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(UK) NI: Semantics around wait times for ASD assessments

June 4, 2024, Belfast Live: Ards and North Down Council amends motion on autism as it uses 'North of Ireland' 

DUP says it wants "geographically and politically accurate" phrasing in Derry and Strabane appeal

A DUP Alderman has asked for an amendment on an NI-wide local government motion for autism in order to change the term “North of Ireland” to “Northern Ireland”.

Alderman Stephen McIlveen at Ards and North Down Borough Council wanted a local government motion, led by Derry and Strabane Council, which appealed to Stormont to tackle spectrum assessment waiting times, to have its wording changed to be “geographically and politically correct”.

Councils across Northern Ireland are coming together to press Stormont to tackle “unacceptable” waiting times for autism assessment.

At a recent meeting of Derry City and Strabane District Council a motion was passed seeking collaboration from all 11 NI councils to support a call to two Stormont departments - Education and Health - to facilitate and support the development of a “business case” and “action plan” to reduce waiting times.

The motion states that all signatory councils “acknowledge the unacceptable waiting times for autism assessments in the North of Ireland, causing significant hardship and developmental delays”.

It states: “Early intervention is critical for developing key skills in children with autism, yet the backlog hinders timely support, impacting individual potential and straining educational and healthcare services.”

Councils will call on Stormont “to urgently develop and present a comprehensive business case outlining specific, actionable strategies to address and resolve this backlog including a detailed analysis of its impacts, clear reduction targets, proposed measures for ongoing assessments, and the necessary financial and staffing resources”. The motion says any plan should involve and support families throughout the process.

In the motion councils will “demand immediate action” and “insist” on collaboration among the Minister for Health, Minister for Education, and Minister for Finance, together with stakeholders to develop a detailed report on the business case and action plan “including a clear implementation timeline within this mandate period to immediately address and resolve the existing backlog”.

At the most recent meeting of the full council of Ards and North Down Borough at Bangor Castle, SDLP Councillor Joe Boyle proposed support for Derry and Strabane. He said: “We should be doing everything we can to bring some sort of resolution or business case to get up and going and recognise how important autism is.”

Alliance Councillor Victoria Moore said: “It’s a hugely important issue for children and young adults who are still awaiting an assessment for their autism. It has a knock-on effect. I understand we have finite resources and budgets have a huge constraint across all services, but it is a false economy.”

“(I recently attended) an event with parents with children and young people who had a range of educational needs. The effect on families, on education attainment, mental health and ability to socialise is huge.”

UUP Councillor Pete Wray said: “The waiting times for autism assessment in Northern Ireland is unacceptable and I agree that they are causing significant hardship and I don’t think this is an attack on any of the ministers at Education or Health, but is simply asking for a report that will gets some tangible outcomes, and everybody working collaboratively.”

DUP Alderman Stephen McIlveen said: “It is about highlighting this as a key issue that needs to be addressed by this Executive and I am sure the Minister for Education and Minister for Health both will recognise the need and will try to address it the best way they can.

“I would suggest a couple of amendments if I could in relation to this. If we are accepting what is before us as a proposal, I would rather have Northern Ireland than North of Ireland - that is geographically and politically accurate.

“Secondly, we also write back to that council to say we have accepted what they have passed, that we have taken the requisite action, just as a matter of courtesy.”

The amendments were seconded by DUP Alderman Alan Graham.

SDLP Councillor Boyle, said he would accept the amendments. He said: “I am quite happy and comfortable in my skin - Northern Ireland, North of Ireland, I can live with both. The main thing for me is that there is full party support within this chamber.”


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