A new ward-of-court replacement scheme has been allocated just a third of the funding from the Government requested by the Mental Health Commission.
The commission had the responsibility of establishing the Decision Support Service, in line with the Assisted Decision-Making (Capacity) Act 2015, to work with vulnerable adults and adults with intellectual disabilities in making choices in their lives.
The commission requested €9 million from the Department of Justice to commence the new service in 2019, but Minister for Justice Charlie Flanagan confirmed that €3 million would go towards the initiative.
Due to the shortfall in funding, the Decision Support Service will not be in operation until 2020.
It is aimed at replacing the ward-of-court system which was founded under the Lunacy Act of 1871. This sees decisions made by the High Court and acts as an agent for a person who is deemed by the court to lack capacity to make decisions for themselves. These matters can range from buying or selling property to medical procedures.
There are up to almost 3,000 wards in Ireland with total assets worth over €1 billion collectively.
Communications and Information Manager of Inclusion Ireland Sarah Lennon said that through their advocacy work, the system is not “respectful” of a person with a disability or older people. Inclusion Ireland is the national association for people with an intellectual disability.
“We have had advocacy cases where a person was made a ward of court perhaps because of an inheritance or receiving damages after an accident and it has a huge knock-on effect on every part of that person’s life,” said Lennon.
She added that the association welcomed the Assisted-Making Act in 2015, but they are concerned about the potential consequences of further delays in establishing the new system:
“Without the correct funding of the Decision Support Service, there will be delays in setting up the new alternative to the ward of court system but also the review of people who are currently ward-of-court. This means, there is a very real chance that people will die without being released from wardship.”
In January of this year, the National Safeguarding Committee released a report on the ward-of-court system, branding it as “inadequate and archaic.”
According to the report, it found that there is “substantial public confusion and lack of understanding around the wards-of-court system”, and “it relies too much on the integrity of family members and professionals.”
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