Five years after the completion of a €1.3m residential centre for adults with autism, the Co Kerry facility remains unoccupied.
The Irish Society for Autism (ISA) was supported by Kerry County Council and organisers of various charity events in developing a purpose-built single-story home for eight people at Dromavalla, Ballyseedy, near Tralee.
The centre, modelled on a Co Meath project, remains closed.
The ISA has called on the HSE “to secure a replacement service provider for an autism-specific service in Kerry”.
However, the health executive said the centre was not a planned HSE or Cork-Kerry Community Healthcare project and funding was never promised.
“We have not committed any funding to this project and we have no funding available in 2019 for this project or similar projects,” the HSE said.
“However, we would be happy with any suitable service provider in making the case to Government for funding for services to meet the critical unmet need in the area, which we are very aware of.”
County Hall in Tralee, along with charities, donated several hundred thousand euro. The Ring of Kerry annual charity cycle event alone contributed €200,000.
Local families have spoken of their disappointment that disability services for Kerry were not a priority.
Jimmy Adams and his wife Patricia been fundraising and campaigning for a centre for over two decades. Their adult son, James aged 28, has autism.
Mr Adams believes the HSE has a role in providing funding to the centre. He told Radio Kerry: “It’s all games. We are like pawns in the middle of all of this. No-one gives a toss.”
Meanwhile, meetings between the ISA and the HSE’s Cork Kerry Community Health Services are to take place to appoint a service provider, but Mr Adams said discussions could continue for months.
The ISA said it had been disappointed to learn, over a year ago, that the HSE and a service provider approved by the Health Information and Quality Authority had “experienced difficulties”.
“The Irish Society for Autism is urging the HSE to secure an alternative service provider as soon as possible,” the society said.
Supports for adults with autism are few and far between in provincial areas.
ISA deputy executive director Tara Matthews said: “Autism-specific supports can be sparse, particularly in rural Ireland. This purpose-built home can offer much-needed support to those living with autism and their families.
“The completed centre was built adjacent to a small farm which would help provide activity as well as produce for its residents.
“An open day was held in April 2014 but a lack of funding and likely red tape remain stumbling blocks to the centre being utilised.”