The Blanket

The Blanket - A Journal of Protest & Dissent

Don't Let Us Down

Political journalist Dr John Coulter, the father of an 11-year-old autistic boy, pens a passionate open letter to all 108 MLAs that the formation of a Stormont Executive before Christmas could guarantee the future of the much-needed Northern Ireland Autism Act


Dr John Coulter • 31 July 2006

Dear Members of the Legislative Assembly. Thousands of autistic kids and adults as well as their family carers will find themselves in bucket-loads of hardship if Stormont collapses and the much-needed Northern Ireland Autism Act is shelved.

Ironically, helping people with Autistic Spectrum Disorder (ASD) could be the key to unlocking the current stalemate in the peace process.

The Act would guarantee the rights for ASD sufferers and those who care for them. According to the charity and pressure group Autism Northern Ireland (ANI), cases of autism in the North have trebled in the last three to four years

And more frighteningly, there are now more ASD sufferers in the North than the combined totals for those with Downs Syndrome and Parkinson's Disease.

ANI has been burning the midnight oil continuously during 2006 to ensure that if a power-sharing Executive is formed by the 24 November deadline, the Act will be one of the first pieces of legislation MLAs will vote on and could be law by Christmas.

Less than four weeks ago, speakers from all five of the Assembly parties called for a united approach to the treatment and support of people with ASD.

Sinn Fein, the DUP, Ulster Unionists, the SDLP and Alliance all voiced their support for the Northern Ireland Autism Act and representatives from the five parties signed a public petition, entitled Blueprint for Change, which will see the Act on the Northern statute books within weeks of a fully operational Executive.

With the futures of so many people at stake, and as the parent of an autistic 11-year-old boy myself, we autism activists have been left wondering – if all you MLAs support the Act, what's your problem in setting up the Executive?

Surely all this public show of unity for the Act is not just a publicity stunt to get a few well-chosen soundbites or photocalls?

Lagan Valley DUP MP Jeffrey Donaldson - a very keen supporter of the autism cause - voiced his public support for the Act, as did Sinn Fein's Upper Bann MLA John O'Dowd. We witnessed the Paisley party and the Shinners singing from the same hymn sheet – so why not go the extra mile and add another verse which seals the deal on Stormont?

Don't tell me all the fine rhetoric on a unified approach to autism was merely a ploy to get us parents and carers off your backs for the summer?

All the other parties want an Assembly because that is the only method by which the Act will become a living, working reality. We are told the future of the Executive rests solely on the moves by the DUP.

How could we ever trust the DUP again if its MLAs tell us they support the Act, and then hypocritically dash our hopes in November by shafting Stormont.

The DUP has always pumped out the propaganda it is the party Unionists can trust. But ASD transcends all class and religious barriers.

If the DUP let down ASD sufferers and carers, it could leave us pondering the question – is the Paisley camp really a shower of selfish fundamentalists who are more interested in point scoring than combating one of the most devastating conditions in the Northern community?

A dedicated autism centre is already planned for Middletown in Co Armagh. The island needs two more such dedicated centres – one in the North East of Ireland in north Antrim, the other in the South West of Ireland. A fully working Executive will guarantee both.

I totally agree with Autism NI Chief Executive Arlene Cassidy's heartfelt plea to MLAs: “We are spreading the word that autism is no longer waiting for social justice. Autism has found a voice and that voice demands legislative protection for autism; autism is striving for equality.

“All of us can work together to achieve something that is within our grasp, within our ability, within our resources and within our sphere of influence.”

Ulster Unionist boss Reg Empey is equally confident the Act will be a hit with all 108 MLAs, adding it could be passed at Stormont through a Private Members Bill as there was “a guaranteed chance of getting it though at Stormont”.

Similar legislation exists in both Wales and Sweden – so why can't we have it here in the North? Autism NI is now drawing up an ASD strategy that should the Executive be formed by the November deadline, the Act will be one of the first laws which the 108 MLAs have to vote on.

In the meantime, sufferers, carers, relatives and activists are all praying the signed cross-party support for the Act is the much sought-after the trigger which prompts Unionists and Republicans to re-constitute the power-sharing Executive.

The fate of a quality lifestyle for thousands of ASD sufferers now rests in the hands seemingly of the DUP. It is now with just over 100 days to go to the 24 November deadline if the DUP's Christianity is genuine or just a silver-tongued sham.



















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The Blanket - A Journal of Protest & Dissent



There is no such thing as a dirty word. Nor is there a word so powerful, that it's going to send the listener to the lake of fire upon hearing it.
- Frank Zappa

Index: Current Articles

3 August 2006

Other Articles From This Issue:

A United Ireland or Nothing
Liam O Comain

Federal Unionism—Early Sinn Fein: Article 1
Michael Gillespie

High Noon
John Kennedy

Fest or Flop
Dr John Coulter

Irish and Republican Music
Ray McAreavey

Qana Massacre again: Foreign and Domestic Enemies of our Constitution
Mazin Qumsiyeh

Israel Murders UN Observers
Anthony McIntyre

Managing Debate
Mick Hall

4 Horsemen
John Kennedy

The Evil That Men Do
Anthony McIntyre

Chris Petit's Secret History: The Psalm Killer
Seaghán Ó Murchú

Soldier of the Legion of the Rearguard
Liam O Ruairc

Football and the Fifth Commandment
Eamon Sweeney

Don't Let Us Down
Dr John Coulter

Human Rights Forum
Meeting Announcement

Billy Mitchell
Anthony McIntyre

25 July 2006

Religious Rednecks of Doom
Dr John Coulter

Cut-Throat Politics
John Kennedy

A Poem About Our Children
Mary La Rosa

Israeli Blitzkrieg
Anthony McIntyre

When Leaders Serve Foreign Interests, Everyone Loses
Mazin Qumsiyeh

By Their Friends You Shall Know Them
Mick Hall

Mission Impossible
Anthony McIntyre

Lit Crit Well Writ
Seaghán Ó Murchú

Revisiting A Literary Genius
David Adams

'The Film That Shakes A Lot More Than the Barley'
Eamon Sweeney

The Framing of Michael McKevitt: Conclusion
Marcella Sands

The Framing of Michael McKevitt: Additional Information
Marcella Sands

The Framing of Michael McKevitt: Letter of Thanks
Michael McKevitt

Pull the Other One
John Kennedy

Ex-Noraid Boss Still Gloomy on Peace Process
Jim Dee

An Honour to Have Been Part of the Blanket Protest
Anthony McIntyre

The Letters page has been updated.



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