‘Catastrophe’ for families if NI autism bill fails due to political crisis, warns charity chief

Failure to pass autism legislation would have a “catastrophic” effect on families, the chief executive of a Northern Ireland charity has warned.

By Niall Deeney
Monday, 7th February 2022, 3:19 pm
Updated Tuesday, 8th February 2022, 7:36 am

The Autism Amendment Bill is one of several pieces of legislation that could be at risk if MLAs are unable to make progress following the decision by the DUP to withdraw First Minister Paul Givan from the Northern Ireland Executive.

Other items that could be at risk include a proposal to adopt an ‘opt out’ organ donation system similar to that in place in other parts of the UK, measures to address climate change, and support for those reliant on state welfare.

Assembly speaker Alex Maskey has said, however, that it should still be possible to progress existing legislation before the current mandate expires.

Pam Cameron and Kerry Boyd

Kerry Boyd, chief executive of Autism NI, told the News Letter: “I am very disappointed at the recent developments that have occurred at Stormont.

“It is imperative that we have a fully-functioning Executive to ensure that any policy decisions are made in the best interests of the people of Northern Ireland.

“Autism NI has worked extremely hard over the past two years alongside Pam Cameron MLA, on the Autism Amendment Bill.

“This Bill is currently at the ‘consideration stage’ of the legislation process. With only a few amendments to be considered and nearing the final stages of the process, I would hope it will be passed within the next few weeks before this current Assembly mandate expires. If, for whatever reason this does not happen, it will have a catastrophic effect on the autism community here.”

She added: “Our charity works with thousands of families every year and we are well aware that the amount of support and services a family or autistic person receives, can vary significantly. This should never be the case.

“Therefore, it is critical that this new legislation is passed, to enable the creation of a more effective supportive system for our families and autistic population.”

Alana Patterson is a parent of two autistic children, eight-year-old Isla and four-year-old Lincoln.

“As a parent I feel that I am constantly battling to secure services for my two children,” she said.

“The lengthy waiting lists for diagnosis and support are completely unacceptable. I believe that this Private Member’s Bill will be the start of real change for so many families throughout Northern Ireland. I will be anxiously monitoring the progression of this Bill .”