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Taoiseach will not confirm if information is still gathered on autistic children

Taoiseach Micheál Martin. Picture: Julien Behal Photography
Cate McCurry, PA

The taoiseach has refused to confirm whether the Department of Health is still gathering information on children with autism who are involved in legal actions against the State.

Micheál Martin was pressed on whether the policy which saw the department create dossiers on special needs children and their families is continuing.

Mr Martin denied that the practice existed when he served as minister for health from 2000 to 2002.

The Department of Health is carrying out an independent review into its practice of compiling the dossiers without the families’ consent.

Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald described the practice as “absolutely scandalous and shameful”.

“I’ve asked you also to confirm or deny that this practice continues as we meet here today, and I have also asked you to confirm whether or not the families on whom these dossiers and the facts, and files were held, whether or not that has been disclosed to these families,” Ms McDonald told the Dáil.

Mr Martin said: “There was no practice.

“It was not a practice when I was minister with responsibility for health in terms of deliberately going out either to authorise the collection of data in respect of individual children or families.

“From my understanding of litigation, what normally happens is that pleadings are made and in the course of the interaction between legal teams, very often the plaintiffs will provide information to obviously justify the necessity for additional educational and health supports.

“As I said very clearly, there should not be any breach of patient-client confidentiality, or any attempt by any official or anybody to ring up a doctor or consultant.”

Mr Martin added: “All my political life I have fought for children with special needs in whatever capacity I served in, and I don’t intend to change now.

“When I was minister for education back in 1998, I introduced groundbreaking change to education services for children with special needs and in particular, children with autism.

“So deputy, I respect your right to raise issues but don’t you dare ever accuse me of trying to attack children with autism.

“That is not what I’m about.

“That is not what my colleagues in government are about.

“Yes, the State has failed in the past, and the State can do better right now in terms of providing additional places for children with special needs, and that’s something I’m particularly focused on right now.”

He added: “I would not in any set of circumstances support any department, seeking for example, to breach patient-client confidentiality.

“That would be intolerable and unacceptable and unethical.

“But the Department of Health do not accept that assertion, and they’re conducting a very rigorous review of that and as I have said the government will appoint a multidisciplinary team to assess that situation.”

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