Seanad debates

Monday, 29 March 2021

Reports on Department of Health Policy in RTÉ Investigates Programme: Statements


10:30 am

Photo of Gerard CraughwellGerard Craughwell (Independent) | Oireachtas source

I welcome the Minister of State. She is only just in office. Unfortunately, part of her role is to take on issues like this.

When I started teaching, I had a wonderful principal by the name of Jack Griffin. His advice to the teachers he hired was, if they placed the student at the centre of everything they did, they would never have a problem with him. A caring State would place the child at the centre of everything it does. We would drive to deliver the best possible outcome for every child regardless of class, creed or whether the child had special needs.My first question is: why would any parent have to go to court to get what was rightfully their child's care? Why would we do that? How many parents who needed those things simply did not have the wherewithal to go to court? When a person takes on the State, he or she takes on the might and the deep pockets of every Department in the country.

The "RTÉ Investigates" programme, which I watched last Thursday, makes one's blood boil but it is necessary to step back and think logically about what was going on. Citizens of the State were suing the State and it was a multi-departmental lawsuit. In such a situation, I would fully expect that Departments would share information to fight the case. I have already stated they should not have had a case in the first place, but if they were going to court, the defendants have the right to defend themselves and in this case the State has the right to do that. However, looking at the countless things that have arisen in recent years from cervical cancer the full way through, it seems as though the first thing the State does when a case comes in is to pull down the hatches and everyone comes together to see how they can fight it.

The creation of the dossier, to my mind, is perfectly reasonably, but we need to go beyond it and ask what else was involved. According to the programme, doctors, consultants and psychiatrists shared the private information of their patients with a public body. That is not a case for anyone in this House to deal with but for the professional organisations which manage these people. They have codes of ethics and practice. It is my view the professional organisations need to step up and investigate this. If some consultant, doctor, psychiatrist, career guidance counsellor or special needs teacher did something wrong, there needs to be a sanction for that. I do not blame the State for doing what the State does to protect its assets but we need to go further. The programme merely scratched the surface of the denial of constitutional rights to children with special needs. That denial goes right through their lives. Recently, a teacher told me a 15-year-old child was exiting the school system, had absolutely no social skills, and was to all intents illiterate in reading and maths.

I am asking the Minister of State to go beyond where we are today. I wrote to the Taoiseach and Minister for Education at the weekend. We need an audit of everything to do with those children who have been allocated resources by the State, specifically special needs kids in schools. Are they getting every hour that was allocated to them on a one-to-one basis or has there been a misuse of hours? It has been reported to me there is a fraudulent misuse of hours going on in education, both at special needs assistant level and at the teacher level. We need to step into the Department of Education and pursue every single special needs child allocation that has been granted over the past 30 years if necessary and see whether those children received the hours they were entitled to and if they were one to one. I have been told that in some schools there might be, for example, six children assigned three hours of one-to-one education each. Someone might amalgamate the six kids, put them in a room for three hours and now they have had their three hours special needs education and the school has 15 hours to play with. If that is going on, we need to find out and we need to find out right now.If we have denied children their special needs resources, we, as a State, need to step up to the plate. I could say more but I appreciate there are time limits.


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