Lack of volunteers could hit summer special needs programme

It is understood that the programme for 10,000 children, which seeks to include those with Down syndrome, is highly reliant on volunteers coming forward and there is a concern not enough have signalled a willingness to do so.
Lack of volunteers could hit summer special needs programme
Joe McHugh, the Education Minister, is to bring a memo to Cabinet for approval for the summer programme.

By Daniel McConnell and Juno McEnroe

The Government’s plan to offer a summer programme for up to 10,000 children with special needs “may not be fully possible” because of a lack of assistants to provide the care, ministers have warned.

The Cabinet is today expected to approve an updated version of the July Provision — the annual summer special needs programme — but ministers have flagged a potential difficulty in securing the co-operation of enough special needs assistants (SNAs).

Education Minister Joe McHugh is to bring a memo to Cabinet for approval for the summer programme but, while it is expected to be approved, it has been admitted that it will be reliant on the goodwill of teachers and SNAs.

It is understood that the programme for 10,000 children, which seeks to include those with Down syndrome, is highly reliant on volunteers coming forward and there is a concern not enough have signalled a willingness to do so.

Fianna Fáil’s education spokesman, Thomas Byrne, has said that clarity must be brought to this issue.

He said it was very concerning that policy is reliant on the goodwill of people who may not be in a position to participate.

“It is leaving it very tight, but parents badly need clarity,” said Mr Byrne.

Mr McHugh said that “any programme will be voluntary in nature, and it will be a matter for individual choice as to whether a school or a teacher feels they can participate”.

The minister said he could not pretend it was a small request to teachers and SNAs. He said those who feel that they can do something over the summer to help in this endeavour should choose to do so.

He said that he will return to Cabinet today to “set out the shape of this year’s summer programme”.

Once the guidelines are announced, parents will have to register with the department, Mr McHugh said.

Meanwhile, Leo Varadkar told the Fine Gael parliamentary party that they are fighting to protect the incomes of middle Ireland in the coalition talks, as well as the roads programme.

Simon Coveney told colleagues that there is still some heavy lifting to be done in the talks, and that matters relating to the economy, transport, pensions, climate, and housing remain outstanding.

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