Taoiseach's apology 'too little, too late' says mother of two autistic sons

Taoiseach's apology 'too little, too late' says mother of two autistic sons

Taoiseach Micheál Martin: 'I apologise to the Milne family on behalf of the Government, because it simply is not good enough. I do not stand over this. There is an absence of pro-activity in the system.' Picture: Gar Chaney/ Collins 

Gillian Milne, mother of autistic boys Ryan and Kyle, has described an apology from Taoiseach Micheál Martin as "too little, too late". 

Reacting to Mr Martin's apology in the Dáil, Ms Milne said the Taoiseach can't give them back the six years the boys should have been in school - the chance to make friends, make their communion or the other missed occasions.

Speaking on RTÉ's Drivetime, she spelt out the challenges posed by Ryan and Kyle's condition as well as the financial difficulties the family have experienced - including losing their home.

She said her husband Darren was a bus driver but had to give up his job to help care for the boys.

As a result, they're living on €376 a week and they have gotten into debt.

Ms Milne said the family is at "breaking point" and has nothing to look forward to anymore. She says the boys have regressed as a result of the lack of care.

Minister of State for Special Education Josepha Madigan contacted the family on Wednesday morning to arrange a meeting to discuss the family's situation, but  Ms Milne said she is not holding out much hope.

The family featured in an RTÉ Prime Time programme on Tuesday night which highlighted the struggle of Gillian and Darren Milne in gaining the needed support for the boys.

Under questioning from Labour Leader Ivana Bacik, Mr Martin said the State had failed to provide them with the education that is appropriate to their needs.

“I apologise to the Milne family on behalf of the Government, because it simply is not good enough. I do not stand over this. There is an absence of pro-activity in the system. The people to whom I spoke are all possessed with getting this right,” he said.

"The State has failed the Milne family."

During his contribution, Mr Martin said he had spoken with Minister of State Josepha Madigan as well as the assistant secretary at the Department of Education about the case.

He said all parties were possessed with the requirement that this does not happen again.

He said 25% of the Department of Education's budget is spent on special education — over €2bn — and he contended the problem was an issue of "matching resources to needs".

The Taoiseach said two things needed to be done: expanding capacity within existing special schools, and creating new schools.

We also need stronger legislation. No longer can it be an option for schools to say, ‘We are not taking in children with special needs’. 

"Some years ago, the House brought in amendments to the section 37A of the Education Act. These are not strong enough in my view,” he said.

“They are too bureaucratic. The EPSEN [Education for Persons with Special Educational Needs] Act needs to be reviewed. The Education (Admission to Schools) Act 2018 needs to be reviewed, in my view, as does the Education Act 1998. There is a collective responsibility on all schools to take children with special needs."

The Labour leader praised the programme for highlighting the failure of the State to provide for families with children with autism, but added more clarity was required on what the Government intended to do because she had not observed any real change.

She said she was "sure" the Taoiseach's apology would be welcomed by those "so badly failed by the State" but she continued that "clearly" there was a demand on the Government to take more proactive steps.

Ms Bacik said it was not just a question of special schools, but also the needs with it — such as the provision of special needs assistance.

In reply, the Taoiseach said the Government "was proactive", adding  there were now 19,000 SNAs in Irish schools.

He said the State should be seeking a place for the children with complex needs, rather than the onus falling on the parents.

The Taoiseach rejected a charge he had blamed schools for the problems experienced by the Milne family.

But Mr Martin added: "It's not a question of resources and resources will be provided."

The issue in many respects is expanding the existing special schools and creating new schools, he said.

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