Opposition MPs walked out of a meeting of Parliament's Social Affairs and Health Committee on Wednesday in protest at a decision by the government to postpone a long-anticipated reform of laws on assisting disabled people.
The dispute centres around the Act on Services for Persons with Disabilities, which had been due to enter into force from the beginning of October.
The legislation aims to remove obstacles that hinder the societal inclusion of people with disabilities, and to support their independent living while also providing them with high-quality services.
However, the government parties have postponed the enactment of the bill until 2025, a decision that was discussed at the committee's meeting on Wedneday.
Committee chair Kirsta Kiuru, of the opposition Social Democratic Party (SDP), noted that the bill was an important step in helping improve the lives of people with disabilities.
"Finland was slapped with a human rights violation in 2018, and this law would have prevented this human rights violation from continuing. It would have ensured that the rights of people with disabilities, including access to personal assistance, would have been better implemented," Kiuru stated at a press conference, called after the walkout by opposition MPs.
Finland signed up to the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) in 2016 but has since been criticised by the UN for failing to implement some key terms of the convention.
In a joint press statement on Wednesday, the opposition MPs accussed their government counterparts within the health committee of "unprecedented and unparliamentary behaviour".
"This is a historic piece of legislation for people with disabilities. We, the opposition members of the Social Affairs and Health Committee, wanted to hold a press briefing because this process has not been considered appropriate," committee member and SDP MP Ilmari Nurminen stated.
The statement noted that the government members of the committee pushed the decision to delay the bill through in undue haste, leaving opposition MPs feeling they had not been consulted or were forced to act on incomplete information.
It further argued that some aspects of the bill could be introduced earlier, including those related to children living with disabilities.
Committee vice-chair criticises opposition
National Coalition Party (NCP) MP Mia Laiho, who is chair of Parliament's Social Affairs and Health Committee, criticised the opposition MPs for the walkout.
"The committee has worked as it should. Normal parliamentary methods have been followed, and I would not be at all concerned about that," Laiho said.
She noted that in her view, it would be difficult to roll out the bill in different stages, adding that she hopes the issue will not worsen working relations within the committee.
"Of course, we want peace of mind and good working conditions. It was a pity that the opposition parties left the meeting and did not take their responsibility to see this through to the end," Laiho said.
A demonstration against the government's plans to alter or delay the bill was held outside Parliament in July, with participants saying the proposals would hurt Finland's most vulnerable people.
A report published by Statistics Finland in March found that one quarter of people with functional disabilities in Finland are at risk of poverty or marginalization — an issue affecting around 147,000 people.
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