Leading advocacy organisation, the National Advocacy Service for People with Disabilities (NAS), has welcomed the commencement today (Wednesday 26th April, 2023) of the Assisted Decision-Making (Capacity) Act 2015, stressing that it is a hugely positive opportunity for all people in Ireland, including those with disabilities.
Established in 2011, NAS provides an independent, confidential and free advocacy service for adults with disabilities, which is funded by the Citizens Information Board.
The organisation and its team of professional Advocates have many years of expertise in supporting people with disabilities to make their own decisions about what happens in their lives. This includes advocating for people to make a complaint about their care, to choose where and who they live with, to decide how to spend their own money, and to make their own decisions about areas such as their health, holidays and relationships.
NAS says the “life changing” Act will make significant steps forward in the promotion of human rights in Irish society, empowering all people to live with dignity and respect, and to progress their autonomy and their self-determination.
The Act will move Irish society away from an approach where others get to decide what is in a person’s best interests, to a rights-based approach that considers instead the will and preference (wishes and choices) of the person.
This approach will significantly strengthen the legal right of people with disabilities to make independent decisions about situations that arise in their lives. They will be presumed to be able to make decisions for themselves.
However, despite these major steps forward, NAS has cautioned that meaningful implementation of the Act can only be achieved if people across Irish society, including health care providers, service providers, the judiciary, private businesses and the wider public, understand what the Act means and act according to its principles.
As the Act comes into force, NAS Advocates will continue to ensure the will and preference of people with disabilities are represented fairly and accurately and their rights are upheld.
Joanne Condon, Acting National Manager of the National Advocacy Service for People with Disabilities (NAS), said: “In a true departure from the paternalistic approach of the past, the commencement of the life changing Assisted Decision-Making (Capacity) Act now offers Ireland an incredible opportunity to make significant advances in the promotion of human rights – not just for people with disabilities, but potentially for all of us.”
“However, if we are to bring about this greatly anticipated change, all of us in society must ensure that we change our mindsets, language, values and attitudes in relation to how we treat others. This will ensure everyone, including people with disabilities, will be empowered to live with dignity and to progress their autonomy and their self-determination.”
NAS has explained that the Act abolishes the Victorian wards of court system, which operated under the Lunacy Regulation (Ireland) Act of 1871. The Lunacy Act allowed for Wards of Court to have their civil liberties restricted once they were found not capable of managing their own affairs.
The Act will ensure that the principles of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UINCRPD) are enshrined into Irish law.
It will place an obligation on anyone interacting with a person, including a person with a disability, to presume they have the capacity to make their own decisions, to support their decision-making, to understand their right to make an unwise decision, and to intervene only where necessary and when it respects the person’s rights, will and preference.
NAS says this culture of supported decision-making, rather than substitute decision-making, will recognise the value of each person as an equal human being and will support them to make their own decisions.