Special Educational Needs: Motion (Resumed)

Wednesday, 13 July 2011

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 738 No. 3

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The following motion was moved by Deputy Catherine Murphy on Tuesday, 12 July 2011:

every child has the right to equal opportunity through education as enshrined in Article 28.1 of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child;

the State has promised to “assist children with Special Educational Needs to leave school with the skills necessary to participate ... in an inclusive way in the social and economic activities of society and to live independent and fulfilled lives” through the Education for Persons with Special Educational Needs (EPSEN) Act 2004;

the State has failed to fulfil a number of its obligations under the EPSEN Act 2004 as key sections remain unimplemented;

Special Needs Assistants (SNAs) must be allocated on the basis of need, must not be subject to arbitrary recruitment limits that curtail their ability to support the most vulnerable members of Irish society and must be recognised for the vital role they play in the Irish educational system; and

the recent cap placed on SNA numbers and the 10% cut to resource hours for schools is a disgraceful, mean-spirited, short-sighted false economy that will be detrimental to the lives of children with special educational needs, their classmates, their teachers, their families, the SNAs themselves and to Irish society as a whole;

SNAs are fundamental in the development of increased long-term independence for children with special educational needs;

the role of the SNA has, in practice, evolved from a purely support function to incorporate an educational remit that must now be acknowledged;

teachers cannot, in the absence of SNAs, provide the dedicated care that students with special educational needs require in addition to catering to the needs of the entire class; and

there is currently no alternative in the Irish schools system that would eliminate the need for SNAs to deliver pedagogical support to students with special educational needs; and,

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develop a centrally-led strategic and expert approach to educational support provision that takes cognisance of the experiences of users, parents, teachers, SNAs and other resource providers in addition to top-level educational experts;

include parents as educational partners, in any correspondence between schools and the National Council for Special Education (NCSE) with regards to their child and decisions made in relation to the allocation of supports, to ensure transparency within the system;

introduce an Independent Appeals Process which would allow parents to apply directly to the NCSE for learning supports as per the EPSEN Act 2004;

amend the EPSEN Act 2004 to establish a framework of rights and needs-based provision thereby eliminating the need for parents to vindicate the rights of their children through court action;

establish a system of accreditation that would allow SNAs to train and qualify as Learning Support Assistants in recognition of the complex role they play;

end its plans to introduce financial charges for pupils availing of the School Transport Scheme and to maintain existing school transport services;

reverse cuts to learning supports, specifically the 10% cut in resource hours for schools, the planned withdrawal of resource teachers for travellers, language support teachers, rural co-ordinator teaching posts for Delivering Equality of Opportunity in Schools (DEIS) schools and the visiting teacher service for travellers; and

immediately abandon the cap on the number of National Educational Psychological Service (NEPS) psychologists and SNAs.

Debate resumed on amendment No. 2:

“commends the Government for continuing to prioritise the allocation of resources to support the education of pupils with special educational needs;

notes that the Government is continuing to fill special needs assistant posts and resource and learning support teacher posts at a time when a moratorium on filling posts applies in the wider public sector;

notes the level of expenditure on additional dedicated resources for special education of some €1.3 billion which is almost 15% of total education expenditure;

notes that provision has been made for the coming school year for 10,575 Special Needs Assistants (SNAs) which is more than were in place in 2010 and in preceding years;

notes that the number of resource teachers for special needs children in mainstream schools is at an all time high of 9,950;

[583]notes that the cap on Special Needs Assistants was introduced by the previous Government when Ireland entered the Programme of Financial Support with the EU and IMF;

notes the recent review of the special needs assistant scheme and in particular the findings that the scheme has assisted as many students as possible to be included in mainstream schools, that it is contrary to best practice for SNAs to adopt a pedagogical role and that there is a need to clarify the ‘care’ nature of the SNA role for parents, schools and professionals alike;

notes that school transport for children with special educational needs continues to be prioritised and that no charges have been introduced for these pupils; and

recognises that special education will continue to be a priority for the Government and that the considerable provision of resources for special education must be deployed in the most equitable and effective manner possible.”

Deputy Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin: Information on Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin  Zoom on Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin  I fully support the Technical Group’s motion, which is compelling in its call on the Fine Gael-Labour Government to reverse the cuts to services for pupils with special needs. This is a heartless and cruel cut which is being applied across the education system. In its amendment to the motion, the Government notes that “the cap on Special Needs Assistants was introduced by the previous Government when Ireland entered the Programme of Financial Support with the EU and IMF”. Those are words of shame. The support given to children with special needs to avail of their right to education is to be capped. So much for equality. What will happen next? Will a cap be placed on the number of school places in order to accommodate our growing population?

Deputy Jerry Buttimer: Information on Jerry Buttimer  Zoom on Jerry Buttimer  Deputy Ó Caoláin——

Deputy Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin: Information on Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin  Zoom on Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin  That would be regarded as truly outrageous. However, Deputy Buttimer should note that because children with special needs are in a minority, the IMF, the EU and the Government feel they can get away with placing a cap on the right of such children to a proper education. The Deputy’s daily contributions in this House amount to him sniggering and launching snide comments across the Chamber. It is absolutely inappropriate for him to attempt to make such comments in respect of this extremely serious matter.

We acknowledge that there has been an increase in supports for pupils with special needs in recent years. However, this was from a base of zero. The current cuts send out the message that this is a dispensable service and that in the future parents and children can expect a reduced service — if one is provided at all — on which they will not be able to depend.

I commend the schools, parents and umbrella groups throughout the country that have been campaigning in respect of this issue. The Special Needs Parents Association has stated that “This is a crisis for parents of children with behavioural difficulties due to ADD, ADHD, ASD, ODD and many other conditions that lead to behavioural difficulties and it will affect not only them but the entire school population”. As the motion indicates, the recently introduced cap on the number of special needs assistants represents a false economy. Denied the supports they require at a young age, children will require greater and more costly supports in later years. Such supports will be costly, above all, to their families, other carers and the State.

There cannot be a Deputy — irrespective of whether he or she is on the Government or the Opposition benches — who has not been lobbied by a long list of schools, school interest groups, parents and teachers in recent times. During the past week I was lobbied by a number of schools in my constituency. I met parents who are deeply alarmed at the prospect of their [584]children returning to school in September without the essential special needs supports they deserve and should receive being in place.

Deputy Gerry Adams: Information on Gerry Adams  Zoom on Gerry Adams  Cuirim fáilte roimh an rún seo. Is gá go mbeadh páistí i gcroí lár spiorad agus pholasaíár náisiúin. Déantar aon Rialtas ar domhan a thomhas ar an gcaoi ina gcuidíonn sé le gach aon pháiste a chearta foscaidh, bia agus oideachais a bheith aige.

All children should have the right of access to education on the basis of equality, especially in a republic. Equality makes sense. It is key to building a society that is just, inclusive, safe and prosperous. Children who have Down’s syndrome, who are physically disabled, who have learning or behavioural difficulties or who are afflicted with debilitating illnesses, have the same right of access to education as all other citizens. It is an indictment of successive Governments that this is not the norm and that the State tolerates second class status for some citizens.

Society and politicians have a responsibility to ensure that the rights of children with special needs are protected and upheld as legal entitlements. In my constituency, Government policy has left parents of children at Kilsaran national school and other schools deeply concerned that the Minister will deny them the SNAs their children require.

To appease the demands of the troika, the Government has been focused entirely on claiming there are too many SNAs, limiting the definition of special needs, reducing costs and limiting the hours available to children in need. I accept that there are more special needs assistants than ever in employment in this country and that is a good development. However, this is due to the fact that previous Governments and the education system failed several generations of children. More, not fewer, SNAs are required. There is also a need for new legislation to give effect to the rights of children. Greater transparency and accountability are needed in education sector, particularly in respect of the manner in which it responds to children with special educational needs. Sinn Féin wants the Education for Persons with Special Educational Needs Act 2004 to be implemented in full.

Tá sé seo scannalach. Ní hamháin sin ach ní féidir le Sinn Féin glacadh leis an gcinneadh seo. Is cuma anois, má chlaraítear páistí le riachtanaisí speisialta inár scoileanna. Ní bheidh tacaíocht ar fáil dóibh. Cad a dhéanfaidh príomhoidí anois, diúltú páistí a gclarú nuair a thagann siad go dtí Mí Meán Fhómhair? The rights of parents, in particular, must be valued and respected.

Two weeks ago, the Government paid €12 million to senior unguaranteed bondholders in Anglo Irish Bank. That one payment would be sufficient to cover the cuts the Government is insisting on introducing in respect of SNAs and the education sector. The Government’s priorities are wrong and it is making the wrong political choices. I urge Labour and Fine Gael Deputies to do the right thing and support the motion.

Deputy Martin Ferris: Information on Martin Ferris  Zoom on Martin Ferris  I commend the Technical Group on putting forward this motion. I wish to acknowledge the role SNAs play in our society and the tremendous support they give to special children in order that they may enjoy an education. I also acknowledge the role they play in assisting teachers with pupils who receive SNA support at important times in their lives. The importance of SNAs for children with special needs so that they have the opportunity to receive an education cannot be stressed enough.

Over the past number of weeks, I have been inundated with letters and e-mails from parents and special needs assistants. I would like to cite some of these to give a flavour of what having an SNA means to some people. One letter I received came from a mother with a six year old daughter who is due to go into senior infants in September. She says the child needs assistance, supervision and help with toileting and personal care. Her daughter often bites or hits out at [585]other girls in the class, wanders off at the first opportunity and is generally disruptive in class when left without assistance. She needs to be accompanied to the resource room or would wander off without warning. Sometimes she soils herself or removes all her clothes when in the bathroom. She needs an SNA with her to ensure she remains on task and the child’s mother appeals for that support.

Another letter I received was from a special needs assistant. The child she cares for is eight years old and will go into first class in September. This child has cerebral palsy and due to this has reduced strength in one side of her body. She needs assistance with toileting and personal care and also needs assistance getting books from her school bag and with her lunch. She has behavioural problems, more from anxiety and not being able to do something she wants to do. She is also afraid of loud noises and alarms and starts screaming and crying and sometimes has to be removed from the class to calm down. These are just two examples of the many letters and e-mails I have received and are an awful indictment of any Government that inhibits or discriminates against a child and his or her opportunity to enjoy an education.

The most important years in children’s lives are from infancy to the first few years they spend in school because this is when they learn most and thirst for an education. It is particularly annoying when people who claim they have a social conscience allow a lack of support in this regard. People of conscience will ask why the Government should attack special children and deny them the opportunity of receiving an education. A society can only be judged on how it treats its most vulnerable. If this Government proceeds to cut back on funding for special needs, it will be a disgrace. If it does that, it cannot under any circumstances say it is representative of all our people.

Deputy Mary Mitchell O’Connor: Information on Mary Mitchell O'Connor  Zoom on Mary Mitchell O'Connor  I am a qualified primary teacher and a former primary school principal. Outside the Oireachtas today, some of my colleagues and I and the Minister of State, Deputy Ciarán Cannon, met a group formed in 2010 which represents parents of children with special needs. I would like to reiterate here what some of those parents said to us today. They marched on the streets and then came to meet us. Many of the points they made succinctly describe what is happening on the ground.

I would like the indulgence of the House to put on record the criteria for special needs assistance. Circular 07/02 states:

It goes on to say:

When this circular was issued, there were approximately 370 special needs assistants in place, but the same circular still pertains for the appointment of special needs assistants, of whom there are now approximately 10,500 in the system. As a practising teacher, I suggest we need to review that document and make changes to ensure we can provide resources to our children.

There is a misguided belief that an SNA is tied to a child all the way through school. The system must be flexible and the school principal must be able to adapt resources. It is not good practice for a child to be tied to a particular special needs assistant for eight years. It is important that we make our children independent towards the end of their primary school [586]education. Children present with many different types of special needs and we cannot have a “one size fits all” system. SENOs are finding it difficult to make decisions and there is also evidence that there are discrepancies between SENOs in different counties, with the result that more children in some counties get more resource hours than in others, perhaps because of the SENO’s personality or how he or she interprets the rules.

Deputy Paudie Coffey: Information on Paudie Coffey  Zoom on Paudie Coffey  The Department has assured me that the existing level of SNAs in special schools will be maintained and that all schools that enrol children with significant care needs, as identified by professional reports, will have SNA support. The Government is committed to allocating over 10,500 SNAs over the coming academic year, which is an increase of over 7,500 since 2001.

I would like to speak about my experience in this regard. I am the chairperson of a board of management of a national school and I know all too well the excellent work SNAs have done and continue to do. My school will lose two SNAs this year, because the pupils to whom these SNAs were allocated are leaving the school. We must acknowledge reality and admit that in some schools SNAs have not always been doing the work they were allocated to do. Some were assigned to other duties, whether photocopying, assisting with tours and breaks etc. We must be honest about the situation and that is the reason there is a need to refocus and redeploy resources to the children who really need them. No Government Deputy wants to cap the number of SNAs, but we must be aware of the economic reality.

I do not doubt the genuine concerns of parents who came here today to protest or of the many parents around the country with concerns about special needs. However, that does not mean we should hype up or scaremonger on this issue. As mentioned, there are over 7,000 more special needs assistants now than there were eight years ago. A review was carried out and it found there was an over allocation of SNAs in some schools and that we needed to redeploy and refocus resources where necessary.

One issue that has not been mentioned is that the number of resource teachers, who also play an important role in schools in assisting those most in need, has increased by 350 on last year’s number. The Government is committed to ensuring resources are put where they are most needed, particularly with regard to children in education. As a Government Deputy, I will continue to raise the issues on behalf of those children. The Opposition has said these people have no voice, but we were also elected to represent these people and I assure them they will have a voice in Government. They can be assured they have people of experience in place, like the previous speaker, myself and other colleagues. We will assist the most vulnerable and fight their cause within Government.

Deputy Robert Dowds: Information on Robert Dowds  Zoom on Robert Dowds  I am pleased to support the Government amendment. Up to last February, I worked as a teacher in a school for physically disabled children where my two closest colleagues were SNAs. I have never seen such a degree of commitment as I saw from them and the other SNAs in the school. Their dedication, love and care for the children was second to none and was often inspirational to the rest of us. Being a special needs school, it was well served in terms of numbers, with two SNAs assigned to each classroom. There is no question that these colleagues earned their money and did great work on behalf of the children in their care.

Given the country’s economic situation, it is amazing that the Government has managed to retain more than 10,500 SNAs in the school system. I congratulate the Minister on his success in this regard. Having said that, there is a need to review the operation of ancillary services in schools. I say this as somebody who was a practitioner for many years. The role of the SNA is extremely important, but SNAs were appointed in a haphazard way, with those who shouted [587]loudest often getting the most. That was not always appropriate and, in many cases of which I am aware, schools in the most privileged areas were allocated more than their fair share. That issue must be reviewed because the current allocation system is not working. Decisions on the appointment of SNAs should be made by the inspectorate in conjunction with individual schools.

I welcome the increase in the number of psychologists from 178 to 210, although that number must be further increased. When it becomes economically feasible, we must focus as much as possible on improving the provision of information technology, computer equipment and so on in schools.

I reiterate my appreciation of the wonderful work being done by SNAs and urge that the operation of ancillary staff services be carefully examined with a view to ensuring the best deal for children. A good school system is one that is focused on the welfare of the individual child.

Deputy Jerry Buttimer: Information on Jerry Buttimer  Zoom on Jerry Buttimer  I compliment the Technical Group on putting this motion before the House. I offer my support to the Government amendment as somebody who was a teacher, has worked with SNAs, has taught a variety of classes and students and has spent his life volunteering with people with intellectual and physical disabilities. I acknowledge the important work being done by SNAs and their vital role in the education process.

Having said that, we need balance and truth in this vital debate. Let us deal in facts. This debate is about children; it is not about verbosity, garnering media headlines or rising up agitation. We all acknowledge the role played by SNAs in the education system. However, the reality is that no child who requires special needs assistance will be deprived of it. Let us look at it in the overall context of where we are as a society and an economic entity. Despite the recruitment moratorium in the public sector, the Minister has indicated that an exemption will apply in respect of special needs education.

Some 15% of the education budget is allocated to the provision of special education. That is a cause for congratulations. Where a debate is needed is in respect of how we define the purpose of special needs assistants. The previous Government did a poor job of setting up the system of special needs assistance provision. The role of SNAs was defined as assisting teachers in meeting the additional care requirements of students with a disability as well as assisting in other duties of a non-teaching nature. There must be a redefinition of the role of SNAs to align it better with the needs of children.

I am not interested in value for money reports. As a teacher, I am interested in the progression of individual children. I have seen the benefit of special needs assistance and the effects of a lack of such assistance. I have not heard any of the Members opposite comment on where the system is falling down and how it may be rectified. We must have a child-centred approach which makes the student the focus of the learning plan and where progress is tangible and measurable. That is where our attention should be focused rather than standing outside the gate shouting and roaring. If Deputy Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin accuses me of sniggering because I defend the rights of children, then so be it.

Deputy Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin: Information on Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin  Zoom on Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin  I did not accuse the Deputy of that.

Deputy Jerry Buttimer: Information on Jerry Buttimer  Zoom on Jerry Buttimer  I will do so from a position of fact, not from a position of trying to get cheap headlines.

Deputy Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin: Information on Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin  Zoom on Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin  Not at all.

Deputy Jerry Buttimer: Information on Jerry Buttimer  Zoom on Jerry Buttimer  I am interested in students. I make my case as somebody who has spent more than 20 years in the classroom where I have seen the benefit to students of special needs education and resource teaching.

[588]Deputy Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin: Information on Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin  Zoom on Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin  I did not interrupt the Deputy. His problem is that he does not allow other people to speak.

Deputy Jerry Buttimer: Information on Jerry Buttimer  Zoom on Jerry Buttimer  Deal with the facts, Caoimhghín.

Deputy Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin: Information on Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin  Zoom on Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin  That is a fact.

Deputy Finian McGrath: Information on Finian McGrath  Zoom on Finian McGrath  Deputy Jerry Buttimer should resign.

Deputy Paul J. Connaughton: Information on Paul Connaughton  Zoom on Paul Connaughton  Most of those on this side of the House who have spoken have a great deal of experience in this area. My own background before entering politics was as a youth worker with a local national school. Many of the students I worked with were receiving the assistance of SNAs and the benefits of that assistance was clear. The educational experience we provide to these young people will stand to them as they move through secondary school and beyond to third level. It might even be possible to draw up a comparative list showing the benefits of special needs assistance in helping children to enter employment and avoid the attentions of the justice system.

I fully understand how important it is that we retain our special needs assistance structure. As such, I welcome the increase this year in the number of SNAs. I also welcome the fact that 90% have been allocated and the remaining 10% will be allocated when we identify where they are needed. As Deputy Jerry Buttimer said, we must concentrate on what we want to achieve, which is to look after the best interests of children. That must be our focus in all relevant debates in this House. Last evening I accompanied two visitors — both teachers — to the Gallery to observe the first part of this debate. I was greatly displeased when two Deputies remarked in the course of the debate that it was a terrible reflection on the Government that there were only two Members in attendance on this side of the Chamber. I am convinced this issue is paramount to Members on all sides of the Chamber. The low attendance has more to do with the need for Dáil reform than it is a reflection of a lack of interest in the issue we are debating.

I have and will always have a passionate interest in this issue. I very much welcome what the Government has done so far, but there is no doubt that more needs to be done. I accept that we live in tough economic times, but it is not children who should suffer. That should never be the case. I welcome the increase in the number of SNAs to an unprecedented level. Several school principals have told me that what they want to see a is comprehensive review of how we deliver the service. One principal remarked that the notion of clusters, whereby a certain number of SNAs are allocated to a number of schools, simply is not working. That is what we should examine. There must be a greater engagement with parents and principals to deliver the best possible service for young people. That is our primary concern into the future.

Deputy Aodhán Ó Ríordáin: Information on Aodhán Ó Ríordán  Zoom on Aodhán Ó Ríordán  I welcome the Minister’s launch last Friday of a national literacy strategy, which will have a major impact on efforts to tackle educational disadvantage. In other jurisdictions they discuss eliminating and the total eradication of illiteracy. That is the type of language one must use in this country. I feel very passionately, having worked in an area of disadvantage for the past 11 years, that education is the great liberator and the overarching approach of the Department of Education and Skills and this Government must be the elimination of illiteracy and educational disadvantage. I know the special needs assistant, SNA, issue inside out. I know, as Deputy Dowds has said, that there were schools in certain areas of the State that were able to buy resources. Where a school has access to private psychological assessments while another is dependent on the National Educational Psychological Service, NEPS, inevitably what happens is that resources are applied to the school that can buy them and which has access to private assessments while the school, such as the one I taught in, that [589]is dependent on NEPS does not get the same resources. That is an issue. The system has been allowed to go out of all control. No one on this side of the House wants to be in a position where we must defend a cap or talk to SNAs or people who work in schools or their representatives, as I did today. The reality is that if we are trying to target resources at those who need them most, the SNA system has failed in that regard.

Another system that has failed is the general allocation model of special needs hours. I have said a thousand times and have said for the past seven weeks that the general allocation model benefits advantaged children over disadvantaged children because 50% of the resource hours are allocated by the State through the general allocation model which is based on the number of children in a school, not on need. The child in a school of 1,000 students is much more likely to get resource hours than a child in a disadvantaged primary school of 100 children. The system is not working because it is not targeted at those who are most in need assistance. We cannot have an overly emotive view of the SNA and resource hours system without properly analysing whether we are making a real impact in the lives of those who need assistance the most. I have been saying this for years and this is not a political football because we are talking about the children and their needs. I met a delegation from IMPACT and they made some very sensible proposals. I will bring these to the Minister this week and I hope we will be able to get some feedback from him on them.

I wish to comment on making this issue a political football. I think we must be a bit more sensitive about the way we describe each other in this Chamber. Last night somebody in this Chamber called me a hypocrite on this issue. “The Last Word” show with Matt Cooper is still waiting for a return phone call from Deputy Finian McGrath on a debate that I was due to have with him at 6.10 p.m. on Today FM. They are still waiting; the Deputy could not be found. I was ready and willing to debate this issue.

Deputy Finian McGrath: Information on Finian McGrath  Zoom on Finian McGrath  I was on the street with the parents who were protesting. I was with the parents on whom you are imposing cuts. Go on with the waffle.

Deputy Aodhán Ó Ríordáin: Information on Aodhán Ó Ríordán  Zoom on Aodhán Ó Ríordán  I have absolutely no difficulty in talking about this issue on any radio or TV station.

Deputy Finian McGrath: Information on Finian McGrath  Zoom on Finian McGrath  The Deputy supports the cuts. His conscience is at him.

Deputy Aodhán Ó Ríordáin: Information on Aodhán Ó Ríordán  Zoom on Aodhán Ó Ríordán  One cannot vote for a €24 billion bailout of Anglo Irish Bank.

Deputy Finian McGrath: Information on Finian McGrath  Zoom on Finian McGrath  The Deputy is supporting the cuts now.

Deputy Aodhán Ó Ríordáin: Information on Aodhán Ó Ríordán  Zoom on Aodhán Ó Ríordán  The number one item on every budget for the next ten years is €3 billion to Anglo Irish Bank. One cannot vote for that.

Deputy Finian McGrath: Information on Finian McGrath  Zoom on Finian McGrath  The Deputy and his party are in power now. They are in Government.

Deputy Aodhán Ó Ríordáin: Information on Aodhán Ó Ríordán  Zoom on Aodhán Ó Ríordán  Deputy McGrath did a deal with Bertie Ahern and then arrives in this House and talks about hypocrites, meaning those Members who are trying to defend the most vulnerable people.

Deputy Finian McGrath: Information on Finian McGrath  Zoom on Finian McGrath  The Deputy is a phoney and a hypocrite.

Deputy Aodhán Ó Ríordáin: Information on Aodhán Ó Ríordán  Zoom on Aodhán Ó Ríordán  The cost of prostituting his vote and selling his vote to Fianna Fáil is what we are dealing with.

[590]Deputy Finian McGrath: Information on Finian McGrath  Zoom on Finian McGrath  The Deputy was talking about cuts in Opposition and he got elected on the issue. He was talking about cuts in Opposition and now he is implementing them.

A Deputy:  You are a sham and a hypocrite.

Deputy Finian McGrath: Information on Finian McGrath  Zoom on Finian McGrath  You are a phoney.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Information on Michael Kitt  Zoom on Michael Kitt  I must call Deputy Jim Daly.

Deputy Jim Daly: Information on Jim Daly  Zoom on Jim Daly  What has preceded my speaking shows what a populist and emotive issue this can be, good and bad. It is very easy to jump up and down and talk about cuts and vulnerable poor people. It makes for great radio and for great public protest. We must, however, live in the real world and deal with it.

Deputy Finian McGrath: Information on Finian McGrath  Zoom on Finian McGrath  You guys have been doing it for four or five years. So has the Labour Party.

Deputy Jim Daly: Information on Jim Daly  Zoom on Jim Daly  I do worry that Deputy Finian McGrath doth protest too much. May I continue uninterrupted? The cap versus cut is a phrase that needs to be addressed. I speak with a degree of authority on this issue because I speak primarily as a parent of children, which is my primary focus, but also as a former school principal who would have a reasonable knowledge of the working of this system. It is not a cut to the number of SNAs but a cap on the number of SNAs. We are not dealing with infinite resources at any level or in any area and I wholeheartedly support the effort for better deployment of the resources available to the education sector, limited though they may be. I think this particular step is putting a sharp focus on how we deploy those resources across the system to ensure those most in need get the resources they need, a point with which everybody in this Chamber can agree. Any step we take to work towards that must be welcomed, irrespective of our political or populist background or any other background we may choose to come from.

Another issue that has come into sharp focus in this debate is the role of the SNA. This role has been misunderstood and misappropriated for many years since its introduction. In fairness to Deputy Micheál Martin, the Leader of the Opposition, when he was Minister for Education and Science he brought this whole area kicking and screaming into the 21st century. I commend him on that without a shadow of a doubt. We welcome any development that will help students to get a better education during the education process. The role of the SNA has not been understood and the care element has not been appropriated properly. I always make the point to parents and have done so, as a parent and as a principal, that less is often more. Just because resources are available does not mean one avails of them. Taking children in and out of classes, which is separate to the SNA issue, I accept is not always for the best. I think a Government that is spending 15% of its entire education budget on special educational needs must look very carefully at how that money is allocated and how it could be better used.

It is important to hear the truth. An additional 475 posts are to be reallocated in September under an appeals process when local special educational needs organisers, SENOs, will visit schools under the guidance of the National Council for Special Education, NCSE, which I argue is better prepared and equipped to decide where the resources should be going when they are allocated to the schools.

In regard to the €350 million allocated for SNAs, I question how much of this budget is being spent in a way that achieves best value for money. There are many competing demands on the services available to vulnerable children. For example, they may need speech and language therapists. We must grasp the nettle and be more mature about things.

[591]Deputy Arthur Spring: Information on Arthur Spring  Zoom on Arthur Spring  It has been fascinating to listen to all sides of the House over recent days. On many occasions the press have said we have too many teachers in the House. I must bow to the superior knowledge of the teachers and those who work in front-line services. It is very reassuring to know they have an understanding of what it is to have an SNA in the classroom. There has been a great deal of knowledge and wisdom, but there has been empathy from all sides of the House with what people are trying to achieve in society. We are all for protecting the most vulnerable in society and never ever get that wrong in this House.

It is a fact that more money was spent on SNAs in 2007 than in any other year. There was a 20% increase and if we are to continue with the form of politics that has applied heretofore, we will throw money at issues which are emotive and which will get us back into Government. That is not the way it is supposed to be. The funding is not focused and, as some of my Labour Party colleagues have rightly pointed out, the fact that the people with the most money have the most access to SNAs is wrong. This must be done in a leaner, smarter and more focused way. There are facts and figures that speak volumes about the level of support that is in place.

Page 57 of the report mentions a 27% decrease in the number of SNAs. If there are cuts, they will be to the point of 2%, but cuts in the number of SNAs do not mean cuts to services. Everyone has to roll up their sleeves and give 10% more. We are at junk bond status and it cannot be any worse than it is, according to some people, but unfortunately because of bank guarantees and unprecedented levels of financial irregularities in a Government that was around for 14 years, we have been brought to a point of unprecedented mess. We now have to do the heavy lifting and tackle the big issues. Everything must be done better.

Among the very valid points that have been made are that 15% of the education budget goes towards helping children with special needs, the number of resource teachers in schools will rise by 350 in the coming school year, more than 20,000 teacher places on courses in special educational needs were provided in 2010, and special school transport arrangements and schools for students with special needs have all been provided as well. To make this an emotive political football is nothing shy of disingenuous. We are all trying to do the utmost we can for people who have special needs. At all times we must look at a bigger picture and then implement management. This House is not just about legislation any more. It is also about management and getting more from less. This is something that the Technical Group can say it will give the same as before, when it has the advantage in society and it has the advantage economically. Fianna Fáil gave a 20% increase.

Deputy John Halligan: Information on John Halligan  Zoom on John Halligan  Deputy Spring should be sitting with Fianna Fáil.

Deputy Arthur Spring: Information on Arthur Spring  Zoom on Arthur Spring  There were enough Members on the other side of the House who supported the mess which was created.

Deputy Finian McGrath: Information on Finian McGrath  Zoom on Finian McGrath  Deputy Spring’s conscience is getting to him.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Information on Michael Kitt  Zoom on Michael Kitt  Some three minutes remain.

Deputy Andrew Doyle: Information on Andrew Doyle  Zoom on Andrew Doyle  I will make three points in the three minutes remaining. I welcome the debate. Special needs support for children, whether learning support, speech and language therapy or special needs assistants, has come a long way. We must put this matter in context. We have come a long way from the time when children were left behind, put in a corner and not understood. I say this as someone whose mother was a remedial teacher for two primary schools in Rathdrum, County Wicklow 30 years ago. These schools consisted of 400 pupils, which indicates the level of special needs education available to those children at the time. Ten years ago, we had 3,000 SNAs in the system and we now have 10,500. Was 3,000 enough? Probably not. Has the percentage of children requiring SNAs increased at the same rate as the [592]number of SNAs in the system? Probably not, there was probably a point where we reached equilibrium but it has been manipulated since. There are enough SNAs in the system for every child under the criteria. Are they being allocated correctly to those children? Maybe not.

My second point concerns a proper appeals system. Currently, if a child is assessed and it is determined that the child does not need an SNA, the decision is appealed to someone who is in the same office as the person who made the initial decision. It is not the same person but they usually share the same office. That is not fair to the person who makes the decision, the child or the parents. We must set up an independent appeals mechanism that is inexpensive and transparent and offers some level of comfort. Inevitably, the fate of some children is decided in this manner, which is not correct. There are subjective opinions from time to time and others may not see the wood for the trees.

With 450,000 people unemployed, is there a role for people in the classroom and the school other than as an SNA and a teacher? This can give some value to jobseeker’s benefit and a person can learn a skill and be of assistance. It can be called work welfare and it is worth discussing. I do not accept that there is not a role. Community employment schemes engaged people outside the classroom and there may be roles for people in the classroom.

There are enough SNAs under the cap to provide SNA support for every child in the system. Deputy Clare Daly can wag her head all she likes but the facts remain. If she does not accept that, she is trying to muddy what has been put forward as logical and sensible debate.

Deputy Finian McGrath: Information on Finian McGrath  Zoom on Finian McGrath  I could paper my office with the letters I received.

Deputy Clare Daly: Information on Clare Daly  Zoom on Clare Daly  Deputy Andrew Doyle should meet some of the parents.

Deputy Finian McGrath: Information on Finian McGrath  Zoom on Finian McGrath  Who are the people at the gate?

Deputy Andrew Doyle: Information on Andrew Doyle  Zoom on Andrew Doyle  They are fuelled by people such as Deputy Finian McGrath irresponsibly manipulating people’s emotions.

Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett: Information on Richard Boyd Barrett  Zoom on Richard Boyd Barrett  The Government just does not get it.

Deputy Andrew Doyle: Information on Andrew Doyle  Zoom on Andrew Doyle  Here is the idealist. We do not get how to manipulate people’s emotions.

Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett: Information on Richard Boyd Barrett  Zoom on Richard Boyd Barrett  The Deputies opposite get obfuscation, smoke and mirrors and justification but they do not get the issue or the concerns expressed by parents of the most vulnerable children in our society. The reason there was a protest tonight is that the Deputies in the Technical Group have been inundated with calls from desperate parents since we were elected to Dáil Éireann. The parents, some of whom are sitting in the Visitors Gallery, said they do not know if their children would have the education they need in September. When they first came to us, they were unsure but in the past few weeks they have found out that their children will not have the education they need and deserve as a right because hundreds of schools have received letters saying they will not receive the special needs assistants they sought or the educational support they sought.

Deputy Jim Daly: Information on Jim Daly  Zoom on Jim Daly  SNAs do not provide education. Deputy Boyd Barrett does not know what he is talking about.

Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett: Information on Richard Boyd Barrett  Zoom on Richard Boyd Barrett  In my area, a school that sought three additional SNAs was given a cut of three. It is down six SNAs compared to what it needs. This Government does not get all of the nonsense about cuts, quarters and caps. Some 10,000 additional children come [593]into our education system every year. Either we provide for them and for their education as a matter of right or we use excuses about the EU-IMF, the programme we have signed up to, economic realities, being in a straitjacket and all the nonsense we get from the Government. The Government is in a straitjacket because it made a decision to adhere to a programme that is stripping this country of the services it needs to look after our most vulnerable children.

Deputy Paudie Coffey: Information on Paudie Coffey  Zoom on Paudie Coffey  How would Deputy Boyd Barrett fund it?

Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett: Information on Richard Boyd Barrett  Zoom on Richard Boyd Barrett  Members opposite can keep heckling because they do not care about the parents or the children. They just want to heckle and score political points.

Deputy Robert Dowds: Information on Robert Dowds  Zoom on Robert Dowds  How dare you.

Deputy Colm Keaveney: Information on Colm Keaveney  Zoom on Colm Keaveney  How dare you. That is rubbish. It is scandalous. Deputy Boyd Barrett should go away with his rhetoric.

Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett: Information on Richard Boyd Barrett  Zoom on Richard Boyd Barrett  In the Children First guidelines, which the Minister says the Government will implement as a matter of legislation, it says that neglect can be defined in terms of an omission “where the child suffers significant harm or impairment of development”, including intellectual stimulation or a lack of. It continues:

This is defined as neglect and the guidelines suggest neglect should be a criminal offence. If Government Deputies say the provision of special needs assistants and support will be governed by caps and quotas, not rights as demanded by the guidelines, they are engaging in criminal neglect of children. How else can they explain that people who need supports have been denied them in the past number of weeks? Are Deputies saying that is not happening? Are they saying the parents who contacted us are lying, or are out there for no good reason? They asked us to do something and as public representatives we feel duty bound to do so. When the Deputies opposite were in opposition, they were saying exactly the same.

Deputy Finian McGrath: Information on Finian McGrath  Zoom on Finian McGrath  Hear, hear.

Deputy Colm Keaveney: Information on Colm Keaveney  Zoom on Colm Keaveney  Deputy Finian McGrath was Bertie’s boy.

Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett: Information on Richard Boyd Barrett  Zoom on Richard Boyd Barrett  The Minister of State, Deputy Brian Hayes, stated:

Deputy Colm Keaveney: Information on Colm Keaveney  Zoom on Colm Keaveney  Deputy McGrath was Mary Harney’s boy.

Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett: Information on Richard Boyd Barrett  Zoom on Richard Boyd Barrett  They do not want to hear their own words. That is the problem. This is another U-turn. Just think about the devastating consequences on the lives of young children whose education is a right. Our society will pay the price for this. Deputies opposite are not listening but if they think we are stirring it up now, they should wait until they see what is coming.

Deputy Paudie Coffey: Information on Paudie Coffey  Zoom on Paudie Coffey  Is that a threat?

[594]Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett: Information on Richard Boyd Barrett  Zoom on Richard Boyd Barrett  The only message I have is to encourage people to get out and protest to hold these people to account for the promises they made and which they are betraying. It is a scandal.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Information on Michael Kitt  Zoom on Michael Kitt  There should be no interruptions and speakers should speak through the Chair.

Deputy John Halligan: Information on John Halligan  Zoom on John Halligan  I heard two expressions tonight that I should not be shocked at. One came from a Fine Gael Member. He said: “when we know where the special needs need to go”. Does he not know that? Second, he referred to leaner and smarter. I heard that phrase used last year on the bench opposite. To me, leaner and smarter always means job losses.

(Interruptions).

Deputy John Halligan: Information on John Halligan  Zoom on John Halligan  That is what the Members opposite are talking about.

At the demonstration outside these Houses today by the many hundreds of people who came from all around the country I noticed one placard which read: “If you tolerate this, then our children will be next”. I thought about that from the stand where I was speaking and I asked myself what have we tolerated. We have tolerated gambling and robbery from the banks. We have tolerated greedy developers deliberately inflating house prices, corrupt politicians, austerity measures that have driven hundreds of thousands of people into poverty, lies and more lies, broken promise after broken promise from the previous Government and now from this Government. Whatever little faith people have in politics is evaporating as a result of what the Government is doing. They were put into power because people did not want to hear any lies or the broken promises as they had heard for the past 15 years, but that is what the Government has done. Thousands of irate citizens have not yet marched on this Dáil and as a result the Government believes it can get away with destroying children’s lives. If they were marching because of all the other broken promises made years ago that placard —“If we tolerate this then our children will be next”— would be relevant.

The Government is waging war on the less well off in society, and the most vulnerable people in society at present are children with special needs. Does the Government seriously believe it will get away with vicious cuts such as these? Members opposite are telling me there are no cuts.

Deputy Robert Dowds: Information on Robert Dowds  Zoom on Robert Dowds  What nonsense.

Deputy John Halligan: Information on John Halligan  Zoom on John Halligan  Boards of management across Waterford were notified by letter last Friday week that no junior infants class will be allocated special needs assistants in the coming school year except where the behaviour is extremely challenging and dangerous. At a meeting in Waterford last Monday night hundreds of parents, children, special needs assistants and teachers thronged into the Tower Hotel because they got those letters and know what is coming down the line.

If the Labour Party was even half socialist it would not contemplate doing this. All it has to do is read its party manifestos year after year which state that it would protect the most vulnerable in society. They should stand up now and tell me——

Deputy Aodhán Ó Ríordáin: Information on Aodhán Ó Ríordán  Zoom on Aodhán Ó Ríordán  There are 10,500——

Deputy John Halligan: Information on John Halligan  Zoom on John Halligan  Tell me now that the cap, even if it is only on the number of special needs assistants, will not affect the most vulnerable in society.

Deputy Aodhán Ó Ríordáin: Information on Aodhán Ó Ríordán  Zoom on Aodhán Ó Ríordán  It does not protect——

[595]Deputy John Halligan: Information on John Halligan  Zoom on John Halligan  They should hold their heads in shame.

(Interruptions).

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Information on Michael Kitt  Zoom on Michael Kitt  There are just two minutes left. Deputy——

(Interruptions).

Deputy John Halligan: Information on John Halligan  Zoom on John Halligan  On three occasions——

(Interruptions).

Deputy John Halligan: Information on John Halligan  Zoom on John Halligan  ——they used the expression “value for money audit”.

(Interruptions).

Deputy John Halligan: Information on John Halligan  Zoom on John Halligan  I ask them to put a measure on value for money against the education of a child. That is exactly what they are doing.

High quality education is the single most important building block if we are to find a base for economic recovery and avoid social breakdown. If the Members opposite continue on the path they are on and hitting the most vulnerable in society, social breakdown is exactly what they will get and much more to go with it.

Deputy Aodhán Ó Ríordáin: Information on Aodhán Ó Ríordán  Zoom on Aodhán Ó Ríordán  That is not——

Deputy Maureen O’Sullivan: Information on Maureen O'Sullivan  Zoom on Maureen O'Sullivan  Central to the issue we are discussing, namely, the education of children with special needs, is the core principle of integration and inclusiveness in our education system and that we support a system which includes children with special needs — physical, mental or both — Traveller children and foreign national children.

There are children with special needs who in the past have gone to special schools or to units within those schools. I want to recognise the great work being done by the St. Michael’s House schools and schools like the one for the visually impaired on Gracepark Road. Those schools and those units must maintain the current levels of funding.

However, in the past decade or so, and longer in some cases, in schools such as my own school, St. Mary’s, Baldoyle, there has been an acceptance of the philosophy of integration to include all students with special needs. That philosophy is included in the Education for Persons with Special Educational Needs Act 2004 which states:

The Education Act 1998 contains a commitment to “a level and quality of education appropriate to meeting the needs and abilities” of citizens. In that regard we have the theory, the philosophy, the policy and the legislation and all of that must be honoured.

The special needs assistant scheme dates back to the introduction of child care assistants which came about in the 1979-80 school year. That acknowledged that there were children who needed extra support if they were to realise their potential, especially in classes of more than 20. The system of providing for children with special needs requires a radical overhaul and the first step is to put the needs of the individual child at the core.

The Department of Education Circular 07/02 states that the duties of the SNA sanctioned by the Department are of a non-teaching nature. I wish to make two points on that. The SNA [596]is in the classroom with a child. The child is struggling to understand an idea, a concept, a sum or a word. In theory, the SNA should say, “I cannot help you; that is not a care need” but I have seen the work of SNAs who have the total care of the child central to their work, and total care means physical, emotional, intellectual and educational.

In recent years the PLCs have introduced courses to equip special needs assistants with the knowledge and skills they need and in that regard I dispute the concept of limiting the work of the special needs assistant purely to care.

In my teaching years I have also seen the difference an SNA makes to the child and in the majority of cases they go beyond the remit of the role. Some children will need a full-time assistant, others a part-time assistant. For others it may be temporary or the needs could be reduced over the course of the time the child is in school. It all depends on the needs of the child, and that is where the emphasis must be placed. The needs of the child should determine the system, not the other way around.

Regarding other aspects I believe must be part of the overhaul, if the SNA is absent what happens to the child? It has happened that the child may be asked to stay at home and not come to school. If the child with special needs is absent, what does the assistant do in those circumstances? Flexibility is needed and, unfortunately, our system is much too rigid. That also applies to schools which are over quota. The child with the SNA who has special needs is still in that school, regardless of the quota position.

  8 o’clock

The school I taught in was totally inclusive. We had Traveller children, children with special needs — mental and physical — and foreign national children. All were welcome. We used the resources we had within ourselves and within our school to work with those children to the best of our abilities. I resent those schools that say they cannot take a child with special needs because they do not have the resources. The Department of Education and Skills figures consistently show provision for special needs and other minority pupils is glaringly absent in many fee paying schools.

The Department has found €100 million for fee paying schools. It also found capital payment for fee paying schools——

Deputy Finian McGrath: Information on Finian McGrath  Zoom on Finian McGrath  Hear, hear.

Deputy Maureen O’Sullivan: Information on Maureen O'Sullivan  Zoom on Maureen O'Sullivan  ——while we are causing such stress and grief to parents of special needs children in realising the needs of their children.

Deputy Finian McGrath: Information on Finian McGrath  Zoom on Finian McGrath  The Members opposite should do something about that. They are in power.

Deputy Maureen O’Sullivan: Information on Maureen O'Sullivan  Zoom on Maureen O'Sullivan  Parents of special needs children need support and assurances that the needs of their children will be met by the State and not threatened by the State. Special needs covers a wide spectrum as Members are aware. The work of the special educational needs organiser, SENO, with parental and teacher involvement, is vital in determining the needs of the child.

On a purely economic level, if these cuts come in they will impact on the other children in the classroom. The SNA will be going on social welfare. If we support these children now in equipping them for the future, in many cases they will not be dependent on the State.

Deputy Finian McGrath: Information on Finian McGrath  Zoom on Finian McGrath  Hear, hear.

Deputy Luke ‘Ming’ Flanagan: Information on Luke 'Ming' Flanagan  Zoom on Luke 'Ming' Flanagan  I know we are a good Opposition but we are being painted as some sort of geniuses. Apparently we have manipulated people’s minds. We somehow man[597]aged to convince all of those people to come onto the street today on the basis that something bad would happen to their education system. Having spoken to some of the people in the Gallery earlier, they are the last people in the world whose minds could be manipulated. I look forward to the day when many of them are sitting in this Chamber representing themselves because those people’s minds will not be manipulated.

Deputy Finian McGrath: Information on Finian McGrath  Zoom on Finian McGrath  Hear, hear.

Deputy Luke ‘Ming’ Flanagan: Information on Luke 'Ming' Flanagan  Zoom on Luke 'Ming' Flanagan  I have heard about the expertise of teachers, as I have heard about the expertise of our Minister for Health in health, but as a parent I am an expert on this area as well from the point of view of my eight year old and six year old children who will be seriously affected by this measure. I am an expert also because as a public representative I have had principals of schools — I must have manipulated them to get them to do this — break down and cry in front of me. I found that awkward and did not really know what to say to them. I am astonished they were behaving as they did because I was supposed to be manipulating their minds. I would love to know how I managed that. They did not come here for the craic but for one reason only, that is, they are disgusted and very unhappy with what is coming down the line.

I understand money is very important, apparently more important than anything in this world. If it is that important, why not do the calculations on the negative financial impact on the country of the Government’s actions? For example, my eight and six year old daughters will not be as well-educated as they would be if the cuts were not made. The cuts will affect their ability to contribute to society. The cuts will affect the contribution to society of children with special needs. They will affect us financially and are, therefore, not smart.

The Government tells us there is nothing it can do and that it does not run the country any more because it is being run by the IMF and European Union. It states it will not be able to do anything about the debt and asks where the money will be obtained. Why does it not prioritise? How about not digging up any more footpaths unnecessarily in my town or county this year and putting the money saved towards special needs assistance? Parents will put up with and dodge the cracks in the footpaths to get to school rather than have no special needs assistants. It is a question of investing in our future and speculating to accumulate. This is a concept that the Minister of State, as a former member of the Progressive Democrats, will understand. If one invests, one gets a dividend down the line.

I know the Government would love the special needs assistants to emigrate to solve its problem, but not everyone will do so. Therefore, the Government will have to pay those remaining social welfare and rent allowance and it will have to give them medical cards, and rightly so. Would it not be better to leave the special needs assistants in the system, where they would not cost a lot more, and thereby help to develop society for the future?

I agree with the motion with regard to the school transport system. It must be maintained. Without a shadow of doubt, the Government will create circumstances in which parents will not be able to bring their children to school. The Government’s approach is another penny wise and pound foolish solution. Parents will no longer be able to work because they will have to give up their jobs to bring their children to school. The Government will lose tax revenue and will have to pay for those parents. Why not let the parents keep working and collect their tax to pay for all the required services?

There is one thing for sure: we are not manipulating anybody. Special needs assistants are not an insatiable mob. Reference is made to the increase in staff from 3,500 to 10,500 and that 11,000 will be sought by parents next year and 12,000 the year thereafter. It is asked whether they will ever be happy. It is incorrect to make these assumptions because the truth is that the parents want their children to grow up and fulfil their potential. They are not making their [598]demands because they comprise a manipulated, insatiable mob, as the Government is suggesting.

Deputy Thomas Pringle: Information on Thomas Pringle  Zoom on Thomas Pringle  I commend my colleagues in the Technical Group on tabling this motion on the cuts affecting special needs assistants. Parents of children with special needs must struggle all their children’s lives to ensure services are made available to them. They must struggle to get bureaucrats, the HSE and Government to listen and take on board their struggle for services. I refer to the struggle for physiotherapy and occupational therapy, for example. Parents of children with special needs must struggle throughout their children’s lives because they want the best for them. They want their children to be able to achieve as much as they can in society.

It seemed that, through the special needs assistance system, some respite was available such that parents could obtain the assistance needed by their children in mainstream schools. In a proper society, we would plan ahead and know the number of children requiring special needs education. Every year, 8,000 to 10,000 children enter the primary school system. Of these, 400 to 500 have special needs and require assistance. We know this, yet the Government cannot plan for it. A proper society would ensure supports are available for children with special needs when they enter school. That is the crux of this problem.

It has been mentioned by the Deputies on the Government side that the system is broken and needs to be fixed. I do not see any attempt to fix the system; all I see is a cap and an attempt to save money with a view to responding to the IMF, ECB and EU. The Government is tipping its hat at these stating it is well behaved, Ireland is not Greece, it is doing everything it has been told to do and it is making things work. It is time this stopped.

The Government, in its amendment, notes the cap on special needs assistants was introduced by the previous Government. Since I was elected to this House in February, I have been sick to death hearing every problem laid at the door of the previous Government. The current Government is responsible and was voted into power by the people in February with a view to bringing about change. The Government promised to be something different but has not been. It continues to behave as its predecessor did. It has morphed into Fianna Fáil. The Labour Party and Fine Gael are now Fianna Fáil. The transition has been shocking. The Government lays blame continuously but should take responsibility. The time is coming quickly in which it will be held to account and responsible for what it has done.

In 1846, Thomas Davis wrote, “Educate that you may be free”. That is vital. Mr. Davis encouraged the Irish to educate themselves to bring about freedom. What we and parents of children with special needs advocate is the education of their children. Children with special needs face many barriers in life but if they can obtain a proper education, it can ease their burden. That is all their parents are asking for. It is the least that children with special needs deserve.

Deputy Shane Ross: Information on Shane Peter Nathaniel Ross  Zoom on Shane Peter Nathaniel Ross  I wish to share time with Deputy Tom Fleming.

An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: Information on Michael Kitt  Zoom on Michael Kitt  Is that agreed? Agreed.

Deputy Shane Ross: Information on Shane Peter Nathaniel Ross  Zoom on Shane Peter Nathaniel Ross  I am puzzled by this debate. I come to it not as a natural protester or one who speaks from the backs of lorries. Today was the first time this happened to me. I do not come here as one who allies naturally with Deputies Higgins, Boyd Barrett and others, yet I believe what the Government has been saying is extraordinary. I echo the words of Deputy Flanagan in saying nobody has been manipulating those who tabled this motion. It is not what is called a political football.

[599]I, who am new to public lobbying of this sort because I come from the rarefied area of the Seanad, had a number of people contacting me spontaneously about this issue. There is no doubt that they came to me because they were sore, felt betrayed and were emotional and in need. They did not just come from my constituency but from all over Ireland. They came today from all over Ireland. The suggestion this is some sort of fantasy manipulated by others is utterly wrong.

I sympathise with the Government in the fact that it must make cuts. Of course that is its philosophy and of course it must make cuts, but the motion is a political football in the sense that one must make choices, as stated by a member of the Labour Party. The Government’s choice is to make cuts in the area of special needs.

The Government line is that its financial difficulties are inherited from the previous Government and the constraints are imposed by the IMF and European Union. That is unadulterated rubbish because the Government proudly went back to the European Union and said it had a jobs initiative and was able to effect change in minor ways. This is very small in terms of the IMF-EU package. There is no doubt that the Government could have returned to the IMF and European Union when it was renegotiating the deal, as it said it did, and stated its priority was not only jobs but also vulnerable children. It could have demanded that the required €10 million, €20 million or even €40 million be taken from somewhere else. The IMF would have asked where the Government wanted the money to go. Constructive suggestions would have been made on where cuts could have been made. If the Government had said it wanted to cut 1% of the FÁS budget and secured that cut, the savings would have paid for the special needs assistants. However, it did not. Instead, it says it will live with this because it can blame Fianna Fáil for it. Of course it can blame Fianna Fáil for it but it has inherited this mantle and accepted it and it is running with it. The Government could cut back in other areas such as the EPA. Every week there is public waste, and the EPA was exposed at the weekend by a newspaper with which I have an association. There has been spending galore on unnecessary things. Why can the Government not cut back on this? The subvention given to CIE is unexplained; there is no transparency.

Deputy Luke ‘Ming’ Flanagan: Information on Luke 'Ming' Flanagan  Zoom on Luke 'Ming' Flanagan  Hear, hear.

Deputy Shane Ross: Information on Shane Peter Nathaniel Ross  Zoom on Shane Peter Nathaniel Ross  Why can the Government not cut back on this? Instead, it takes the easy option and wants to blame Fianna Fáil. This is something for which Fianna Fáil may take the blame but the Government, as Deputy Pringle rightly stated, will become Fianna Fáil-lite unless it differentiates itself on issues such as this, which are on a humanitarian level extremely important.

Deputy Tom Fleming: Information on Tom Fleming  Zoom on Tom Fleming  It is for very good reason we have the current quota of special needs assistants, SNAs, to provide vulnerable and disadvantaged children an opportunity to develop their educational skills to an acceptable level. Depriving these children at a vital time in their lives of the maximum support and assistance will adversely affect them for the rest of their lives, particularly in their ability to lead an independent lifestyle as they mature to adulthood.

Health and safety is a prime aspect of the role of SNAs. I am aware of one school in which during a 15 minute break an SNA must give meals and assist up to six children in the bathroom. This SNA is stretched to the limit and the situation is not acceptable.

The average salary of an SNA before tax and deductions is €24,000. Therefore, approximately €17,000 is the net wage. If an SNA is removed and becomes unemployed it will cost the State a substantial amount of that €17,000 in social welfare. It is not logical to remove an SNA as a cost-saving measure.

[600]I know the Minister of State, Deputy Ciarán Cannon, is doing his level best on school transport but perhaps he will reconsider and amend the proposals for cuts in the school transport system. Very rural areas which are remote and inaccessible and where no other transport is available will be affected. It will put people in a very precarious position. I ask the Minister of State to utilise the private and rural transport bus service.

Minister of State at the Department of Education and Skills (Deputy Ciarán Cannon): Information on Ciaran Cannon  Zoom on Ciaran Cannon  I thank the members of the Technical Group for allocating their time to this very important issue. It provides me with an opportunity to reassure all parents of children with special educational needs that their children will continue to have access to an education appropriate to their needs. Over the course of this debate last night and this evening, speakers from both sides of the House have spoken passionately of the importance of the special needs assistant scheme to the lives of children with special care needs as they progress through their education in our schools.

It is notable that while the special needs assistant scheme enjoys the fullest support from all sides of the House, the debate has essentially focused on the practical and prudent measures the Government is taking to manage this very considerable and important resource. If we set aside for one moment the substantial financial crisis that has befallen the country, and even the terms of the programme for recovery which we are committed to implementing, it is clear that even in a more favourable financial climate it would be unthinkable that we would continue to support the allocation of special needs assistants without rigorous controls in place. The measures being implemented are nothing more or less than what is necessary to ensure the proper governance of this very costly resource. These measures will ensure that SNAs are allocated only where they are genuinely needed and that they are withdrawn where they are not needed.

No scheme, particularly one which accounts for such a large share of the Department’s annual budget, could be operated without limits as some Members opposite suggest. No scheme can operate without the appropriate controls and rigorous and diligent planning to ensure it meets the needs of those it serves and provides the best possible value for taxpayers’ money.

Many Opposition Deputies clearly accept the findings of the recent value for money and policy review of the SNA scheme which pointed to an over-allocation of SNA resources in some cases. Some Members make the case this provides an opportunity to extend the role of SNAs beyond a care role to possibly include teaching support. I want to be clear there are no plans for the expansion of the SNA scheme beyond its current purpose. The value for money and policy review is very clear in this respect. The care role envisaged for the SNA needs to be understood by schools, professionals and parents. SNAs should not be used to supplement teaching or as therapeutic support for students. The National Council for Special Education allocates separate additional teaching expertise to provide the additional teaching support needs for these children.

The number of learning support and resources teachers provided by the Department for the coming year has increased by 350 over last year. The simple and unavoidable fact is that in the coming year, the Department will commit €1.3 billion in support of children with special educational needs. This provision, which represents 15% of the overall budget for the Department, is in line with expenditure and is clear evidence that despite the current economic difficulties, funding for special education has not been cut. It is worth repeating that line for those who perhaps do not want to hear the truth or find it more politically beneficial to ignore the truth. Despite the current economic difficulties, funding for special education has not been cut.

[601]The commitment of the Government to the protection of front line services for pupils with special educational needs is without question. The Department will continue to improve the measures necessary to manage this very substantial resource. We believe that diligent and rigorous management of these resources is in the best interests of the service, of our schools, of parents and, most importantly, of all our children.

Deputy Joan Collins: Information on Joan Collins  Zoom on Joan Collins  When I first entered the Dáil I said “welcome to the coalition of cuts” and this has been vindicated given what we have just heard. I listened to Government backbenchers speak on this motion and laud the fact that the amount of SNAs has been increased to 350 and capped at 10,572. This is a nonsense argument and they know it. The number of hours allocated to each school to support children with special needs has been cut by 10%. The Department of Education and Skills has made provision for only 9,950 learning support resource posts this year. This will not meet the demand.

The capping of the number of SNAs at 10,572 means children with a wide range of special needs will at best have to share the services of an SNA whereas previously they would have had exclusive access. At worst, children will lose their SNA. The reality is not what the Government is saying. The school on Mourne Road, which is a DEIS band 2 school, has lost 1.33 SNAs as the number has reduced from 6.33 to five to cover seven classes. Is this not a cut? The number of SNAs at Drimnagh Castle boys school has been cut from 9.5 to six. Is this not a cut? The number of SNAs at Scoil Bhríde in Dublin 6 has been cut from two to one to cover an autistic child and a child with very special needs. Is this not a cut? The number of SNAs at St. Gabriel’s in Ballyfermot has been reduced from six to five to cover seven children with two more children with special needs due to attend the school. Is this not a cut? The school has also lost a resource teacher for Travellers and between ten and 12 Traveller children attend the school. Is this not a cut? The visiting teacher service for Travellers is to be abolished in September. Is this not a cut? To say these are not cuts is a lie. The Ombudsman for Children has strongly criticised the targeting of Traveller education. Waiting lists for psychological assessment and speech and language therapy are a national disgrace, as Government Deputies themselves stated only five months ago while on the Opposition benches. Principals and parents have pointed out that children are facing cuts and their needs will not be met. It was terrible to meet people at the protest outside the House today who believed the Government would protect them. The Government asks us not to make this an emotive issue. When parents must face the prospect of their children not receiving the resources they need the issue becomes emotive.

Deputies on this side have been accused of not offering choices. The cost of reversing the proposed cut, after taking into account the reduction in social welfare costs and increase in taxation revenue generated by special needs assistants, SNAs, would be €20 million. Where can this sum be sourced? There is a choice to be made because choices are always available. I am not proposing a revolutionary cut in the IMF-EU bailout fund. Every year, €100 million is paid to elitist, fee-paying schools. Why is this money not invested in educational resources for those who need them? This is a clear choice facing the Government. Where does the Labour Party stand on it? The Minister should match needs with resources and stop hiding behind the IMF and Fianna Fáil.

Deputy Joe Higgins: Information on Joe Higgins  Zoom on Joe Higgins  The Minister states that funding for special needs is not being cut and thereby covers up the truth that the resources available for schools are being greatly diminished because thousands of extra children are pouring into the education system every year. The reality lies in the examples Deputies have cited from their respective areas. In the greater Blanchardstown area, the fastest growing area in western Europe with a population of 100,000, schools were cynically told about the cuts only days before they broke up for the summer. [602] Between them, two primary schools in the area will lose 4.5 English language support teachers and two special needs assistants. This is a grievous cut which will leave the 360 students in one of the schools in question, Scoil Mhuire junior, with one special needs assistant. While the weasel words that children have access to special needs may be true, if 1,000 people have access to one pint of water, it will not go around very far. The Government uses words to cover up the reality of what it is doing.

The cuts will have serious effects on the general school population by virtue of additional disruption and distractions which will take place for teachers and the broad student population and, unfortunately, in terms of those special needs students who, as a result of not receiving the support they need, will not make the advances they could make, will subsequently fall through the cracks in society and, in a minority of cases, will fall into a life of crime. This will come at a terrible cost to the individuals in question and society.

What is truly shameful is the choice that is being made. The Labour Party-Fine Gael coalition continues the previous policy of transferring billions of euro of the resources of Irish people and taxpayers into the coffers of private banks to pay off their private gambling debts arising from insane speculation in the Irish property market and makes a priority that they must be paid, while cutting services for our most vulnerable people. For Labour Party Deputies to use the chaos caused by the system of speculation in the financial markets as an excuse for implementing cuts and standing behind the Government is pathetic. How they have forgotten the great socialist, James Connolly, who, in simple words 100 years ago, pointed out how capitalism is inherently a system of crisis and therefore a system that, on a regular basis, visits misery upon society and the working class, in particular, the poorest.

Deputy Colm Keaveney: Information on Colm Keaveney  Zoom on Colm Keaveney  It is Deputy Ross’s system.

Deputy Joe Higgins: Information on Joe Higgins  Zoom on Joe Higgins  What we see at present is but the diseased financial system that are the European financial markets? The gamblers and speculators therein, faceless, unaccountable and unelectable, are given such enormous power by the political establishments in all the countries of the European Union that they dictate economic policy, including savage cuts in society such as services to children with special needs. Members of the Labour Party will troop into the lobbies and bend the knee to this economic dictatorship.

The Government has a choice. It is the choice to say it will not implement this rotten system but will fight it and change the financial system by demanding that the financial institutions are brought under public ownership and the democratic control of the people of Ireland and Europe and the economy remade in order that resources are not used for gambling and private profiteering but for investment in social objectives for society and the creation of tens of thousands of jobs here and millions of jobs in Europe. This is how we recreate and remake a society that can afford the services we need, whether in health or education or to take care of our more vulnerable children. That is the choice. Unfortunately, the Government has chosen to continue to worship the dictatorial market system, the result of which is what is happening to our children and services.

Deputy Stephen Donnelly: Information on Stephen Donnelly  Zoom on Stephen Donnelly  It was amazing to see hundreds of people on the streets today. They were parents, children, special needs assistants, teachers and principals. This was a day on which to be proud of the Irish people who are faced with what we all agree are horrendous cuts. I spoke with a lady named Carol and her daughter, Katie, who is deaf. With the use of technology and the assistance of her special needs assistant, Katie is fully integrated in mainstream education and will, I hope, have a fantastic education. I spoke to another mother from Bray, who asked for her name not to be used, and her son, Cian, who is autistic and suffers [603]from attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. The only way Cian can go to school is with the special needs assistant he has been allocated for two hours each day. Although his mother had to give up her job to mind him for the rest of the day, Cian is thankfully able to attend school as a result of the introduction of special need assistants and the policy of mainstreaming. His mother is waiting to be informed of whether Cian will have support in September.

Today’s protest made clear that cuts to special needs assistants affect the most vulnerable in society, namely, the parents of children with special needs and their children. While some Deputies may disagree on certain issues, all of us agree that this is an extremely serious issue.

I propose to address the Government amendment, on which the House will divide in a few moments. While the amendment focuses exclusively on positives, of which there have been many in recent years in the area of special educational needs, it does not get to the heart of the reason the Technical Group tabled the motion and certainly the reason I chose to become involved in it. This is the decision to cut 272 special needs assistant posts. I have spoken to some of the SNA teachers who will lose their posts. The amendment does not acknowledge the fear felt by many people. Today’s fantastic protest featured face-painting, balloons and good speeches but there was also fear. I am disappointed the Government amendment and the Minister of State, Deputy Sherlock, did not address this fear and wish the Government would do so.

The Government is hiding behind the International Monetary Fund. Its amendment states that Dáil Éireann “notes that the cap on Special Needs Assistants was introduced by the previous Government when Ireland entered the Programme of Financial Support with the EU and IMF”. The Government has made great play of its decision to change various measures. It has reversed the minimum wage reduction, which is good. It has room to manoeuvre in this instance. Therefore, I ask it to stop hiding behind the IMF on this issue.

There are many teachers, former teachers and principal teachers in the House and I bow to their superior knowledge of the intricacies of the special needs assistants scheme and the various changes that could be made to make it even better. My background is in financial analysis and public sector reform and my observations are as follows. With regard to the allocation of money, 272 SNA posts cost approximately €10 million a year. When one factors in the social welfare costs associated with the 272 people being made redundant, we are probably talking about a saving of €5 million a year. Next September the Government will write a cheque for €706 million to unguaranteed, anonymous Anglo Irish Bank bondholders. That cheque would pay for the 272 posts for the next 140 years. In terms of priority, I urge the Government and plead with it to look at the very small costs involved, the real fear among families and the real benefit that extra €5 million could bring and change its position.

This should be a good news story. Fantastic changes will be made in the next few years. Changes have been suggested in the Chamber today that need to be made. However, this is turning very quickly into a bad news story. What could be fantastic is turning into a cut on the most vulnerable in our society that does not need to be made. I say three things to Government Deputies before they vote on the amendment: first, they should stop hiding behind the IMF on this issue; second, they should acknowledge the pain and fear being caused by the proposed cut of 272 posts; and, third, they should, please, reallocate the funding, as it is a tiny amount of money.

Today’s protest was something of which to be proud. We should be proud of SNAs, the system and its potential. Therefore, I urge the Government to reconsider its position and reinstate the SNA posts. It is within its power to do this. A small amount of money could make a huge difference. Let the parents, principals and teachers know now in order that they do not spend the next few months wondering if children will be able to attend school in September.

[604]Amendment put.

The Dáil divided: Tá, 103; Níl, 47.

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Níl
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Tellers: Tá, Deputies Emmet Stagg and Paul Kehoe; Níl, Deputies Aengus Ó Snodaigh and Catherine Murphy.

Amendment declared carried.

Question put: “That the motion, as amended, be agreed to.”

The Dáil divided: Tá, 103; Níl, 45.

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Information on Colm Keaveney  Zoom on Colm Keaveney  Keaveney, Colm. Information on Paul Kehoe  Zoom on Paul Kehoe  Kehoe, Paul.
Information on Alan Kelly  Zoom on Alan Kelly  Kelly, Alan. Information on Enda Kenny  Zoom on Enda Kenny  Kenny, Enda.
Information on Seán Kenny  Zoom on Seán Kenny  Kenny, Seán. Information on Seán Kyne  Zoom on Seán Kyne  Kyne, Seán.
Information on Anthony Lawlor  Zoom on Anthony Lawlor  Lawlor, Anthony. Information on Ciaran Lynch  Zoom on Ciaran Lynch  Lynch, Ciarán.
Information on Kathleen Lynch  Zoom on Kathleen Lynch  Lynch, Kathleen. Information on John Lyons  Zoom on John Lyons  Lyons, John.
Information on Michael McCarthy  Zoom on Michael McCarthy  McCarthy, Michael. Information on Shane McEntee  Zoom on Shane McEntee  McEntee, Shane.
Information on Nicky McFadden  Zoom on Nicky McFadden  McFadden, Nicky. Information on Dinny McGinley  Zoom on Dinny McGinley  McGinley, Dinny.
Information on Joe McHugh  Zoom on Joe McHugh  McHugh, Joe. Information on Michael McNamara  Zoom on Michael McNamara  McNamara, Michael.
Information on Eamonn Maloney  Zoom on Eamonn Maloney  Maloney, Eamonn. Information on Peter Mathews  Zoom on Peter Mathews  Mathews, Peter.
Information on Olivia Mitchell  Zoom on Olivia Mitchell  Mitchell, Olivia. Information on Mary Mitchell O'Connor  Zoom on Mary Mitchell O'Connor  Mitchell O’Connor, Mary.
Information on Dara Murphy  Zoom on Dara Murphy  Murphy, Dara. Information on Eoghan Murphy  Zoom on Eoghan Murphy  Murphy, Eoghan.
Information on Gerald Nash  Zoom on Gerald Nash  Nash, Gerald. Information on Derek Nolan  Zoom on Derek Nolan  Nolan, Derek.
Information on Michael Noonan  Zoom on Michael Noonan  Noonan, Michael. Information on Aodhán Ó Ríordán  Zoom on Aodhán Ó Ríordán  Ó Ríordáin, Aodhán.
Information on Kieran O'Donnell  Zoom on Kieran O'Donnell  O’Donnell, Kieran. Information on Patrick O'Donovan  Zoom on Patrick O'Donovan  O’Donovan, Patrick.
Information on Fergus O'Dowd  Zoom on Fergus O'Dowd  O’Dowd, Fergus. Information on John O'Mahony  Zoom on John O'Mahony  O’Mahony, John.
Information on Joe O'Reilly  Zoom on Joe O'Reilly  O’Reilly, Joe. Information on Jan O'Sullivan  Zoom on Jan O'Sullivan  O’Sullivan, Jan.
Information on Willie Penrose  Zoom on Willie Penrose  Penrose, Willie. Information on John Perry  Zoom on John Perry  Perry, John.
Information on Ann Phelan  Zoom on Ann Phelan  Phelan, Ann. Information on John Paul Phelan  Zoom on John Paul Phelan  Phelan, John Paul.
Information on Pat Rabbitte  Zoom on Pat Rabbitte  Rabbitte, Pat. Information on Dr James Reilly  Zoom on Dr James Reilly  Reilly, James.
Information on Michael Ring  Zoom on Michael Ring  Ring, Michael. Information on Brendan Ryan  Zoom on Brendan Ryan  Ryan, Brendan.
Information on Alan Shatter  Zoom on Alan Shatter  Shatter, Alan. Information on Sean Sherlock  Zoom on Sean Sherlock  Sherlock, Sean.
Information on Róisín Shortall  Zoom on Róisín Shortall  Shortall, Róisín. Information on Arthur Spring  Zoom on Arthur Spring  Spring, Arthur.
Information on Emmet Stagg  Zoom on Emmet Stagg  Stagg, Emmet. Information on David Stanton  Zoom on David Stanton  Stanton, David.
Information on Billy Timmins  Zoom on Billy Timmins  Timmins, Billy. Information on Joanna Tuffy  Zoom on Joanna Tuffy  Tuffy, Joanna.
Information on Liam Twomey  Zoom on Liam Twomey  Twomey, Liam. Information on Leo Varadkar  Zoom on Leo Varadkar  Varadkar, Leo.
Information on Jack Wall  Zoom on Jack Wall  Wall, Jack. Information on Brian Walsh  Zoom on Brian Walsh  Walsh, Brian.
Information on Alex White  Zoom on Alex White  White, Alex.  


Níl
Information on Gerry Adams  Zoom on Gerry Adams  Adams, Gerry. Information on Richard Boyd Barrett  Zoom on Richard Boyd Barrett  Boyd Barrett, Richard.
Information on Dara Calleary  Zoom on Dara Calleary  Calleary, Dara. Information on Joan Collins  Zoom on Joan Collins  Collins, Joan.
Information on Niall Collins  Zoom on Niall Collins  Collins, Niall. Information on Michael Colreavy  Zoom on Michael Colreavy  Colreavy, Michael.
Information on Barry Cowen  Zoom on Barry Cowen  Cowen, Barry. Information on Sean Crowe  Zoom on Sean Crowe  Crowe, Seán.
Information on Clare Daly  Zoom on Clare Daly  Daly, Clare. Information on Pearse Doherty  Zoom on Pearse Doherty  Doherty, Pearse.
Information on Stephen Donnelly  Zoom on Stephen Donnelly  Donnelly, Stephen. Information on Tim Dooley  Zoom on Tim Dooley  Dooley, Timmy.
Information on Dessie Ellis  Zoom on Dessie Ellis  Ellis, Dessie. Information on Martin Ferris  Zoom on Martin Ferris  Ferris, Martin.
Information on Luke 'Ming' Flanagan  Zoom on Luke 'Ming' Flanagan  Flanagan, Luke ‘Ming’. Information on Seán Fleming  Zoom on Seán Fleming  Fleming, Sean.
Information on Tom Fleming  Zoom on Tom Fleming  Fleming, Tom. Information on Noel Grealish  Zoom on Noel Grealish  Grealish, Noel.
Information on John Halligan  Zoom on John Halligan  Halligan, John. Information on Seamus Healy  Zoom on Seamus Healy  Healy, Seamus.
Information on Michael Healy-Rae  Zoom on Michael Healy-Rae  Healy-Rae, Michael. Information on Joe Higgins  Zoom on Joe Higgins  Higgins, Joe.
Information on Billy Kelleher  Zoom on Billy Kelleher  Kelleher, Billy. Information on Seamus Kirk  Zoom on Seamus Kirk  Kirk, Seamus.
Information on Michael Kitt  Zoom on Michael Kitt  Kitt, Michael P. Information on Pádraig MacLochlainn  Zoom on Pádraig MacLochlainn  Mac Lochlainn, Pádraig.
Information on Finian McGrath  Zoom on Finian McGrath  McGrath, Finian. Information on Mattie McGrath  Zoom on Mattie McGrath  McGrath, Mattie.
Information on Michael McGrath  Zoom on Michael McGrath  McGrath, Michael. Information on John McGuinness  Zoom on John McGuinness  McGuinness, John.
Information on Sandra McLellan  Zoom on Sandra McLellan  McLellan, Sandra. Information on Michael Moynihan  Zoom on Michael Moynihan  Moynihan, Michael.
Information on Catherine Murphy  Zoom on Catherine Murphy  Murphy, Catherine. Information on Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin  Zoom on Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin  Ó Caoláin, Caoimhghín.
Information on Seán Ó Fearghaíl  Zoom on Seán Ó Fearghaíl  Ó Fearghaíl, Seán. Information on Aengus O Snodaigh  Zoom on Aengus O Snodaigh  Ó Snodaigh, Aengus.
Information on Jonathan O'Brien  Zoom on Jonathan O'Brien  O’Brien, Jonathan. Information on Maureen O'Sullivan  Zoom on Maureen O'Sullivan  O’Sullivan, Maureen.
Information on Thomas Pringle  Zoom on Thomas Pringle  Pringle, Thomas. Information on Shane Peter Nathaniel Ross  Zoom on Shane Peter Nathaniel Ross  Ross, Shane.
Information on Brendan Smith  Zoom on Brendan Smith  Smith, Brendan. Information on Brian Stanley  Zoom on Brian Stanley  Stanley, Brian.
Information on Peadar Tóibín  Zoom on Peadar Tóibín  Tóibín, Peadar. Information on Robert Troy  Zoom on Robert Troy  Troy, Robert.
Information on Mick Wallace  Zoom on Mick Wallace  Wallace, Mick.  

Tellers: Tá, Deputies Emmet Stagg and Paul Kehoe; Níl, Deputies Aengus Ó Snodaigh and Catherine Murphy.

Question declared carried.


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