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Autistic man loses right to primary schooling

IRELAND

THE Irish government has breathed a small sigh of relief over the overturning of a landmark High Court judgment involving a 23-year-old autistic man, Jamie Sinnott.

Last October, it decreed that the state was obliged to provide primary education to him for as long as he would benefit from it. The High Court awarded him IR pound;225,000 (pound;175,000) and his mother IR pound;35,000, as well as their costs.

The decision was appealed successfully to the Supreme Court which last week ruled - by a six to one majority - that the state's constitutional entitlement to provide free primary education applied only to children and ceased at the age of 18. This was the first time the courts had defined when the obligation to provide free primary education ended.

The verdict has caused widespread outrage, partly because the well-publicised Sinnott case was the latest in a series of court actions aimed at vindicating the right of children with disabilities to educational entitlements.

The education minister, Michael Woods, has responded by saying that he had been given practically a blank cheque by the government to provide better services for those with autism. The government will also pay all legal costs and the award made last October to Mr Sinnott.

Privately, there is relief in official circles that the High Court ruling was struck down. If upheld, the ruling could have opened the floodgates to others with disabilities, not just autism, to claim similar educational services indefinitely.

However, there are dozens of other cases in the legal pipeline which could still cause further embarrassment for the government.

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