The Government won this evening's Dáil vote on autism services by 75 votes to 66, following impassioned contributions from TDs on all sides.

The public gallery was packed with parents of children with autism, some of whom had travelled from as far away as Kerry and Clare.

During the debate, former Education Minister Mary O'Rourke said she felt there was a 'lingering animosity' in the Department which led to a blockage against the provision of ABA services.

Her comment received loud applause from the gallery, as did her statement that ABA worked because it was behavioural, and because it was one to one.

However, Opposition deputies criticised her and other Government backbenchers for speaking in favour of ABA, but voting against the Fine Gael motion.

Fine Gael's motion supported the provision of ABA for any child who was recommended for the method by psychological assessment.

Limerick East Fine Gael TD Kieran O'Donnell said if Mrs O'Rourke favoured ABA so strongly, she should vote for the motion.

Simon Coveney said the sight of TDs like Deputy O'Rourke speaking in favour and then disappearing until it was time to vote against would not inspire confidence among the parents watching from the gallery.

Fianna Fáil's Peter Power appealed to the Opposition not to assume that those opposing the motion were 'anti-children', saying nobody was absolutely right, or absolutely wrong.

There was derisive laughter from the gallery when Fianna Fáil's Margaret Conlon, a former teacher, referred to children with special needs demonstrating their abilities 'when they play their tin whistles as a group'.

Concluding the debate for the Government, Minister Micheál Martin said the Government did not believe 'one size fits all', because autism is a continuum, and said the idea of a wide range of teaching methods was not a ridiculous suggestion.

Fine Gael Education spokesman Brian Hayes accused Minister Hanafin of having a 'belligerent, authoritarian attitude'.

He urged the Fianna Fáil backbenchers to put pressure on their party leader to 'meet people half way' on the issue.

Deputy Hayes said more could be done, more should be done, and it was up to politicians to listen to what the demand is.