Following a two-day hearing at Dublin District Court, Judge John O’Neill convicted the mother and father of breaching the Education and Welfare Act, and he fined them €400 each.
He said the parents, who claimed their children were sick, had been unable to justify or produce evidence as to why their children, aged from 11 to 15, had been missing from school.
The eldest child missed 87% of his schooldays, 145 out of 167, and another boy was absent on 110 days from secondary school last year. Two of the younger children missed 55 and 52 days at primary school last year. Two headmasters gave evidence during the trial after a prosecution was brought by Tusla, the Child and Family Agency (CFA).
The father claimed the children had not gone to school, as they suffered from asthma and a vomiting bug. The court heard his benefits had been stopped and there was no heating in their rented house.
He disagreed with prosecuting solicitor Dorothy Ware that after he and his wife had financial problems, the school helped by giving them bus passes, books, uniforms, breakfast club and dinner vouchers, and a hamper at Christmas. The school said the meal vouchers would be handled discretely to avoid the children suffering embarrassment.
He claimed the school gave them a secondhand uniform which his son would not wear.
He said he could not make them go to school, adding: “I can’t smack them, the law says I can’t do that.”
The mother said one of the children suffered from depression and has gone to the doctor, but she claimed it could take up to a year before he gets the treatment he needs. She said the children missed school for a variety of reasons: “Mitching”, financial problems, they didn’t like getting up on cold mornings, and they were suffering from asthma.
She said she tried to make them go and stopped them using the internet or phones and had fought with them about their mitching.
It was put to her that one of the headmasters gave evidence of having received just one medical cert.
She claimed doctor’s notes were sent into school when her children were sick, but admitted she did not have any copies of them.
She admitted the school had helped out with books and uniforms and meal vouchers.
Judge O’Neill said the fact it was cold in the morning was no excuse and there was not a shred of medical evidence the children were asthmatic. He said the defendants’ attitude “does not bode well for the children’s future”. He also described as mean and cheap comments made by the mother that an education officer should be fired.
He said the fines must be paid within three months or they will be jailed for a week in default.