The true measure of any society can be found in how it treats its most vulnerable members, is an often-quoted saying attributed to Mahatma Gandhi.
If this is true, then Ireland consistently measures up poorly in this regard.
Since the foundation of the State, we have been very remiss in our treatment and respect for our intellectually vulnerable citizens.
And we don’t even have to delve as far back as the horrifically-named ‘mental hospitals’ and ‘lunatic asylums’ of the not-so-distant past.
Our story this week of three mothers coming together to try and establish a second level education option for their young autistic children is a fine example of how the State is failing these most vulnerable citizens.
And, sadly, it’s not a story confined to West Cork. Since the RTÉ Prime Time report on the Milne family in Dublin struggling to find even primary level schooling for their gorgeous twin boys, families all over Ireland have been pouring their hearts out in the media on the subject.
Any parents of autistic children will tell you that resorting to putting their children under the spotlight in order to get a service is always a last resort – a truly desperate measure.
They have enough to be doing just navigating the complexities of everyday life with a challenged daughter or son, without having to draw publicity on themselves, just to get basic needs met.
And resorting to introducing their story to a wider public, and exposing their families in the process, is not a road that any of them choose willingly to go down.
But that is indeed the road that many distraught mothers and fathers feel is a necessary evil when every other avenue has failed.
Government inaction on the needs of vulnerable children is a decades-old failure of our political system. It’s an issue our legislators don’t seem to be able to confront, let alone tackle.
Cynics would say society’s most challenged members get a raw deal because they are too busy fire-fighting the system to vote, and so they are far down the pecking order when it comes to government supports or politicians’ sympathy.
But today’s parents know just how important every vote will be to the major parties come the next election, with an apparent shift taking place in modern voting patterns.
The time is right to strike while the iron is hot, and take action.
But that action should not be a result of voters being so disillusioned with the system that they feel they need to get out and do the work of the State themselves.
It is a very sad state of affairs we find ourselves in.
Just a few months ago, we heard about other parents – in a different part of West Cork – deciding to fundraise in order to get a special needs teacher for their local school – because the government would not provide what the parents felt was required.
And here we are now, with parents so worried about their children’s futures, that they are attempting to plan an entire school to cater for their special educational needs in a few years’ time.
Let there be no mistaking the fact that Ireland is a wealthy country.
We can provide for healthy wages and pensions for our politicians, and our public service is, on the whole, well-funded.
And yet here we are again, denying basic educational rights to those who most need them. What would Gandhi say?