Following the cuts to Special Needs Assistants announced early in the summer, the Minister for Education, Ruairí Quinn, announced that there would be a number of Special Needs Assistants held back, to be allocated based on representations and individual need. He has called on TDs to make representations to him on behalf of schools which have lost SNAs and believe their current allocation is inadequate.
READ: Stephen Donnelly’s speech to the Dáil on the Special Needs cuts:
WATCH: Stephen Donnelly’s speech to the parents’ protest on the cuts:
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Speaking in the Dail on the debate on these cuts at the beginning of the summer, Stephen said:
“I spoke to a mother from Bray recently, who asked for her name not to be used: her son, Cian, is autistic and suffers 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, children with special needs, and their parents. While some Deputies may disagree on certain issues, all of us agree that this is an extremely serious issue.
While the Government 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 this 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.
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 in this programme. It has reversed the minimum wage reduction, which is good. It has room for 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 costs 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.
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.