The Minister for Education has defended the Government's position following this morning's Supreme Court ruling in the Jamie Sinnott case. The court unanimously ruled that the State has no obligation to provide life-long primary education for 23-year-old Mr Sinnott, who has autism. His mother had won an earlier High Court case, which seemed to set a precedent whereby autistic adults would be entitled to primary education.
The Supreme Court also over-ruled the High Court judgement that the constitutional rights of Mr Sinnott and his mother, Kathryn, had been breached. Dr Michael Woods said that the Supreme Court case was taken to establish the principles for future and specific legal points. He said that the State recognised that it had not made adequate provision in the past, but that the Government was doing a rapid catch-up job in trying to provide services.
The Minister stressed this afternoon that Kathryn and Jamie Sinnott would continue to receive monies awarded them by the High Court. In his statement, the Michael Woods said, "I want to reassure Jamie and Kathryn Sinnott that on an ex gratia basis, I on behalf of the Government, will as I promised, pay all monies awarded by the High Court to Jamie and Mrs Sinnott, in addition to paying all costs of the Supreme Court case. A substantial part of these monies has already been paid."
However, there has been strong criticism from opposition parties of the Government for having taken the case. Frances Fitzgerald of Fine Gael said that the judgement highlighted the extraordinary difficulty that people with disabilities in Ireland have in accessing their human rights. Mr Sinnott's mother, Kathryn, said that it had been a bad day for disabled people. Ms Sinnott said that she was determined to fight on.
Mr Sinnott and his mother are from Ballinhassig, County Cork. The State argued that its constitutional obligation to provide free primary education applies only to children aged 18 or under and does not extend to adults, whether disabled or not. The State argued that, otherwise, there would be major financial and political implications for everyone.
The State said that it recognised persons with severe disabilities required education beyond 18 and wished to look after such people, but not as a matter of constitutional obligation. The Government, reacting to the ruling, said that it wanted to reiterate its position, previously stated by Dr Woods, that Mr Sinnott's education for life would continue and all damages awarded would be paid regardless of the verdict.