I welcome the Minister to the House although I regret the absence of a Minister from the Department of Education and Science. I do not blame the Minister, Deputy Roche for that and I am aware that the Minister for Education and Science is taking Priority Questions.
One child in every 166 is thought to suffer from autism or to be in the so-called autistic spectrum. Previously this figure was put at four or five per 10,000. In Carlow, a dedicated group of parents whose children have been diagnosed as suffering from autism, formed a group three years ago. Most had their children tested privately because had they waited for the public system there would have been a long delay.
It is an understatement to say this group has received no State assistance. It has been treated with contempt, as have I in connection with this issue. I have here a copy of the fax I sent to the office of the Minister for Education and Science on 13 October 2004 seeking a meeting with either the Minister or her officials. The group of parents had succeeded in obtaining a free site for a school in the centre of Carlow town in Askea, kindly given by the parish priest. The purpose of the meeting was to see how to progress this to the next step.
Between sending the fax and now I have been lied to and been misinformed. I have been assured of having a meeting and have told the parents that they would have a meeting too but three and a half months later no progress has been made.
Last Monday I was guaranteed a telephone call from the Minister's office about this but received none. I am blue in the face ringing the Department to ask for a meeting. I was told a letter had been sent saying that the Minister could not meet me. The letter has not arrived. I waited three and a half months and wasted my time and, more important, the time of this group to be told that we could not meet the Minister.
They have a prime site in Askea church which is an ideal location for a school and the parents want to know what they should do next. Has the Government learned nothing from the Jamie Sinnott case? It is ironic to think that the Disability Bill is going through the other House when the Department is treating me and these parents with such contempt.
I contacted one of the parents recently and apologised profusely to her because I feel I let the group down badly by not delivering for them. As I am being treated so badly, she wondered what hope she and other members of the group have. That is shameful and should not be allowed to happen.
I hope the Minister's reply will not quote national development plans, etc. I want definite answers. All we seek immediately is a meeting with the officials to take this to the next phase. I understand the Minister for Education and Science is very busy. Before we know it next September will have come around and another school year will be lost.
The children who suffer from autism in Carlow deserve the same opportunities as those in other parts of the country. In Cork and Kildare there are sapling schools which specialise in this area and we in Carlow should not be treated any differently. We have wasted three and a half months and it is time for action. It is regrettable that I had to put this down as a matter on the Adjournment.