International Year for People with Disabilities

Oral Answers to Questions — Northern Ireland – in the House of Commons at 11:30 am on 21st May 2003.

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Photo of Betty Williams Betty Williams Labour, Conwy 11:30 am, 21st May 2003

To ask the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland what provision he is making in Northern Ireland to mark the international year for people with disabilities.

Photo of Des Browne Des Browne Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Northern Ireland Office, Parliamentary Secretary (Northern Ireland Office)

The Government are committed to supporting the European year for people with disabilities in Northern Ireland, and committed to bringing forward a programme of initiatives, events and activities, in line with the commitments given by the previous Northern Ireland Executive. I have launched a Northern Ireland grants scheme to augment the UK-wide scheme. Thirty-four disability organisations in Northern Ireland have received more than £300,000 in grants for specific projects.

Photo of Betty Williams Betty Williams Labour, Conwy

Does my hon. Friend agree that it is important that children are involved in all events marking the international year for people with disabilities? What steps are likely to be taken to involve children in this year's world Special Olympics?

Photo of Des Browne Des Browne Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Northern Ireland Office, Parliamentary Secretary (Northern Ireland Office)

I pay tribute to my hon. Friend for her work on behalf of children, especially those with special needs. She recently had cause to be even more interested in children—I understand that she became a grandmother for the first time last week. I congratulate her on that.

I am pleased to advise hon. Members that there is a strong focus on children in the arrangements for the international year. For example, some of the successful Northern Ireland grant applications were from groups with projects that are specifically geared towards children with disabilities. The world Special Olympic games are being held in the island of Ireland for the first time in their 25-year history. The events are targeted mainly, but not exclusively, at children.

Photo of Martin Smyth Martin Smyth UUP, Belfast South

Does the Under-Secretary accept that Mencap's campaign for more respite care, especially for those in the older age group, must be considered and enforced? Does he also agree that it would greatly benefit Northern Ireland and the people of Iraq if the Iraqi Special Olympic team could come to Larne? Will he facilitate that, unless there is adequate reason to prevent it?

Photo of Des Browne Des Browne Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Northern Ireland Office, Parliamentary Secretary (Northern Ireland Office)

I agree that there needs to be a continuing focus on respite care. I am taking that forward in my current capacity as Minister for Health, Social Services and Public Safety.

I am pleased to tell the hon. Gentleman that my right hon. Friends the Secretaries of State for Northern Ireland and for Culture, Media and Sport have been working together to try to resolve the problem of the Iraqi team for the Special Olympics, whose members were due to be hosted in Larne. I am also pleased to say that the necessary resources to secure the Iraqi Special Olympians' attendance have been identified through the games organising committee and the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. We are trying to establish contact with the team to confirm that it still wishes to participate in the games.

Photo of Nigel Dodds Nigel Dodds Opposition Whip (Commons)

I thank the Under-Secretary for what he has said so far, but in recognising the valuable contribution that people with disabilities can make to life and society in general, may I press him to outline the progress in implementing the recommendations of the Disability Rights Taskforce, which reported in 1999 in Northern Ireland?

Photo of Des Browne Des Browne Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Northern Ireland Office, Parliamentary Secretary (Northern Ireland Office)

The hon. Gentleman is right to identify the need to take forward the recommendations of the Disability Rights Taskforce and I pay tribute to him for his contribution to that. The relevant departments in the Northern Ireland Office intend to implement all the recommendations as quickly as possible.

Photo of Tom Clarke Tom Clarke Labour, Coatbridge and Chryston

In addition to the excellent initiatives that my hon. Friend outlined, does he agree that, in recognition of the tremendous work of Rev. Martin Smyth, we should implement fully the Disabled Persons (Northern Ireland) Act 1989, which he pioneered, especially its advocacy and representation provisions?

Photo of Des Browne Des Browne Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Northern Ireland Office, Parliamentary Secretary (Northern Ireland Office)

I pay tribute to my right hon. Friend for his consistent advocacy of such issues. He has an enviable reputation. One cannot underestimate the importance of advocacy in relation to matters that people with disabilities have to tackle. My right hon. Friend is right to draw attention to that.