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Tipperary teenager tells Taoiseach a thing or two during hour-long meeting at his office

Ardfinnan teenager Cara Darmody met the Taoiseach, Simon Harris, in his office for an hour last Thursday afternoon. Also present were Minister for Special Education Hildegarde Naughton and chair of the Oireachtas Committee on Autism Micheál Carrigy.

The Taoiseach immediately referred to the Government's recent announcement of €7 million in needs assessment funding. He dramatically told Cara that this allocation was entirely due to his advocacy, campaigning and the specific Dáil motion tabled on his behalf a year ago. He said he would make it known publicly.

This €6.89 million funding will enable the HSE to acquire up to 2,500 additional AONs, with delivery expected over the next six months. This funding is in addition to existing HSE core funding of €5 million, allocated for the acquisition of private assessments, which targets the completion of 1,800 AONs in 2024.

Cara intended to make four demands during the meeting:

That the Government commit to preventing the HSE from breaching the Needs Assessment Act. She told him directly that the HSE was breaking the law and if he saw it and did nothing then he would also be breaking the law.

It is the law that says the HSE must assess a child with autism within six months, but at present it takes three to seven years in most cases. It's a national shame.

Cara asked for a date/timeline to achieve this first request, and she proposed a 12 month period.
She then demanded that the Taoiseach stand with her and make this commitment in public.

Cara remained focused on these first three demands, but made a fourth request as the meeting progressed – as he allocated 7 million euros.

The Taoiseach acknowledged that the law was being broken and that this was not acceptable. Cara made it clear that she would continue to protest until he could answer her questions and do something about it.

The Taoiseach said he would immediately convene experts, ministers and others to determine if and how he could achieve this. He will offer Cara a specific meeting within a month to respond directly to these requests.

Cara has repeatedly reiterated that the law is being broken and the government cannot look past that.
Cara says: “I really went out there and tried to hold him accountable. I didn't hold back and told him that the law was being broken and that it was just wrong. But he is now responsible for it. So he really needs to act now.

“Look, he was really nice, totally respectful and a real gentleman. But it really needs to stop the permanent damage to children.

“I’ll see him again in a few weeks.” He should have an answer by then. But he cannot let this situation continue any longer: he must act.”

“I'll give him a few weeks to think about it, but I'll keep protesting until he comes up with an answer. I'm bringing my football up next week for a football match in front of the Taoiseach's department, maybe he'll come back.

“I guess the reason people are so happy about this reunion is because someone finally cornered him on this issue. Let's see what he says in a few weeks.

Dad Mark said: “Seeing her report to the leader of the country that they were breaking the law was just a surreal dramatic moment. He took it on the chin.

Plus, hearing the Taoiseach say your daughter was responsible for securing €7 million in funding is probably something few parents hear. She's such an amazing girl.

But she really asked them to account and she will not leave them sheltered. She's got them in the corner now, so let's see what happens. They have been incredibly respectful to her, she has had a dramatic impact on everyone there over the last 3 days.

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