Landmark new Decision Support Service officially open its doors to the public26 April 2023
An Taoiseach Leo Varadkar, TD, will officially launch a ground-breaking new State service at Government Buildings this morning. The Decision Support Service (DSS) is for adults who may require help, now or in the future, to exercise their right to make decisions about personal welfare, property, or affairs.
The DSS is provided for under the Assisted Decision Making (Capacity) Act 2015 (the 2015 Act), which will finally become operational law when Ministerial orders are signed later today. The DSS is an essential service for all adults who may have difficulties with decision-making capacity. This could include adults with an intellectual disability, a mental illness, an acquired brain injury, or those with neurodegenerative conditions such as dementia.
Estimates suggest that there could be as many as 220,000 people living in Ireland who have capacity-related difficulties and who may become users of the DSS. Based on the above figure, it is estimated that one in 20 adults could have an active arrangement registered with the DSS, and that one in every two people will interact with the DSS in their lifetime.
As anyone could face challenges with decision-making in their future lives, the 2015 Act also provides new tools for any adult who wishes to plan ahead by way of an advance healthcare directive, or a revised form of an enduring power of attorney. The DSS can also support people to plan for the future by utilising these tools.
A core principle of the Act is that all persons have the presumption of capacity and should be supported to make their own decisions as far as is possible. The Act emphasises minimal restriction of a person’s rights and freedoms and the importance of respect for will and preferences.
Key reforms include the abolition of the wards of court system for adults under the Lunacy Regulation (Ireland) Act of 1871, and the discharge of adults from wardship within three years. The Act will provide a new tiered framework of formal supports for those who need them, with supervision by the DSS.
Welcoming the official launch this morning the Taoiseach said that the service is an important one that is both progressive and far-reaching: “The Decision Support Service is a progressive and far-reaching new state-run service that will benefit many people, particularly those who experience challenges in terms of their needs or decision-making abilities.
“The service will allow people to exercise more independence relating to their legal affairs and their future. It will provide assistance and assurance to a great many people and their families.””
Several ambassadors for the DSS were at the launch this morning to voice their support for the new service, which will operate under the remit of the Mental Health Commission (MHC). They are participants in a national campaign to raise awareness about the Act and the DSS, which has had almost 1,500 queries to date.
The Director of the DSS, Áine Flynn, said that the 2015 Act is a critically important piece of legislation and one which will help to ensure that Ireland is compliant with the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD).
“At different times in our lives, we all need to make decisions,” said Ms Flynn. “We make important decisions about our finances, property, employment, accommodation, healthcare and social supports. Every adult is presumed to be able to make their own decisions and should be supported to do so. The Act provides tiers of decision support, overseen by the DSS, each with varying levels of responsibility, depending on what the relevant person wants and the decisions that they need to take. That is not to say that these new supports are imposed on anyone. People should feel reassured that the extent to which an individual or their family needs to engage with the 2015 Act and the DSS will depend on their circumstances and the decisions that they need to take. The DSS is available to provide information about the options available.
“The Act also enables people to plan ahead, while they have capacity to do so, with enduring powers of attorney and advance healthcare directives. This is something that is beneficial across all of society.
“We can all justifiably celebrate this morning, knowing that the Act has been commenced and the DSS is opening its doors. We now look forward to helping people access the new service and all of the supports set out under the Act.”
The Chairperson of the Mental Health Commission, Dr John Hillery, said that it is not often that there is the opportunity to commence legislation that replaces Victorian-era laws, and which will have a real and lasting effect on members of our society who may need support with decision making:
“It is wonderful to welcome the commencement of the Act, which is a significant piece of reforming human rights legislation. Supports provided for and monitored by the DSS will ensure that people are afforded the fundamental human right to make their own decisions as far as possible about their personal welfare, property and affairs with the appropriate supports for those who need them. For too long, supports for people who may have problems with decision making have been old-fashioned, paternalistic, and of a blunderbuss type. I am confident that with a collaborative and appropriately resourced approach – involving, amongst others, the Government; the MHC; the Department of Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth; the Department of Health; and the HSE – all people who live in Ireland will, in future, have their right to be meaningfully involved in decisions concerning them vindicated.”
The Chief Executive of the Mental Health Commission, John Farrelly, said that the new service had been in development for several years prior to today’s commencement. “This has involved taking a piece of legislation and building an organisation to deliver multiple statutory functions.”
Mr Farrelly also said that one of the principal statutory functions of the DSS is to promote public awareness and confidence in relation to the 2015 Act and the new service. “That is why today the MHC is commencing a significant public information campaign that will, over the coming weeks and months, incorporate TV, radio, press, online, search and social media advertising elements. We are confident that this awareness campaign will help ensure that as many organisations, bodies, services, families and individuals as possible are aware of the Act and the DSS - and the many meaningful benefits they will both bring to society.
“I particularly want to thank our nine campaign ‘champions’ – and their families and supports - for agreeing to take part in our information campaign, and to all stakeholders who worked tirelessly to open the doors on this modern new service.”
For more information on the DSS, visit www.decisionsupportservice.ie.