Enabling opportunity

Equality of opportunity and equality before the law are fundamental values in a democratic republic.  Fine Gael believes that the state has an important role in ensuring that all people are treated equally, and that no person is held back from achieving their potential through discrimination. Our policies are focused on early interventions that make a positive, timely impact on a person’s life, dismantling discriminatory barriers, promoting inclusion and providing opportunities for second chances when people need them.

Our ambition is that Ireland is a country where:

  • discrimination is not tolerated;
  • no-one is held back from achieving their potential because of discrimination and every child is given the best possible chance in life, irrespective of background;
  • people of all ages have access to a wide range of pathways to fulfilling careers, and are supported with difficult transitions which they may encounter; and
  • strong public services are in place for early diagnosis of difficulties in a child’s development.

Among the actions that will be brought forward to meet this ambition are:

Reducing child poverty

Ensuring that every child get the best start in life is essential if we are to deliver upon our commitment to creating a Republic of Opportunity. One of the most damaging impacts of the recessionary years was the substantial increase in child poverty. The best way to tackle child poverty is to strengthen parents’ prospects of secure employment, along with access to health, housing, childcare and education.  Back to work or education supports continue to increase and state childcare initiatives are more accessible than ever, supporting transition to employment.  Direct welfare payments have also been increased, for example, the Qualified Child Increase, income disregard for one parent families, and an extension of the School Meals Programme. These initiatives make a targeted and real difference to people’s daily lives. There is more to do but we are committed to deliver on our goal to significantly reduce the number of children in consistent poverty.

Following publication of the mid-term review ‘Better Outcomes, Brighter Futures’ (July 2018), we now have a blueprint for tackling child poverty and homelessness which places an emphasis on an effective cross-governmental approach. As the first national children and young people’s policy framework, this lays out the roadmap for us to coordinate efforts for greater impact as we set out to improve outcomes for children.

Reducing educational disadvantage

Reducing educational disadvantage is crucial to breaking down many of the barriers that still exist in Irish society and it is prioritised by Fine Gael in government. As has been shown in UNICEF’s 2018 report on childhood educational disadvantage, Ireland ranks second best among rich countries in reducing educational inequality. We will not rest on our laurels though, and aim to close the gap further in learning and progression among disadvantaged groups.

Our programme to tackle educational disadvantage includes:

  • developing more tailored assistance for DEIS schools, so schools can get the right help to meet their needs, starting with schools with higher levels of disadvantage;
  • initiatives to deliver new targets in reading and maths, including to increase the number of pupils in our most disadvantaged (DEIS Band 1) urban primary schools performing at the highest levels in maths and reading at sixth class by 42% and 27% respectively by 2020 from 2016;
  • enabling school leaders to plan better for their schools and their students by giving them access to better data. For example, literacy and numeracy results over a number of years for their school so that they can see which interventions are working;
  • a focus on increasing the number of students entering third level from disadvantaged and disability backgrounds. We will ensure that every DEIS school partakes in a higher education institute led access programme. We will deliver a set of initiatives to help people access third level, including:
    • measures to encourage those from disadvantaged backgrounds to become teachers, an initiative designed to create strong role models within their community; and
    • funding bursaries for students coming from non-traditional backgrounds into college;
  • implementing a hot school meals programme across 36 DEIS schools to 7,200 students. This new pilot, starting in 2019, will test the potential to expand this service to provide hot and nutritious meals in these schools with a view to incrementally rolling the scheme out to all schools on a permanent basis; and
  • improving the pathways in our education system particularly in transition from school to apprenticeship, so that it can be a viable option for 20% of school leavers.

Ensuring opportunity for citizens with disability

For too long in the past society has placed obstacles in the path of many of our citizens with disabilities – obstacles that prevented them reaching their potential. They were unable to receive an education, or take a full part in their community or the workforce.

Fine Gael wants to give people with a disability greater independence and choice in accessing services which best meet their individual needs. We will continue to work over the next five years to ensure that services and supports are easily accessible and available to those who need it the most.

We have already brought forward actions to fulfil these ambitions. Last year, we extended the right to a medical card to all children with severe disabilities regardless of their parents’ income. That is 33,000 children in receipt of the Domiciliary Care Allowance, no longer subject to reviews, and 10,000 children are now receiving a medical card, as a right. Fine Gael in government fully restored the carer’s support grant, and brought about the first increases in both the carer’s allowance and disability allowance for eight years.

After many significant delays and repeated failures by successive governments, Fine Gael has ratified the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. This has now paved the way for real change and action for people with a disability.

Continue to break down barriers and offer greater choice

This will be achieved by the introduction of personalised budgets in line with the ‘Report on Personalised Budgets’. These budgets will provide more control and choice over the range of services an individual needs, thereby offering greater independence and transparency.

Early intervention as the norm

150 schools and preschools are taking part in an in-school speech and language pilot in the current 2018/2019 year. For the first time ever, pupils are offered early intervention and tailored assistance with greater collaboration between therapists, parents, teachers, and other school and pre-school staff. Early intervention for children with a disability is crucial also. Fine Gael in government brought through a revised process for assessing a child’s needs to ensure that there is a standardised approach to assessment across all Community Health areas. The purpose of this is to ensure children with disabilities, and their families, access appropriate assessment and intervention as quickly as possible. In addition, this procedure will ensure that the approach to assessment of need is consistent across all areas.

Helping children with special educational needs to fulfil their potential

Helping children with special education needs to fulfil their potential is our policy. We will develop proposals to implement the recommendations of the recent review of the SNA scheme. Some 15,000 SNAs assist 36,000 students across the country.  The current model is greatly valued by parents, students and schools, however, a new model is needed to ensure that we are achieving the best outcomes possible. We now need to expand the model to enable SNAs to meet the student’s learning, emotional and social needs. The model in its current form acts too much as a blunt instrument. The new model will be front-loaded and will see the majority of support posts allocated ahead of time, removing the need for assessments and allowing for earlier intervention. Students should have access to a continuum of assistance based on need not diagnosis.

We will:

  • work with parents in reforming the Special Needs Assistants (SNA) model, to ensure that children get the right assistance at the right time;
  • continue to roll out a new resource allocation model, which is a fairer model in which parents do not have to get an expensive diagnosis; and
  • develop better progression paths from primary to secondary education.

Ensure that people with disabilities have the opportunity to work

Fine Gael is committed to implementing in full the ‘Making Work Pay Report’ to ensure employment opportunities are available to all. For example raising the Medical Card earnings disregard for people on Disability Allowance or on Partial Capacity Benefit associated with the Invalidity Pension, so people with disabilities do not lose their Medical Card because they take up extra work.

Value the importance and essential nature of respite

We will continue to improve the delivery of respite. The €10m additional funding provided by government for 2018 has had a positive impact. The funding provides for the twelve new houses, one in each CHO, and three in the Greater Dublin area. Eight respite centres have opened. The remaining houses are expected to come on stream by the end of the year. To date over 450 people have benefited from these new respite houses.

€2m allocated for alternative respite is working well locally, with good examples of summer camps, evening and Saturday clubs having taken place, benefiting hundreds of adults and children. This alternative respite allocation has meant that 1200 people have benefitted.

Deal with the extra living costs incurred by people with a disability

Many people with disabilities tell us that the current system of payments, designed to cater for a loss of income, are not sufficient  to cover the additional living costs incurred. Therefore, we have commissioned a study of those additional living costs. We will act on the findings of this study which is due to be completed in 2019.

Inclusion for LGBTI+ citizens of all ages

Discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation and gender identity has no place in our republic.  In the three years since the marriage equality referendum our determination to combat discrimination against the LGBTI+ community has not waivered. Fine Gael will continue to be a strong voice for LGBTI+ rights and freedoms not only at home but also abroad.

We have launched the National LGBTI+ Youth Strategy, a world first, to create a safe, supportive and more inclusive Ireland and improve the physical, mental and sexual health of our young people.

Recognising that discrimination and isolation do not just affect our young people, we have dedicated funding to develop of a new National LGBTI+ Inclusion Strategy.  It will comprise actions from across government, including health and be informed by stakeholder engagement to improve outcomes for our wider LGBTI+ community.

While looking to the future we must not forget our past, and those who were previously stigmatised by our laws, we will provide for the disregard of offences repealed by the decriminalisation of homosexuality.

We will continue to review and improve the Gender Recognition Act to ensure meaningful inclusion and advance the rights of all trans and non-binary people in Ireland.

Continuing reforms to improve Direct Provision

Fine Gael in government has brought forward major reforms of the direct provision system. We are particularly focused on reducing the time that asylum seekers must wait for a decision to be made. The new single application procedure, introduced as part of the International Protection Act, continues to accelerate the determination process.

Asylum seekers can now take up employment opportunities where an applicant has not received a first instance decision within nine months, while the independent living model – enabling residents to purchase and cook their own food in kitchen facilities – is being introduced across centres nationwide. 1,500 residents now have access to independent cooking facilities. Residents now have access to the Ombudsman and Ombudsman for Children, and a new free appeals process for issues relating to reception conditions.

New standards for the quality of accommodation services are being developed and following their publication, an independent inspection service will be procured, guided by the new standards. We will continue to implement the recommendations of the McMahon Report, the majority of which have now been implemented by way of legislative change and system improvements.

Integration and immigration

Fine Gael believes in freedom of movement within the European Union, and also believes that migration from outside of the European Union is good for Ireland. It has helped us to enrich our society, staff our public services, and has bolstered investment in our economy.

Migrants must be supported so that they can play a full role in Irish society, and Ireland must be a welcoming and open place to new arrivals. Reflecting that, Fine Gael in government introduced citizenship ceremonies. These ceremonies acknowledge that adopting Irish citizenship is a joyous and important event in the lives of new citizens and must be celebrated.

We will continue to invest in the Irish Naturalisation and Immigration Service so that those seeking to migrate to Ireland or who are seeking to naturalise receive professional and efficient public services.

We acknowledge that barriers persist in preventing immigrants and new citizens from fully partaking in, or feeling a sense of belonging to, Irish society. Therefore, in 2017 Fine Gael in government published a Migrant Integration Strategy, a framework for a range of actions to help migrants to participate fully in Irish life. At its core, is a commitment to identify and remove any remaining barriers to integration. Fine Gael will ensure that this strategy and its actions are implemented.

Traveller and Roma Inclusion

Fine Gael recognises that members of the Traveller and Roma communities face particular barriers and discrimination in modern Ireland.   In 2017 we published a national Traveller and Roma Inclusion Strategy.

We will ensure that all the 149 actions which we have committed to are implemented over the lifetime of the plan (2017-2021) to better the lives of Travellers and Roma.

A health-led response drug and alcohol abuse and implementing the ‘National Drugs Strategy’

‘Reducing Harm, Supporting Recovery’ delivers a health-led approach to Ireland’s drug and alcohol problem and to achieve better health and social outcomes for people affected by substance misuse.  In doing so, it balances the desire to maintain a focus on reducing demand, while at the same time promoting strategies to reduce harmful use.

This seven year strategy focuses on giving people a say in their treatment and providing the services to respond to those different needs. Consequently we are expanding drug and alcohol addiction services, including for under 18s and piloting a supervised injection facility.  In particular, it recognises the impact of substance abuse on communities and focuses on participation in shaping the policies which can assist in tackling the problems they face.

Fine Gael in government is implementing the National Drugs Strategy and will progress the following key actions:

  • Supervised Injecting Facility: Recognising the reality of individuals injecting drugs and the desire to reduce the harm caused to individuals, their families and their communities, we are working with Merchant’s Quay Ireland to deliver Ireland’s first medically supervised injecting centre in Dublin city centre, on a pilot basis, in 2019. This will enable vulnerable people access to a range of medical and social supports aimed at improving their health and reducing drug related deaths.
  • Addiction and Homelessness: In line with Rebuilding Ireland we are working to address the health needs of people who are homeless. This includes investment in services for people who are homeless and require nursing and related care prior to hospital admission and post discharge from hospital. We have funded a new intermediate care step up-step down facility run in Dublin and will seek to roll out this model in other locations.
  • Alternative approaches to criminal sanctions for personal possession of drugs: Criminal convictions for the possession of drugs can have a serious implications for a person’s future particularly young people, impacting negatively on their ability to work and travel. For these reasons we have established a Working Group to examine alternative responses to the personal possession of drugs, taking account of an extensive public consultation undertaken this summer and to bring forward recommendations ensuring our justice system operates in the best interests of society as a whole.