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Government accused of “pretending to support” Down syndrome support bill

The Government did not oppose Finian McGrath’s bill but TDs were concerned that it would get slowed down by Oireachtas committees.


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THE GOVERNMENT HAVE been accused of “pretending to support” a private members bill that would guarantee resource teaching to pupils with Down syndrome in mainstream schools.

Independent TD Finian McGrath presented the Down Syndrome Equality of Access Bill 2013 to the Dáil this morning.

“It’s not something designed to change the world or to give advantage. It’s only designed to fix a glaring anomaly in our system,” he said.

At present, Down syndrome is not listed as being a “low incidence disability” and as such resource teaching hours are not guaranteed, the bill tabled by McGrath sought to fix that discrepancy.

The Government did not oppose the bill and Minster of State Seán Sherlock TD said that it would be allowed to pass directly to committee stage.

I wish to make it clear that the Government does not intend to oppose the bill at second stage today. However, to be clear on the Government’s approach, this bill will now be referred to the Oireachtas Committee on Education and Social Protection where it can be considered in the context of the forthcoming proposals to establish a completely new model on resource teaching in mainstream schools.

Sherlock was representing the Government at today’s debate because the Education Minister Ruairí Quinn and a number of other ministers were in Paris.

But the Government was urged by a number of deputies to ensure that the Oireachtas process would not delay the bill’s enaction, with United Left Alliance TD Clare Daly being most vocal about her concerns.

Daly argued that “all that is needed is the signature of minister Quinn” to recognise Down syndrome as a low incidence disorder. She described it as its “absolutely ridiculous that you need to table legislation to get this addressed”

I honestly thought I was going to be getting up here praising the government for supporting the bill and the next step was going to be to keep the pressure on. But I have to say reading between the lines I am not convinced at all.

“I’m concerned that it’s a stunt to get the backbenchers off your back, to pretend you’re accepting it, to go along with it and kick it into committee. I’m honestly not saying that to have a go or saying it lightly,” she added.

A number of Deputies spoke about the importance of the bill, including its proponent Finian McGrath:

For once actually we can heed the advice from people who actually have experience of it. For once we have the opportunity to actually deal with things we’re elected to do. This legislation is about making a difference on the ground.

“It’s not something that will break the bank more than it already is”, he added.

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Fine Gael TD Regina Doherty asked, “why as a state would we not want to give equal opportunities?”. She read a correspondence from one of her constituents who has a son with down syndrome.

“When he was born I was told that he would be my cross to bear, its is in fact the education system that’s my cross to bear,” it said.

Court case

The case of two mothers who are currently taking court proceedings to challenge the law on resource teaching is due in the High Court next week.

This was mentioned by Sherlock who said it “obviously limits the contribution that I can make on the debate today”.

Clare Daly, however, said that the State should stop the proceedings if they do in fact support the principle of the bill:

If you really are going address this issue and you really are going to shift you policy on down syndrome, will you instruct your legal counsel to withdraw from those proceedings and resolve the issues with the parents involved?

Read: No contest likely on Down Syndrome bill to provide resource teaching >

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