting legislation based on the lobbying we have collectively been involved in.
What are the Next Steps in the #PASNOW Campaign
Tuesday 19th was the first step in securing our right to PAS and the fight must continue. In order to look at the next stages of the campaign and roles that ILMI activists can play locally and nationally we will host a short Zoom discussion on Wednesday 27th November from 11am to 12 noon. It would be great to have as many people as possible participate and if you are available and would like to join in, email Susan.