Minister O’Gorman and Minister Rabbitte announce 26 April as date for the abolition of wardship and full operationalisation of the Decision Support Service
From Department of Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth
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The announcement follows the enactment of the Assisted Decision-Making (Capacity) (Amendment) Act 2022, which was signed into law by the President on 17 December last.
The 2022 Act amends the Assisted Decision-Making (Capacity) Act 2015, which provides the legal basis for the abolition of wardship. The Act replaces the wards of court system with a new, progressive, rights based system of assisted decision-making.
A number of Statutory Instruments will be prepared over the weeks leading up to the 26th of April in order to finalise preparations for the full operationalisation of the Decision Support Service.
- the Decision Support Service will be able to process applications for new decision support arrangements
- the Circuit Court will be able to process applications for Decision Making Representative Orders
- there will be statutory provision for the making and recognition of Advance Healthcare Directives
- wardship will be abolished and the over 2000 wards of court which currently exist in the State will have a review of their circumstances undertaken by the wardship court and will exit wardship on a phased basis over the next three years
The 2022 Amendment Act also provides for key measures related to further compliance with the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.
In a headline measure, the Act will raise the minimum target percentage of people with disabilities to be employed in the public sector from 3% to 6%, on a phased basis, by 2025.
Commenting on today’s announcement Minister O’Gorman stated:
“I am extremely pleased to be able to make today’s announcement setting a date for the abolition of wardship and for replacing it with a modern, fit for purpose, rights based system.
“Wardship is an archaic legal system that has been on the statute book for far too long. It has denied people basic control over the decisions which affect their lives. The new assisted decision-making system will move away from an outdated and paternalistic “best interests” model and allow people far greater control over basic decisions in their own lives.
“Every person in Ireland has, or will have, some experience of diminished capacity, whether that is personal experience or the experience of a loved one, and whether it is simply age related or whether it arises from a particular impairment. This Act ensures that when capacity issues arise, we address those issues with a fundamental respect for will and preference, for dignity, and for the rights of each of us to control our own affairs.
“The scale of the reform involved cannot be overstated. Wardship as a legal system is older than the Irish State. Its abolition is a landmark step forward in modernising our laws and better supporting our citizens.
“I am equally pleased that the legislation brings forward a suite of measures to advance disability rights, and in particular that the public sector will show leadership on the critical issue of employment.
“I look forward to the launch of the new system, and the abolition of wardship, at the end of April.”
Minister of State for Disability, Anne Rabbitte, has also welcomed the announcement, and stated:
“I am delighted to see a date set for the abolition of wardship and look forward to seeing the first applications made for supports under the new system in April.
“This is a significant advancement for the rights of everyone in Ireland.
“Periods of diminished capacity can happen to anyone, but the new legislation is particularly welcome for people whose capacity difficulties arise from a disability or a specific impairment, and for whom wardship has been the only recourse for far too long.
“I am delighted to see the legislation used to advance a range of measures for further compliance with the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. Employment, in particular, is such a crucial issue for addressing the cost of disability and facilitating independent living and social inclusion. The new targets place a shared obligation on our entire public sector to play our part and show leadership on this issue.”
Commencement refers to a system where legislation which has been passed by the Oireachtas comes into actual legal force. This occurs upon the making of a Commencement Order. The majority of the 2015 Act and the 2022 Amendment Act is currently uncommenced.
The 2022 Amendment Act makes changes to the 2015 Act, allowing for that Act to come into full force.
Instead of being made wards of court, people will be able to avail of a tiered range of decision support options:
- decision making assistants
- co-decision makers
- decision making representatives
The Act will also provide for advance planning in the form of:
- enduring power of attorney (EPA)
- advance healthcare directives
The Decision Support Service (DSS) will operate the progressive provisions of the Assisted Decision-Making (Capacity) Act. The DSS was established under the 2015 Act on a limited basis the purposes of preparing for the operation of the new system. It will become fully operational and open to the public from 27 April once remaining sections of the 2015 and 2022 Acts are commenced.
Applications for decision support arrangements will be made by engagement with the Decision Support Service, with the exception of applications for Decision-Making Representatives which must be made through the Circuit Court.
Once a decision supporter is appointed, the DSS will have oversight responsibility for decision support arrangements.
Changes are being introduced to the process for making an Enduring Power of Attorney (EPAs). EPAs created under the 1996 Act will remain in force but it will only be possible to create new EPAs under the process set out in the Assisted Decision-Making Acts. This is a new two-stage process which avoids costly referrals to the High Court. An EPA, once created, will be registered with the Decision Support Service when the donor still has capacity. If and when the donor then loses capacity, notice is given to the Director of the Decision Support Service and if, following the procedure set out in the legislation, that notice is accepted, the EPA comes into effect.
Over 2,000 wards of court currently exist in the State, and each will have a review of their circumstances undertaken by the wardship court. Under the legislation wards of court will exit wardship over the next three years.
Further information on the operation of the new system can be obtained from the Decision Support Service at the DSS website here.
Measures included in the 2022 Amendment Act to further compliance with the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities include:
- an increase in the minimum target for public sector employment, rising on a phased basis from the current 3% to 6% by 2025
- removal of the archaic ban on “persons of unsound mind” standing for election in Dáil Éireann
- changes in eligibility for service on a jury
- legislating for the role of the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission to act national monitoring body for rights under the Convention