Republic of Ireland news

Special needs provision will not be resolved by courts or lawyers, says Tánaiste Leo Varadkar

Tánaiste Leo Varadkar
Aine McMahon, Press Association

The Tánaiste has said parents going to court to ensure their children with special needs get proper provision, is not going to resolve the overall issue.

Sinn Féin TD Pearse Doherty raised the issue of special needs assessment taking up to two years in some cases, despite it being set out in law that assessments should take place within six months.

"Children are being left behind," he told the Dáil.

Mr Doherty said some parents are taking court action to ensure their children with special needs get assistance.

Tánaiste Leo Varadkar said this approach is unfair to people who do not have the means to take court cases.

He said: "I can't comment on court cases of people I don't know about and even if I did I could not comment on them."

"Certainly, anyone is entitled to take their case to court but I think we will all appreciate this issue won't be resolved in the courts and it wouldn't be right to give preference to people who go to court as opposed to those who don't."

"This is not a problem that will be resolved by court cases or paying lawyers' fees - it can be solved by allocating additional resources where they are needed."

Independent TD Denis Naughten highlighted the lack of school places for children with special needs this September.

He said there is a "crisis" when it comes to providing school places for children with additional needs.

"This has already spilled over into the public domain with the former minister of education Joe McHugh writing to 39 schools in south Dublin in June directing them to establish special classes for four and five-year-old children with autism, in order to accommodate children who have no school this September."

"The minister took this decision following the National Council for Special Education who had failed to convince schools in south Dublin to volunteer places for students with additional needs in their catchment area."

Mr Naughten said while the Department of Education has made efforts to accommodate children in south Dublin, the exact opposite is happening for children his constituency in Roscommon.

Mr Naughten asked why children with autism are being treated differently because of their address.

Mr Varadkar said the government is "deeply conscious of the worry facing some parents in finding suitably decent school places for children with special needs."

He said the National Council for Special Needs Education identifies an area or school that need a special needs unit or early intervention and will consider all schools in the area.

Mr Varadkar said the school Mr Naughten referred to does not have the physical space for an early intervention unit.

Earlier, Children's Rights Alliance chief executive Tanya Ward said the health service should be directing resources towards getting youngsters assessed within six months, as delays are detrimental to their development.

"Children have a right to an assessment within a six-month timeframe and that should only be longer in very exceptional circumstances.

"These are cases where they are not exceptional circumstances and children are waiting up to three or four years.

"That is a concern to us," she told RTÉ radio.

"A three- or four-year period can be a lifetime.

"It means that if that child misses out on an assessment, they miss out on those services being unlocked, and it can result in them being very unhappy and not developing."

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