AsIAm’s Open Letter to the Party Leaders

AsIAm has written to the party leaders of Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael, and the Green Party to stress the importance of an Autism Empowerment Strategy being included in the next Programme for Government.

Speaking today, AsIAm CEO Adam Harris said: “As we enter the formal phase of negotiations, it’s absolutely vital that manifesto commitments to legisliate for an Autism Empowerment Act are honoured.

“AsIAm engaged with each and every elected representative from across the divide in the Oireachtas the lead-up to, and during the General Election. Our message was clear and simple: Ireland needs a tailored and comprehensive strategy to meet the unique needs and challenges autistic people face around the country.

“Several parties included the a commitment to deliver such a Strategy if elected, and we welcomed this. Yet even before that, it’s crucial to note, that an Autism Empowerment Strategy had received cross-party support last April, where a Private Members Motion called for the Strategy, along with a full Oireachtas Committee which would oversee the Strategy’s implementation, hold decision-makers accountable, and actively involve and consult with members of Ireland’s autism community.

“Today, I’m reiterating AsIAm’s call to party leaders to include an Autism Empowerment Strategy in the next Programme for Government, and that the party leaders reflect their commitment to legislating for this crucial legislation during their discussions. A full Act of the Oireachtas is essential to give it the crucial legal footing, so as the Strategy is delivered is such as way that is not only empowering for autistic people, but is also accountable.

“AsIAm would also encourage autistic people and their families around the country to get in touch with their local TDs, and remind them of how such an Act would benefit them in their daily lives, as well as of the commitments around accessibility issues for the wider disability community they made during the course of the last election.”

Read our letter to the party leaders in full below:

Dear Deputy,

I hope this letter finds you safe and well during these extraordinary times. 

I am writing to you on behalf of AsIAm, Ireland’s national charity for the autism community. As we move closer to an agreed Programme for Government, we would urge that all discussions towards that goal include an explicit commitment to fully legislate for an Autism Empowerment Act

AsIAm appreciated your General Election manifesto commitment to an Autism Empowerment Strategy. We were also delighted that your party supported the Private Members Motion on Autism in April 2019.  This called for:

•   an all-party Oireachtas committee to devise an Autism Empowerment Strategy, and;

•   legislation to underpin such a strategy.

This was a welcome recognition that autistic people and their families need tailored legislation to recognise and meet their diverse needs, and to protect their fundamental rights as full and equal citizens

Nearly a year since this motion was passed, the Oireachtas Business Committee has signaled an intention to establish a Special Committee on Autism.

We engaged with all major political parties in the lead up to this year’s General Election, and we welcome several parties’ inclusion of an unequivocal commitment to enact the necessary legislation within their broader manifestos.

Meaningful support for autistic people and their families involves helping them on a whole-of-life basis, covering critical aspects of their daily lives – ranging from education, healthcare, social protection, employment, justice to housing. Meeting these needs places huge costs on personal budgets; the lack of comprehensive State support often forces individuals and their families to privately pay for services as basic as receiving a diagnostic assessment. 

It is a well-documented fact that those living in Ireland with a disability are already at a higher risk of falling into poverty and social exclusion than the European average – some 36.9% of people compared to a median of 29.3% in the EU, with over 150,000 people with disabilities in this country living in consistent poverty.  In the context of the current Covid 19 pandemic, those with disabilities are at risk of sliding into further deprivation and isolation. 

Several welcome pieces of legislation, national as well as international, already exist on the Statute Books which aim to improve accessibility and promote equitable living standards for people with disabilities. The United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities’ ratification in March 2018 was a particularly welcome step on that journey.

Yet major gaps exist for autistic people, who have a particularly unique set of needs. A comprehensive strategy, under a full Act of the Oireachtas, explicitly designed to empower autistic people, is needed to address these gaps.  The passing of the Oireachtas motion last year was a welcome recognition of this. 

The draft document negotiated between Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael pledges to “empower all people with special needs or a disability to progress, to reach their full potential, and to play a full part in society.” Our party leaders legislating for an Autism Empowerment Act is the best vehicle to deliver and oversee such an strategy, in such a way that is not only empowering and equitable for autistic people, but is also accountable.  

Such legislation and such a strategy would not compete with the rights and entitlements of any other cohort within Ireland’s disability community, nor undermine any preexisting State initiatives, such as the National Disability Strategy (NDA). The challenges faced by people on the autism spectrum are diverse and particular. The response must be equally particular, to ensure that autistic people no longer fail to benefit from general accessibility programmes. 

The draft document goes on to cite that “as a nation, we have a proud tradition of community, solidarity and decency.” We believe that this should anchor our lawmakers in their work as public representatives, as well as set the standard to which we develop critical public goods and services for our most vulnerable, together. 

AsIAm would therefore ask you, Deputy, that the commitments made in your previous support in the Oireachtas for legislating for an Autism Empowerment Act are reflected in any discussions you may partake in to form our country’s next Government.

We are available at any stage to assist, advise or consult on any of the matters raised above.

With every good wish, 

Adam Harris 

Chief Executive Officer

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