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Dáil Éireann Debate, Thursday - 24 March 2022

Thursday, 24 March 2022

Questions (10)

Michael Moynihan


10. Deputy Michael Moynihan asked the Minister for Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth if he will detail progress regarding the development and implementation of the autism innovation strategy; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [15315/22]

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Oral answers (6 contributions) (Question to Children)

Can the Minister detail progress regarding the development and implementation of the autism innovation strategy?

I thank the Deputy for giving me the opportunity to set out a response to the question in the House. The autism innovation strategy is in development, with the current focus on design, consultation and collaborative working structures. National action in respect of autism is a firm commitment in the programme for Government 2021 and I announced an intention to develop an autism innovation strategy and launch it in 2022. In budget 2022, the Minister and I secured €100,000 for the design and implementation of the autism innovation strategy and for awareness raising around it.

The autism innovation strategy will be aligned to Ireland's existing policies like the NDIS and comprehensive employment strategy. The innovation strategy will complement these structures by focusing on the specific challenges that face people with autism. We will seek to break down barriers by focusing on practical and tangible actions and outcomes. When I talk about practical and tangible actions and outcomes, I talk about them in various veins, including education, housing, employment, care settings, independent living and support so that we can have a good vision of how to support persons with autism.

As part of the strategy development process, a stakeholder-led strategic oversight and advisory group, which I will chair, will be established through an open expression of interest. The group will contribute to the development of the full draft of the strategy and will also have an ongoing role in the process of monitoring the implementation of the strategy. The full draft of the autism innovation strategy will be put to public consultation before it is adopted or implemented by Government, which will give people the opportunity to have full and open engagement.

I thank the Minister of State for her response. Work on the strategy was announced last December and was obviously very welcome. I understand when the strategy is rolled out and devised it will at all junctures try to advance the rights of people with autism and address the challenges and barriers they face. Nonetheless, we all know the pressures and challenges faced by people with autism and their families, and they are significant.

I hope that as the strategy evolves, and with input from all stakeholders, we can arrive at a point where significant policy recommendations can be made that will improve people's lives and their interaction with the State and its services.

What does the Minister of State hope or envisage the autism strategy will address specifically? I ask her to explain step-by-step how the strategy is to be developed. I believe there are three steps that will be followed. How will she ensure the strategy will be fully inclusive?

My hope and aspiration for the entire strategy is that persons with autism will have a voice in the context of how their day-to-day living is impacted. It is also important to ensure parents have a voice. I refer to the issues of accessing services, education and housing, as well transitioning from school into higher education, the workforce and everyday life. That is the whole piece. We must listen to the voices of persons with lived experience in respect of where there are barriers or where various Departments may not have not considered this in the round. There are three stages to the strategy. The first step will be a public consultation on its design. The second step will be the establishment of the strategy oversight and advisory group. It will comprise stakeholders and persons with lived experience, who have to be front and centre. The final piece of the strategy will be its going out to public consultation before it is adopted.

I thank the Minister of State. I have a follow-up question specifically on the strategy oversight and advisory group. I ask the Minister of State to clarify who specifically will be members of the group, if she has that information at this point. Is it possible or the intention of the Government to establish the autism innovation strategy on a legislative footing?

With the indulgence of the Acting Chairman, I have not had a chance to ask the Minister of State publicly about the court case some weeks ago as a result of which the standard operating procedure, SOP, model has now effectively been deemed defunct. If she has time, I ask her to comment on that decision.

The Deputy is never one to miss an opportunity. Let us be clear. The strategy oversight and advisory group will comprise stakeholders and people with lived experience of autism and neurodiversity. The group will input into the development of the strategy and have an ongoing role in monitoring its implementation. The group will be established following an open expression-of-interest process. As I outlined to the Deputy, the interdepartmental strategy development group will comprise officials and representatives of relevant Departments and agencies. Its purpose will be to develop actions, including the autism innovation strategy, following the initial second consultation.

As regards the recent court case relating to the SOP, I welcome the clarification by the HSE this week that it will not be challenging the ruling. I have stated the review group I set up is no longer functioning. I look forward to the HSE coming back to me with its agile approach to adopting going forward.