800 protest outside Leinster House at cuts to SNA numbers

ABOUT 800 people protested outside Leinster House against cuts in special needs assistants’ (SNAs) numbers yesterday.

Organised by a range of groups, it was timed to coincide with the visit of the EU/IMF delegation overseeing Ireland’s rescue package.

The protest was also a show of support for the Dáil motion on special needs put forward by the technical group of TDs. The motion was defeated last night by a comfortable margin of 103 to 47.

The previous government capped the number of SNAs at 10,575 in December 2010.

According to the Department of Education, the cap must be met by the end of the year. As a result, there will have to be a reduction of 227 posts in the new school year.

The department has said all schools that enrol children with “significant care needs” as identified in professional reports will have SNA support.

Spokeswoman for the Special Needs Parents Association, Lorraine Dempsey, said: “Inclusion through education can only happen if the right supports are available to a child and a school and if those supports are lacking, coupled with increased class sizes, every child’s education will suffer as a result,” she said.

Chief executive of Down Syndrome Ireland, Pat Clarke, said the group began the process in 1985 where children with an intellectual disability, particularly those with Down syndrome were allowed to attend mainstream school.

“Back then we paid out of our own pocket for the resource teachers to visit the schools.

“We are damned if we are going to allow this Government or any other government use the present economic climate to cut back on those resources that we have fought very hard to get.”

He said the campaign would continue throughout the summer and into next year, if necessary.

IMPACT official Philip Mullen urged Education Minister Ruairi Quinn to fully implement the EPSEN Act (Education for Persons with Special Educational Needs 2004).

“If the act was fully implemented, there would be transparent criteria to assess each child’s needs and an independent appeals system to oversee it.

This would ensure that each child who needs the service would receive it and would help to end the uncertainty that has plagued parents and SNAs at the end of each academic year,” he said.

Meanwhile, a woman was ejected from the Dáil visitor’s gallery after throwing a bottle of water in protest. The gallery overlooks the chamber where TDs sit but glass panels prevent anything from being thrown directly at TDs.

The woman was immediately asked to leave by Oireachtas staff, and she did so voluntarily.


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