Sunday 18 August 2019

Protesting parents say they won't take no for an answer


AN TAOISEACH Enda Kenny was besieged by protesting parents of special needs children as he arrived at Whites Hotel for a lunch hosted by Coca Cola.

Coca Cola executives who flew in from Atlanta for the event may have wondered whether the protest was directed at them.

However, it was aimed at Mr. Kenny as well as the Minister for Education Ruari Quinn and Wexford's Brendan Howlin, the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform.

Carrying placards with messages that included ' Crucify the Innocent to Balance the Books' and Save Our SNAs', the protesters, mostly women, chanted 'Enda Kenny can't you hear, we don't want your cutbacks here'.

Among the schools represented were Scoil Mhuire in Coolcotts and St. Senan's in Enniscorthy, along with the Cottage Autism Network.

The protestors who also took part in a demonstration outside Dail Eireann in Dublin last week, were voicing their anger over a Government cap on the number of SNAs employed in schools.

An Taoiseach looked uncomfortable when he spotted the protestors but made no attempt to elude the angry gathering.

Accompanied by Government Chief Whip Paul Kehoe and Deputy Liam Twomey, he walked straight over to the group and listened to their complaints for up to 15 minutes.

Rita Brosnan, a parent involved in Scoil Mhuire, said the autism unit which has three teachers, had a review last year and lost six of its 18 SNA's.

'We are asking you as Taoiseach to restore these SNAs. We don't want anything extra. We just want back what we had.'

'We're at the end of our tether. We're not taking no for an answer,' she said.

As she spoke a father shouted in from the back: 'Before the election, you said you would reverse the savage cuts.'

A woman protesting on behalf of St. Senan's school said they lost five SNAs.

'Do you want to put to put our children back into institutions,' asked Ms. Brosnan.

The protestors explained that before the cuts, their children had the one-on-one service of an SNA but now they only have access to a shared SNA.

Some of the parents told the Taoiseach heart-rending stories about their children.

'You can see the courage in my child's eyes. He gets up every morning to a world of words and he has no words,' said one mother.

Another mother with two special needs children said one is a non-stable diabetic while the other is autistic.

Yet another said: 'My son is non-verbal, not toilet trained and he doesn't have an SNA'.

The Taoiseach responded by quietly saying that if a child needs an SNA, they will get it and their entitlement is based on a professional assessment.

' That is where the system is flawed,' countered one of the women while another protestor said every report she received had recommended that her child needed individual assistance but he wasn't getting it.

Mr. Kenny said that reviews showed that there had been a surplus of SNAs in some schools and allocations were made in instances where they were not needed.

An Taoiseach said he understood the feelings of parents. He had been to many units around the country.

'I've listened to this delegation and you are all getting SNAs,' he said.

Mr. Kenny said he would like to tell them that every child will have an SNA and access to the most sophisticated education but he couldn't say that.

' There is no bottomless pit of money.'

Afterwards, at a brief press conference, Mr. Kenny said he understood the frustration of parents and added that this anger was palpable in many places around the country.

He said he had taken the details of two Wexford schools and would be reporting back to them.

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