[Sinn Fein]

26th February 2003

Ó Caoláin calls on Taoiseach to act on needs of autistic children

Sinn Fein spokesperson on Health and Children Caoimhghin Ó Caoláin TD used his opportunity to question the Taoiseach in Dáil `Leaders Questions' to raise the urgent need for speech and language services services for children with special needs. He raised the issue as parents and children demonstrated about the poor services for children with autism.

Deputy Ó Caoláin said:

``The Programme for Government speaks of ``helping all children to develop to their full potential''. But how can that be possible for a seven and half year old child with autism who has not received speech therapy or occupational therapy for two years - and he is just one of more than 50 children whose parents demonstrated outside the meeting of the North Eastern Health Board on Monday. Today, children from St. Mark's National School in Tallaght are protesting outside this Dáil because their two special language classes have been without speech therapists for all of this year and the Department has not advertised the post. 

``The Irish National Teachers Organisation has said that it `should be a cause of national embarrassment' that parents and teachers have to protest outside parliament to demand the resources their children need.''

Deputy Ó Caoláin called on the Taoiseach raise this as a matter of urgency with the Ministers for Education and Health and to ``take action to increase the supply of qualified health professionals and to establish a National Speech and Language Service to help children with special needs to develop to their full potential''.

School Sports Grant axed

Deputy Ó Caoláin also raised with the Taoiseach the ``mean-spirited and penny-pinching attitude'' which has seen the Minister for Education completely stopping payment of the Physical Education and Sports Grant. The scheme amounted to ¤2.5 million, with schools getting ¤635 to buy sports equipment, ¤1,270 in the case of disadvantaged schools. The Sinn Fein TD said it ``disgraceful'' that this small assistance to children to play sport was being cut and called for its reinstatement.

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