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Agony for autism case parents


Cian and Yvonne O'Cuanachain outside the High Court

Cian and Yvonne O'Cuanachain outside the High Court yesterday

Cian and Yvonne O'Cuanachain outside the High Court yesterday

The parents of a young autistic boy who lost a €5m court battle to secure State funding for a dedicated form of education for their son will have to pay their own legal costs.

Cian and Yvonne O'Cuanachain battled for 68 days in the High Court to oblige the State to provide Applied Behavioural Analysis (ABA) for their son, Sean.

The action on behalf of the six-year-old was regarded as a test case for autistic children seeking ABA education.

Last year the High Court ruled that there was not enough evidence to back up the assertion that the education being provided to Sean O'Cuanachain was insufficient and yesterday it said that it was "fair and just" that each side pay their own costs.

The legal costs bill facing the State and HSE is estimated at more than €2 million.

Despite the fact that Cian and Yvonne O'Cuanachain's lawyers may waive their own fees, the couple's legal outlay is still expected to reach a substantial seven-figure sum. They are set to appeal yesterday's decision to the Supreme Court and say they may face selling their home in order to pay their bills.

ABA is one of a number of educational approaches used for children with autism. It is expensive, as it involves one-to-one teaching, but the Department of Education and Science says cost is not the reason it does not favour ABA for all pupils with autism.

Last night Irish Autism Action, which supports parents with autistic children, said that the costs ruling would deter parents from taking legal action to compel the State to meet their children's needs.

"Litigation is the last, desperate resort for parents," said Mark DeSalvo of the IAA.


"It is the last resort to remortgage your home when you have exhausted every avenue with the Department of Education, which has money to burn to fight parents in the courts".

Last night, Ireland East MEP Mairead McGuinness, a member of the European Parliament Intergroup on Disability, said the case highlights that families of children with conditions such as autism are forced to accept what the Department of Education tells them they need rather than what they actually need.

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"Contrary to what we are told by government, the needs of the child are way down the agenda," said Ms McGuinness.

Lawyers for the State and HSE had previously said they were not seeking costs against Cian and Yvonne O'Cuanachain, of Woodbine Avenue, Mountain View, Arklow, Co Wicklow.

Explaining his decision, Mr Justice Michael Peart said that, while the case was clearly of importance to Sean and his parents, and he was not downgrading that importance, it was not of such great public importance as to justify the court exercising its discretion on costs to make an order in favour of the O' Cuanachains.

He noted that Ms O'Cuanachain had said during the hearing that the case was being brought on behalf of Sean and was not part of a wider campaign in the public interest. The judge remarked he had previously raised some doubt as to whether that was the case.

Sean was awarded €61,000 damages last year against the HSE over unreasonable delay in diagnosing his condition and providing appropriate therapies for him.

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