With many farmers and people in rural areas needing to avail of the Disabled Drivers and Disabled Passengers Scheme, a Galway county councillor has expressed concern over delays in the processing of primary medical certificates (PMCs).

Cllr. Gabe Cronnelly, who is an above right knee amputee, said there are 1,500 people across the State at present who should have PMCs instead of having to be added to a waiting list.

One of those on the waiting list is Tony Fogarty, a double amputee who lives just outside the village of Ballyroan in Laois.

I applied last year in late May or early June. Getting a PMC and an adapted car would mean I would be more independent. My brother lives down the road and I have good neighbours but it would be good to be able to go to the shops independently.

A parliamentary question was raised by deputy Sean Canney from Galway east to the minister for finance asking if he would facilitate the application for PMCs to be be approved and processed by GPs to deal with the backlog.

Cllr. Cronnelly said the reply from the minister had been “lacklustre and unhelpful”. He contended that people in genuine need were being made prisoners in their homes.

“The urgency of this issue should not be disregarded. The approving and processing of PMCs is vitally important to the applicants who need these certs in order to get access to liquidity and/or schemes that they depend upon,” he said.

The independent councillor for the Athenry/Oranmore area and disability rights advocate, said he has contacted all councillors, TDs and senators in the country in a bid to find an alternative.

“I fear that without sufficient political pressure, this ever-growing problem will continue to sit in limbo while people in need of a PMC continue to be sidelined and neglected,” he said.

Department response

The department of finance, when contacted by AgriLand, said that the Disabled Drivers and Disabled Passengers Scheme provides relief from VRT and VAT on the purchase and use of an adapted car, as well as an exemption from motor tax and an annual fuel grant.

“The scheme is open to severely and permanently disabled persons as a driver or as a passenger and also to certain organisations. In order to qualify for relief, an organisation must be entered in the register of charitable organisations under part 3 of the Charities Act 2009, be engaged in the transport of disabled persons and whose purpose is to provide services to persons with disabilities,” the spokesperson said.

“In order to qualify for relief the applicant must hold a PMC issued by the relevant Senior Area Medical Officer (SAMO) or a Board Medical Certificate (BMC) issued by the Disabled Driver Medical Board of Appeal. Certain other criteria apply in relation to the vehicle and its use, including that the vehicle must be specially constructed or adapted for use by the applicant,” they said.

“The terms of the Disabled Drivers and Disabled Passengers (Tax Concessions) Regulations 1994 set out the medical criteria, and that one or more of these criteria is required to be satisfied in order to obtain a PMC.

“A Supreme Court decision of June 18 found in favour of two appellants against the Disabled Drivers Medical Board of Appeal’s refusal to grant them a PMC. The judgement found that the medical criteria set out in the regulations did not align with the regulation making mandate given in the primary legislation to further define criteria for ‘severely and permanently disabled’ persons,” the department spokesperson outlined.

“On foot of the legal advice received, it became clear that it was appropriate to revisit the six medical criteria set out in regulation 3 of Statutory Instrument 353 of 1994 for these assessments. In such circumstances, PMC assessments were discontinued until a revised basis for such assessments could be established.

“The medical officers who are responsible for conducting PMC assessments need to have assurance that the decisions they make are based on clear criteria set out in legislation. While regulation 3 of Statutory Instrument No. 353 of 1994 was not deemed to be invalid, nevertheless it was found to be inconsistent with the mandate provided in Section 92 of the Finance Act 1989,” said the spokesperson.

“In order to allow for the PMC assessments and appeals to recommence, an amendment was brought forward to the 2020 Finance Bill to provide for the existing medical criteria in primary legislation.

“Following approval of the Finance Act 2020, which provides for the medical criteria for the Disabled Drivers Scheme, the HSE [Health Service Executive] was informed that medical assessments can recommence from January 1. This is considered to be an interim solution only. A comprehensive review of the scheme, to include a broader review of mobility supports for persons with disabilities, will be conducted this year. On foot of that review new proposals will be brought forward for consideration.

“Separately, the ability to hold assessments may be impacted on by, among other things, the public health restrictions in place and the role of the HSE medical officers in the roll out of the Covid vaccination programme.”