March on Leinster House over SNA cuts

TEACHERS, parents and resource assistants will march on Leinster House next week to demonstrate against “inhumane” education cuts affecting children with special needs.

The Alliance Against Cuts in Education (ACE) group has appealed for people from around the country to attend the demonstration, declaring that there were moral, ethical, social and financial imperatives for doing so.

The group, chaired by the principal of Griffeen Valley Educate Together School in Lucan, Co Dublin, Tomás O’Dulaing, described themselves as a “loose umbrella group” whose aim was to campaign against “the immorality of what this government is doing”.

Mr O’Dulaing said that as a school principal he sees on a daily basis the hurt in the eyes of special needs children as their resources, particularly special needs assistance hours, are reduced.

He said in his 31 years as a teacher these cuts are the “cruellest and most inhumane” he has seen.

The number of special needs assistants (SNAs) has been capped at 10,700 under the EU/IMF bailout deal, meaning reduced access to SNAs in some schools and withdrawal of SNAs in others.

Mr O’Dulaing said the cuts were a “shameful attack” by the Government and an example of the “casual brutality” with which those with special needs were “dumped” within the education system.

He said the cuts contrasted with the billions expended in other parts of the economy with parents told that a handful of millions in the education system needed to be saved to prevent the country from becoming bankrupt.

The demonstration next week is designed to raise the issue on the first day of the Dáil term, and Mr O’Dulaing said talks were continuing with members of the Government on the issue of the cuts. He said the planned cuts were “a banker’s solution to a banker’s problem”.

Barbara Brack, whose nine-year-old autistic daughter Robin attends the Griffeen school, asked other parents to attend the protest, as did Tom Murray, whose teenage daughter Eleanor has also used special needs assistance at Scoil Mhuire in Trim.

He referred to the Special Educational Needs Act 2004 which, he said, had never been implemented, something he called “one of the great denigrations of democracy”.

“We have the worst special education regime that it is possible to have and as bad and all as it is we are now seeking to cut back on that meagre provision.”

He said the new system — where the onus is on teachers to spread reduced SNA resources among students — was a “cop out”.

Joan Laverty, an SNA who sued to work at an Educate Together school in Liffey Valley, recently lost her job and said the cuts affected all parents, not just those with special needs children.

“As teachers struggle with their demanding day, they now have to struggle with the extra efforts of having to cope with the crises that may arise.”

Another parent, Rod Johnson, said the state would lose money in the long run by cutting resources now.

Next week’s protest will begin at the Central Bank at 4pm, with plans for a national demonstration on Saturday already in train.

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