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Special needs association hopes FF protest heckles don't 'distract from issues'

The heckles aimed at Fianna Fáil’s Micheál Martin yesterday were also condemned by the party’s education spokesperson, Charlie McConalogue.

Kevin McDonald and his daughter Emily (8) from Clane Co Kildare pictured at a protest outside Leinster House
Kevin McDonald and his daughter Emily (8) from Clane Co Kildare pictured at a protest outside Leinster House
Image: Laura Hutton/Photocall Ireland

THE SPECIAL NEEDS Parents Association has said it hopes jeers directed at Fianna Fáil during a protest over cuts yesterday don’t distract from the issues at hand.

At a protest outside Leinster House in Dublin last night, which was attended by around 700 people, when Fianna Fáil Deputy Micheál Martin spoke to parents, SNAs and members of disability rights groups, he was heckled by a small number of people in the crowd.

The hecklers shouted ‘Shame on you!’ at the deputy.

Respectful

Today, Lorraine Dempsey of the Special Needs Parents Association told TheJournal.ie that regarding any actions by individuals who were at the demonstration, “we need to be very respectful of there being children there, we need to be mindful that the focus is kept on the issue we were there to raise and not get distracted”.

She said she was disappointed that the jeers could have detracted from why the protesters were there in the first place.

In total, there were 11 demonstrations held across the country to highlight a 10 per cent cut to Special Needs Assistant (SNA) support which parents say will be evident in the coming school year this September.

Around 700 people attended the protest in Dublin and between 100 and 200 people protested at each of the other locations, which included Cork, Ennis, Limerick and Letterkenny.

Cumulatively this led to a better turnout than if one protest had been held in Dublin alone, said Dempsey, which the organisation is extremely happy with.

Dempsey said that they “were particularly heartened by the number of teachers and principals and special needs assistants” that turned up for the national protests.

Fianna Fáil Education Spokesperson Charlie McConalogue welcomed Ms Dempsey’s comments, saying:

It was very disappointing that a small group of political protestors were allowed to disrupt what was a family event and take away from the precious publicity that parents of children with special needs were trying to generate for their cause.

He added that there is “no doubt that there is a lot of anger out there among families with children with special needs and we absolutely respect that”.

But parents also respect the fact that last night’s family event was held to coincide with a Fianna Fáil Dáil motion calling for SNA cuts to be reversed.  They were welcoming of the small Ógra presence who came along to show their support.  The activities of those who were determined to cause disruption reflects no way on the excellent work of the Special Needs Parents Association and should not be allowed to distract from it.

Meeting with Education Minister

Disability groups comprising Inclusion Ireland, Special Needs Parents Association, Irish Autism Action, Irish Society for Autism, Dyspraxia Association, Irish National Council of ADHD Support Groups and the National Parents Council met with Education Minister Ruairí Quinn yesterday.

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Following the meeting, they said that they were told that 10,575 SNA positions exist and that number will be retained, with a further 80 posts to be allocated from September onwards.

With regard to the 10 per cent increase in numbers of children presenting with additional needs qualifying for SNA support, the Minister told them that this only equates to a 2 per cent increase in terms of whole-time SNA posts and falls within the overall cap on SNA numbers, said the groups.

This means that the 2 per cent increase would have to be met within the budgetary allocation of 10,575 posts.

The group said that they were concerned that shared access by children to SNA support “does not in itself address the needs of those children in an appropriate manner”.

They said that this would be evidenced by “trying to meet the needs of 2,000 extra children within the current allocation with the inevitable outcome that shared access to SNAs by children with additional needs will become much more prevalent, leading to a reduction on the quality of support for all children with identified needs”.

Read: Special needs assistant cuts protest descends into FF heckles>

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