Monday, 29 March 2021
Reports on Department of Health Policy in RTÉ Investigates Programme: Statements
I speak today not only as a Member of the Oireachtas but, like Senator Ruane, as a parent who has acute knowledge of the system, the lack of services within it and the weekly, monthly and yearly fight for diagnoses to access services. Last week, I was sickened to watch the "Prime Time Investigates" programme and to hear how our State acted in gathering such information with the goal of aiding the Department of Health in developing a legal strategy to determine when would be a good time to settle or ask people to withdraw cases. It aimed to determine the mindsets of parents as they coped with the needs of their children. Details of marriage difficulties between parents and of possible addictions were gathered and efforts were made to find times at which parents, who were in extremely difficult circumstances, were vulnerable in order to get them to settle or withdraw cases. What were these cases? Why were parents taking them? These parents were seeking the provision of education for their sons or daughters. This fundamental right to access education for one's children is guaranteed under the Constitution. We have made progress on the provision of education and education supports for children with autism. We have provided ASD class units and SNA supports but that is not enough. Autism does not disappear or go away when a child finishes primary or post-primary school. It is a lifelong diagnosis but there are no lifelong supports. The rights of persons with autism in all areas of life are enshrined in the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, but we are far from seeing a society in which people who have disabilities are guaranteed the same opportunities as people who do not. For people with autism, this causes difficulties in accessing education, the labour market, lifelong supports, public services, housing and healthcare. It prevents them from fully participating in all areas of life.
I have drafted a Bill the purpose of which is to provide for equality of opportunity and treatment for persons with autism. I did so on the basis of having spoken to parents and advocacy groups and examined best practice in other countries, and as a parent myself. The Bill will empower persons on the autism spectrum by providing for their health and well-being in society, the betterment of their living conditions and their participation and inclusion in society, and by making conciliatory and consequential provisions in full adherence to the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. I ask the Minister of State and her officials to discuss the Bill with me to ensure that it will get the necessary support and not hit the brick wall the State builds to block fundamental rights for people with autism. The State needs to right a wrong. It owes these men and women and their families an apology. We owe the families of all children with autism an apology and answers. Ahead of World Autism Day on Friday, I ask the Minister of State to support the boys and girls and men and women with autism and their families.