Gilmore stance on special needs resources raises hackles

Funding and staff allocation not cut, Tánaiste insists in Dáil

There were heated exchanges and persistent heckling in the Dáil today when Tánaiste Eamon Gilmore told the House there were no cuts in the allocation of resources for children with special needs.

Mr Gilmore said changing how the resources were best used for those in need was “reasonable”.

Fianna Fáil education spokesman Charlie McConalogue accused the Government of targeting its drive for savings in education at “the most vulnerable children in our education system”.

The Donegal North-East TD raised the issue following yesterday's announcement by the National Council for Special Education of a cut in teaching hours from September for children with special needs.


Mr McConalogue said children with special needs faced a 10 per cent cut in resource teaching hours and most children would lose half an hour of resource teaching, while many would lose their allocation.

“Why are children with special needs not being treated in the same way as children in mainstream education by hiring extra resource teachers and special needs assistants to ensure they do not have to endure cuts?” he asked.

“Why is it that the Government are targeting their drive for savings in education at the most vulnerable students in our education system?”

Mr Gilmore insisted there was no cut in funding and no cut in personnel for special needs teaching. He said the budget in 2011 was €1.3 billion, and that had been maintained for 2013. There could be no doubting the Government’s commitment to special needs education, he said.

“For every five mainstream teachers there are two people ... who are specifically dedicated to working with children with special needs.”

The numbers presenting for special needs assistants and resource teachers was increasing, by about 10 per cent.

He said the Minister for Education had published a very detailed policy advice as to how the resources should be allocated and “that’s the first time the allocation system has been looked at in detail for about 20 years”.

Claim withdrawn

Independent TD Finian McGrath intervened and shouted that the Tánaiste was misleading the House and he accused him of lying, a claim he later withdrew.

But Mr McConalogue said the Tánaiste’s response showed “you don’t have a clue as to the impact that this is going to have on special needs students in September. This is going to lead to a half an hour reduction for almost every student in receipt of special teaching hours.”

The Fianna Fáil spokesman said if they applied the Tánaiste’s logic to pensioners and said because there were more pensioners for the same budget, every pensioner would have to take a 12 per cent cut, “nobody would agree that that was anything but a cut”.

Sinn Féin’s Pádraig Mac Lochlainn accused the Tánaiste of engaging in “Orwellian language”.

He highlighted the 1916 Proclamation’s pledge to cherish all the children of the nation equally.

He said those who would be affected were “children with autism, with speech and language difficulties, with multiple disabilities, with severe emotional disturbance, visual or hearing impairments.”

“How come it is children like this who pay the price of austerity?”

He called on the Tánaiste to reverse the decision and not to present it as if “the budget is the same as it has been last year. You know the number of students has been increased. More money has to go into this.”

The Tánaiste insisted, however: “There is no cut. There is no cut in the allocation of money for special educational needs.”

Marie O'Halloran

Marie O'Halloran

Marie O'Halloran is Parliamentary Correspondent of The Irish Times