Taoiseach apologises in Dáil to Milne family over State failure

Parents unable to place twins in special school despite autism and learning difficulties

Taoiseach Micheál Martin has apologised to the Milne family in the Dáil on Wednesday and said the State has failed them.

Parents Gillian and Darren Milne appeared on RTÉ's Prime Time programme on Tuesday night for a second time to discuss how they have been unable to secure places in a special school for their twin sons Ryan and Kyle (11) who have severe autism, ADHD, severe learning disabilities and other special needs.

The couple first appeared on the programme in 2019 when the twins were aged eight.

Speaking during Leaders' Questions, Labour leader Ivana Bacik said accessing school places for children with autism is "a countrywide issue". She said the Milne family had "fought year after year" for their twin sons Ryan and Kyle to get access to appropriate places in a special school.

In response, Mr Martin said he had watched the programme and that the State's response was not good enough.

“The State has failed the Millne family and Ryan and Kyle in particular, in terms of providing a proper comprehensive education for those children that would be appropriate to their needs,” he said.

Mr Martin noted the twins had applied to two special schools and had been refused. He said he had spoken to Minister for Special Education and Inclusion Josepha Madigan, assistant secretary at the Department of Education and the chief executive of the National Council For Special Education.

What about the legislation?

Mr Martin said “all are possessed with the need that this doesn’t happen again . . . I apologise to the Milne family on behalf of the Government because it simply isn’t good enough. I don’t stand over this I think there’s an absence of proactivity in the system. I think the people I spoke to today are all possessed with getting this right.”

Mr Martin said new special schools had to be created as well as expanding capacity within existing schools.

He also said stronger legislation was needed and that it could no longer be an option “for schools to say, ‘we’re not taking in children with special needs’ ”. Mr Martin said certain legislation “wasn’t strong enough” and was “too bureaucratic”.

He said the Schools Admissions Act needed to be reviewed to “such an extent that there’s a collective responsibility on all schools to take children”.

The Taoiseach said it wasn’t a question of resources and that more than €2 billion, 25 per cent of the department’s budget, was spent on special education.

“It really is an issue of matching the resources to the needs in given geographic locations and areas, but also everybody playing its role,” he said.