Thursday, 29 April 2021
National Autism Empowerment Strategy: Motion [Private Members]
I am sharing time with Deputy Barry if he is present. I welcome the Labour Party motion on autism services. It is a very well-thought-out motion and nobody could argue with the contents of it.
A number of Deputies from Dublin Mid-West recently met the Minister for State in respect of ongoing issues in community healthcare organisation, CHO, 7, which I represent as part of Dublin Mid-West. It was quite a hopeful meeting, but I will hold my counsel. CHO 7 has one of the longest waiting lists for basic services for children in the country. I do not doubt the Minister of State’s bona fides in trying to challenge and address that for the many families not only in CHO 7 but throughout the country. This issue has been raised countless times in my five years' tenure here.
I want to go back to 14 of 15 months ago, and I am not talking about the pandemic but about the general election that took place on 8 February 2020. In that general election the voice of the people spoke. The narrative of that general election was an earthquake in some ways and was that the incumbent Government and previous governments had not delivered on public services. When you drill down on the reason there was such a seismic change in that election, it concerned public health and that when people required services in their time of need, they were not there. People had cracked and wanted something very different.
The pandemic has compounded much of the historical inequalities in Ireland. One of those inequalities is about intervention around autism and the services people should get but cannot. Waiting two or three years for basic services for children in speech and language therapy and physiotherapy is just not acceptable in 21st century Ireland. The Disability Act 2005 stipulates it should take six months for an assessment of a child to take place and for him or her to get the services. There have been numerous cases, and there are ongoing cases in the High Court, where families are bringing the State to court for being in breach of this Disability Act. That is a stain on this and previous governments. All Deputies have received these very distressing phone calls where families are looking for and cannot get the basic services for their child. Sometimes you feel useless when you say, "I will make a phone call or send an email but I know what the answer will be", which is that person will be waiting probably up to two years. It is really heartbreaking for the families.
These families want better outcomes and services. These are very basic things. It is to be hoped during this Minister of State’s tenure she will address some of the very real issues that impact deeply upon families when they need services the most. ASD units have been a great success in Ireland but there are not enough of them and they are oversubscribed, not only in Dublin Mid-West but also in other parts of the State. These units are very good at engaging with children and the whole environment is brilliant but we need more of these settings. Better outcomes and early intervention are a no-brainer and have better results.
As I said, I hope during the Minister of State’s tenure when she has responsibility for this area she will address the deep inequalities on this issue. I believe she will but the proof will be in the results. Sometimes Dáil motions can be a form of theatre but the real progress will be when families do not have ring people like us. Families should not be contacting Deputies for basic services, let us be honest. They should be getting that service in time, not in two years, but when it is there. That is all families are asking for. I hope at the end of this process that families for once and for all can get the services that they need.