Dáil debates

Thursday, 21 May 2020

Covid-19 (Taoiseach): Statements


2:40 pm

Photo of Catherine ConnollyCatherine Connolly (Galway West, Independent) | Oireachtas source

Ní cúis iontais é don Cheann Comhairle nach mbeidh mé ag díriú isteach ar chúrsaí gailf. Beidh mé ag díriú isteach ar ghasúir le riachtanais faoi leith agus ar scoileanna speisialta atá dúnta le dhá mhí anuas anois. Coicís ó shin, d’ardaigh mé an cheist seo leis an Taoiseach. Bhí sé ionraic agus macánta ag an am agus dúirt sé nach raibh an litir léite aige. Tá súil agam go bhfuil sí léite aige anois. I will not focus on golf today in any event but I will come back to it in a moment in discussing the voices that have been heard relating to golf, construction and vintners. No voice is being heard on behalf of those with a disability. I have often heard it said here that nobody has a monopoly on empathy, which is true, but the Taoiseach has a duty to demonstrate leadership.

Two weeks ago I raised this matter with the Taoiseach and pointed to a letter he had received but he said he had not had the chance to read it. It was redirected to the Taoiseach. I understand he is busy and he has read it since. I do not want to use my words so I will use my few sentences to describe the words that have been relayed to me. The loss of skills being experienced by children and the regression into negative behaviour has been described as "heartbreaking". It is a grim indictment of our nation that education and welfare appears to have been cast aside for six months, if we go to September, without any documented rationale or justification. This goes back to Deputy Shortall's points on how decisions are made and whose voices are heard.

A parent stated that the closure of the schools until September was nothing short of a disaster. An Inclusion Ireland study has pointed out that home schooling is not working.

I will provide three brief examples, the first of which is of a nine year old boy with autism. We want to hear his voice in the Dáil. He is non-verbal and has serious functional issues. When he finally got a place in a special school, he accelerated to being very functional. His routine made him a smiley boy.

Another parent has twin boys who are autistic. One of them attends a special school. He needs and breathes routine, structure and certainty. Parents are living in their own unspoken or unacknowledged hell within the national pandemic.

The final voice is of a parent whose son is 14 years old. He has a diagnosis of autism with global developmental delay. He is non-verbal and incontinent. Directly as a consequence of no attendance at his special school for more than two months, he has become aggressive and self-harms from the moment he wakes up to the moment he goes to bed. His hand is lacerated. As soon as the wound is closed, he opens it up again. He head bangs. He breaks items and so on. He has a sibling attempting to do the leaving certificate.

What voice is there at Cabinet level and on NPHET for these children? Having read the correspondence, I ask the Taoiseach for recognition of the problem and his agreement to a meeting with the parents who have written to him. One has written on behalf of 60 parents. Make our special schools an essential service. Examine what has worked successfully elsewhere. Seriously consider reinstating teachers, special needs assistants and so on.

The Taoiseach mentioned July provision. He has a minute to answer me. Please do not mention July provision again. I accept that it is going ahead and that the Government is looking to extend it. What I want to know is what actions are being taken to open special schools.


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