Bill sets out to boost Down Syndrome teaching resources

Friday 07 February 2014 19.14
Finian McGrath said children with Down Syndrome can benefit from mainstream education
Finian McGrath said children with Down Syndrome can benefit from mainstream education

Independent TD Finian McGrath has presented a bill to the Dáil to give children with Down Syndrome statutory entitlement to resource teaching hours.

Mr McGrath said children with Down Syndrome can benefit from being in mainstream education.

He said they are currently falling through the cracks because they are not classified as a low incidence disorder.

The bill represents an important step for families and students with Down Syndrome, he said.

Mr McGrath said the Children's Ombudsman had criticised the approach taken by the Department of Education and said it had adversely affected children.

Minister of State for Education Sean Sherlock said the Government is not opposing the legislation at this stage.

He said the Government was taking this position with a view to discussing a new resource allocation model at committee stage.

Mr Sherlock said there was currently a case before the High Court on the issue and he was somewhat limited in what he could say today.

He said rather than fix a flawed system of allocating resource teaching hours, the Government wanted to created a new model.

Independent TD Maureen O'Sullivan said speaking from long experience of working in a school with an open admission policy, she knew the difference resource teaching hours could make.

Sinn Féin TD Michael Colreavy said supports for children with disabilities should be a legal right and not a privilege.

Fianna Fáil's Colm Keaveney said that his party would be supporting the legislation and commended Mr McGrath for his work.

Fine Gael's Regina Doherty said it was wrong that Down Syndrome was not given recognition and that early intervention was vital.

Independent TD Thomas Pringle asked whether the Government's stance was a ploy to keep them quiet on the issue.

Independent TD Clare Daly asked whether the Government would now withdraw its legal case against the parents who are challenging the current system in the High Court and not tie up resources.

Responding, Mr Sherlock said he sincerely took the points raised by the deputies.

Closing the debate, Mr McGrath said he would not be accepting any delays and any more kicking to touch on the issue.

There was cross-party support and they needed to get on with it now, he added.

Twenty years ago, he said, he had to bang on doors to get into schools.

He said he wanted rights and equality done and dusted.