Thursday, 1 April 2021
Prime Time Investigates Programme on Department of Health: Statements
Aodhán Ó Ríordáin (Dublin Bay North, Labour)
I agree with others that the Minister of State's presentation showed empathy and an understanding of the issue. The speeches of Ministers sometimes read like national car test reports but the Minister of State's did not. I am, however, stunned that there is no representative from the Department of Education present to hear this debate.
In a properly functioning democracy, families of children with additional needs would not feel as if they are on their own or that they must not only deal with a challenging diagnosis, but also become full-time campaigners at the same time and wage war on the State to ensure basic provisions for their children. In a fully functioning democracy, such families would feel an envelope of care from their schools, the HSE and every Department, all of which would work to lift and empower children in a country which puts children at the centre of everything it does. What we actually have in this country are thousands of families who are completely exhausted because, in addition to dealing with what they have to deal with at home, they also have to campaign for the most basic provision for their children. The waiting lists for interventions and assessments are years long. There is also the absolutely pathetic sight of parents trying to get access to school places for their children only for the special educational needs organiser, SENO, to hand them a list of schools and wish them the best of luck.
The "Prime Time Investigates" programme and the exemplary work of the whistleblower, Shane Corr, expose the contempt the State has for families who are dealing with difficult and challenging diagnoses. There is no envelope of care. We are not all in this together. The child is not at the centre of the conversation. Families will say that it is as if the State is asking them to please go private or to please be quiet and leave it alone. There is no representative of the Department of Education present.
We have heard speeches about how the Minister of Education and the Ministers of State in the Department of Education will choose the side of the children with additional needs in any debate between teachers, SNAs and families with children who have additional needs. They have made such statements but in recent weeks I am pretty sure the only thing I have heard from the Minister of State at the Department of Education with responsibility for special education and inclusion is how strongly she feels about The Kerrymannewspaper. However, she is not here.
This is a classic example of the cultural problem we have in this country when it comes to putting children at the centre of anything. The children and the families are considered to be the problem. If they decide to take on the State, by God the State will find out what it needs to find out about them. How often does this happen? I cannot believe the Department of Education and the Department of Health have said that this is common practice but the Minister of State has said that it is not good enough to say it is illegal if it is wrong.
There are so many people and interest groups pulling and dragging all the time when it comes to debates on education or health. At the centre of all of this should be the children and the State should flip over until it snaps in order to ensure that children can be empowered and uplifted and can fulfil their potential. That never happens in these debates, however. This is not necessarily just a political issue, it is a cultural issue as well. What happens is that the children and the families are made out to be problematic and the State seeks to make sure that no other families will decide to go down a particular road again.
I appreciate the Minister of State attending this debate and I appreciate her empathy. It is a disgusting disgrace, however, that no Minister or Minister of State from the Department of Education bothered to be here to listen to this debate.