A local Sinn Fein TD has described as "another sorry episode in this saga" the decision of the Department of Health to scrap the Mobility Allowance Scheme and the Motorised Transport Grant Scheme.
The Governement yesterday announced that the mobility allowance paid to 4,700 people receive a Mobility Allowance and the Motorised Transport Grant paid to 300 people a year would be phased out over the coming four months. They say they were prompted to make the move because the Ombudsman advised that the current schemes are illegal in the context of the Equal Status Acts.
"The Government is very conscious of the needs of people with a disability who require transport supports from the State," read a statement from the Department of Health.
It continued: "Following detailed consideration of issues surrounding the Mobility Allowance and the Motorised Transport Grant, the Government has today decided that it is no longer possible to allow the two schemes to continue as they presently operate and to devise an alternative scheme for meeting people's needs.
"The decision has been taken after the commencement of a consultation review process with representatives of those people affected. Independently chaired by Ms Sylda Langford, the review group will seek an alternative method for ensuring that the needs of persons affected can be provided for in a manner that does not run counter to the Equal Status Acts."
The Government stressed that the decision is "in no way intended to save costs" and the funding involved in the two schemes (‚ā¨10.6 million) remains committed to meeting the transport needs of relevant people.
Sinn Féin Health spokesperson Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin described the move as another sorry episode: "This is another sorry episode in the saga of these schemes. The department has been knowingly operating these schemes illegally because they discriminate against people who are excluded from them on the basis of an upper age limit and too narrow qualification criteria," said Mr Ó Caoláin.
"In the case of the Mobility Allowance the upper age limit was found by the Ombudsman to be discriminatory in 2009. As the Ombudsman has pointed out in her statement expressing disappointment at the government's action in ending the schemes, they were operated in breach of the Equal Status Act since 2000.
"Axing these schemes completely is no solution. While they will continue for four months more, they are to end at that point. Though a review is being put in place there is no certainty about what will emerge.
"Meanwhile these schemes are being shut down and the transport needs of disabled people are thrown into uncertainty. The strong suspicion is that this is an excuse for yet another cutback. Minister James Reilly must come into the Dáil and make himself accountable on this matter."