Government inaction on St. Catherine’s can only be described as insensitive and deeply insulting to Wicklow children with special needs, to their parents and to the staff at St. Catherine’s. Government inaction in response to a request from myself means that key staff could be lost.

St. Catherine’s Special School is outsourcing its transport service from September, in a move that has caused deep concerns for parents, escorts and drivers. I have met with parents in my Wicklow office on several occasions, and a multitude of issues were raised. Senior staff from KARE, who have in depth knowledge of the transport services for Kildare’s special schools, attended one meeting and significant progress was made. This resulted in a meeting with the school for parents, and the creation of a transport manager role.

However, the escorts, who are critical to the care of the children as they are brought to and from school, are now required to apply for their jobs on lower wages and other working conditions. I have written to both the Ministers for Education and Health, seeking short term funding to allow current escorts to keep their current wages and working conditions, even for a time-limited transition phase.

Not only was such funding not forthcoming, but neither I, nor the school have received any response, even though the request was made two months ago.

The children, their parents, and the escorts who do such important work, deserve better than this. The announcement of the change of service was badly handled, and caused an awful lot of concern and anger that could have been avoided. A very modest short term funding stream would have allowed the escorts to stay in situ and provide continuity for the children and their parents during this period of disruption. That we haven’t even received a response is an insult to ever escort, every parent, every child.

St. Catherine’s are currently interviewing for the escort roles, and I have appealed again to the Ministers to provide the funding. Let’s see what happens.