Former health minister James Reilly has attacked his successor Simon Harris for leaving a bill demanding a national autism strategy "lying dormant" for 18 months.

The senator launched a broadside against his Fine Gael party colleague in the Seanad today claiming that children with autism are losing out because of Government inaction.

Senator Reilly reminded the Upper House that back in July 2017, the Seanad unanimously passed a bill demanding a national strategy on autism. 

He said: "There were no dissenting voices in this house. 18 months later that bill has not moved so much as an inch towards Dáil Éireann. In the meantime, 60,000 families with children with autism mark this passing with anxiety and worry. 

He added: "A year in the life of any child is critical. But a year in the life of any child with autism is even more so because the missed opportunities are difficult to catch up on. The early interventions that they should be having, that they are not having, will impact on them for a long time later into life."

He explained the benefits of early intervention for children with autism. Mr Reilly spearheaded the Autism Spectrum Disorder Bill through the Seanad in 2017. The bill aims to provide for for the development and implementation of a cross-departmental multi-agency autism spectrum disorder strategy.

Mr Reilly, who held the health portfolio at Cabinet from 2011 to 2014, asked why the bill has not gone to Dáil and requested that Minister Harris come into the Seanad and "explain why a bill that got unanimous support and had 77,000 people support a petition for it online, why that bill now lies dormant with no further action on it."

He said: "It really isn't good enough to produce reports on the state of children with autism in the country and still not respect the wishes of this House, the democratic house in relation to the needs of this children and their families."

He added: "I know he has got a lot of other problems on his mind but he needs to come in here and tell us why this bill is not moving. And to be quite honest parents would rather see the bill debated in the Dáil and obviate the need for him come in here at all."

Acting leader of the Seanad, Fine Gael's Catherine Noone said she does not see any reason why the autism bill is not before the Dáil.

She pledged to follow the matter up to find out what is causing the delay.