Gardaí investigate arson attack on Cork autism school

Principal warns of massive disruption to 60 pupils ‘who need structure in their lives’

Gardaí from Mayfield have begun studying CCTV footage which shows two youths climbing over the school fence around 9.25pm while they have also carried door to door inquiries in the area. Photograph: The Irish Times

Gardaí from Mayfield have begun studying CCTV footage which shows two youths climbing over the school fence around 9.25pm while they have also carried door to door inquiries in the area. Photograph: The Irish Times

 

Gardaí have begun an investigation into an arson attack on a school play facility Monday night which caused serious disruption to up to 60 students with autism and other intellectual disabilities in Cork.

Vandals broke into the grounds of Cara Junior School on Banduff Road in Mayfield at about 9.25pm and set fire to a wooden play shed containing specialist toys used by the school’s pupils.

A neighbour raised the alarm and Cork City Fire Brigade responded promptly but the shed and all its contents were completely destroyed, resulting in serious disruption for the school and its pupils.

Principal, Emir Duffy was immediately in touch with the Department of Education to inform them of the fire, but she said that it wasn’t as much the financial cost of the fire as the disruption it has caused.

“The shed itself cost only a few hundred euros as did the toys but it’s the disruption that it causes – it’s incalculable – our pupils need routine and not having the toys could have caused meltdown.

“Fortunately, because it was raining this morning they weren’t expecting to go out to play but if the weather had been dry and they weren’t able to go out, it would have been very upsetting for them.”

Ms Duffy explained that the children, who range in age from four to 12, have a dual diagnosis of autism and intellectual disability with many being completely non-verbal so they need specialist support.

“We have 10 teachers and 31 special needs assistants and that reflects the needs of the children and the level of support that they require as they face many challenges,” said Ms Duffy.

‘Challenging’

“Our children are bound by routine and predictability. That routine and predictability gives them a structure in which they can understand the world because they find the world very challenging.”

The children come from as far afield as Dunmanway, Macroom and Bandon in West Cork and Ballymacoda and Youghal in East Cork as well as from all over Cork city, said Ms Duffy.

Among the toys destroyed in the fire were a specialist play kitchen as well as toy JCBs and trucks, all of which are very robust and sturdy to cater for the children who can have challenging behaviours.

“These children need these toys – whoever destroyed the shed and the toys don’t realise the anxiety that these children are dealing with on a daily basis trying to make sense of their world.”

The school, which was set up five years ago and moved to the specially designed building at Banduff Road two years ago, is due to close for the summer holidays tomorrow, said Ms Duffy.

Local public representative Cllr Ted Tynan of the Workers Party condemned the arson attack and said it was shocking to see such an important facility for such vulnerable people reduced to ashes.

Gardaí from Mayfield have begun studying CCTV footage which shows two youths climbing over the school fence around 9.25pm while they have also carried door to door inquiries in the area.

Investigating officers have appealed to anyone with any information to contact Mayfield Garda station on 021-4558510 or the Garda Confidential Line on 1800 666 111.