Monday, 22 February 2021
Ábhair Ghnó an tSeanaid – Matters on the Business of the Seanad
Two weeks ago I spoke here to raise the issue of the digital divide. My colleague, Senator Byrne, said earlier this month that funding of €5.8 million has been allocated to the education and training boards. I very much welcome and appreciate this allocation, which was announced in December. We have not yet discussed how the rural digital divide affects children, young people under the age of 18, children in secondary school and young people in third level colleges. I could read through all of my notes but I will mention specifically children who are living in direct provision and Traveller children. Due to the digital divide, children who are marginalised in this country do not have equal access to education right now. It is very important that this issue is brought to this House.
I welcome the Labour Party's Catch-Up for Children campaign, which aims to fund materials and support marginalised students who have been affected by school closures. I am from a marginalised community. Many people in such communities already have fewer opportunities. I see this every day when I am on the ground with the Traveller community and in rural Ireland. I see young people in rural Ireland not having access. I have raised this matter on a number of occasions at the Joint Committee on Education, Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science and on the floor of this House. I ask every Senator to join me in writing to the Minister for Education as part of an effort to engage in collective action on this issue. We have all spoken about mental health and young people not having freedom. We should give young people the freedom to have access to school, if nothing else. If they cannot be there in person, we need to give them this access. We need to allocate funding to close the gap. With the political will, the gap can be closed.
I ask that collectively, as Senators, we write to the Minister for Education. If that does not work can we ask that the Minister come before the House? We may all have our political differences as different individuals, but every one of us here in this House believes in equality of education. Right now young people in Ireland, sadly, do not have that. This is something on which we have the power to apply pressure in order to close that political gap. I am encouraging Senators to work together, no matter what our political differences are, to make this possible for young people in Ireland. I would greatly appreciate it if the Leader would ask the Minister to attend before the House, even in two or three weeks’ time, if a collective letter from us is not listened to. This is a vital and critical inequality in our society right now and needs to be dealt with.