Final Stage

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On the 15th March 2011 History was made when the NI Assembly passed the Autism Bill (NI)

The photograph above and those that follow record some of those that were present at that Historic Moment.

 

“NI Assembly leads on UK disability legislation” says Northern Ireland’s Autism charity

 

The final debate on landmark disability legislation, The Autism Bill (NI), took place on the evening of Tuesday 15th March. It was a milestone for Autism NI (Northern Ireland’s Autism Charity) after ten years of campaigning for better Autism services and equality legislation.  The success of this Bill marked a new phase for the Charity and individuals affected by Autism.  The Bill enshrines in law the need for Autism to be more easily recognised within the Disability Discrimination Act (1995). Additionally it invokes a duty on government to provide a lifelong cross- departmental strategy.

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Arlene Cassidy, AutismNI’s Chief Executive explained “The Northern Ireland Autism community no longer has to depend upon ‘good intentions’ and ‘promises’. We now have a firm legal foundation upon which an action plan, strategies and services can be built which reflects the lifelong nature of this disability. We are immensely proud and grateful to the parent base of this Charity that mobilised itself to form the Parents Autism Lobby group (PAL). PAL was successful in getting the clear message of families to the ears of our political leadership.  This was a powerful example of democracy in action which drowned out the uninformed voices that would have kept us chained to our history of discrimination against the Autism community in Northern Ireland.”

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Autism NI moves to the next phase ensuring families, carers and individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) are fairly represented in developing the new strategy, supporting MLAs and civil servants as they set up the structures of the new legislation.

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“The vast majority of our MLAs have supported the Bill throughout its passage within the Assembly and we are very grateful to them,” said David Heatley, chair of Autism NI, “In particular we thank the members of the All Party Group for Autism for their determination to see the Bill succeed, Dominic Bradley MLA who sponsored the Bill and all the other MLAs who went out of their way to support  the Bill. This is the kind of social change that we all look to our NI Assembly to pioneer. This is a major achievement!!”

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Eilish Stocks, Media Officer for PAL said, “The First Minister and Deputy First Minister have for a long time been supporters of this action and have carried their respective parties with them. The new Bill will be no magic wand but it will allow people with ASD to begin to take their rightful place in society. It will require there to be cross-departmental strategic planning for those with ASD, hitherto a lack of coordination between statutory bodies has been ineffective, stressful and costly.”

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Eileen Bell CBE (former Speaker of the NI Assembly) and Autism NI Legislative Advisor, expressed delight that the Bill has been passed, “This is a historic moment both for Autism and for the Assembly.  The All Party Group for Autism (APGA) was one of the first All Party Groups set up in Stormont and has links with the Autism Caucus at Washington DC. The Bill has passed the full scrutiny of the House and has been found fit for purpose. We are all delighted.”

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Dominic Bradley MLA, Chair of the APGA stated, “The Autism Act (NI) 2011 now supersedes the ‘adult services only’ focus of the Autism Act (England) 2010 and becomes the most comprehensive and equality based law for Autism across the UK and Ireland. The NI Assembly has truly come of age in having the vision to identify and address a longstanding gap in our disability sector.”

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Jonathan Craig MLA, Ian McCrea MLA and Alex Easton MLA, all keen supporters of the Bill agreed, “We are proud that the DUP have supported the Autism Bill (NI) from the outset and are delighted that all major parties saw how morally right this was.”

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Councillor Michelle O’Neill MLA, Vice Chair of the Health Committee, agreed, “Sinn Fein welcomes this Bill reaching the final stage of the process.  It will create a legislative framework to develop a strategy for those on the Autism spectrum who have previously fallen between two stools. ”

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Pol Callaghan MLA (SDLP) stated, “In the past Autism was a Cinderella Disability, now Autism can come to the Ball.”

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The Alliance Party representative on the All Party Group on Autism, Kieran McCarthy, joined in the cross party celebration by reminding us of the real work ahead “This is a vital first step but families need to know their new rights under the law and the real impact this will have. This battle was not won overnight and it was waged against massive ignorance and reluctance to recognise Autism. The work to activate the potential of this new law will be just as vital and I have no doubt that Autism NI, once more, will be at the forefront in ensuring that people with Autism in Northern Ireland and their families no longer get second rate consideration. They are to be congratulated for their selfless work on this new law.”

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The Department of Health and Social Services will have two years to coordinate a cross-departmental Autism Strategy. Government departments will now be required by law to develop an Autism Awareness campaign and strategies that work together as well as to share data which should be both more effective and efficient for present and future planning.