Speech by Sinn Féin TD, Aengus Ó Snodaigh during Sinn Féin Private Members Business Motion on Special Needs Education
Despite the denials by the likes of Minister McDowell, Sinn Féin believes that social and economic rights are human rights. This includes the equal right to education, which is not adequately protected in the 1937 Constitution or in Irish law. It IS however a right enshrined in international instruments. Article 26 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights states that everyone without discrimination has the equal right to education. This right is also recognised in Article 13 of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights.
The new draft International Convention on the Protection and Promotion of the Rights and Dignity of Persons with Disabilities develops this further at Draft Article 17, which recognises the right of all persons with disabilities to education. It states that the aim must be the development of the child's personality, talents and mental and physical abilities to their fullest potential, and take into account the best interests of the child, in particular by individualising education plans. It stipulates that states must ensure that all persons with disabilities can choose inclusive and accessible education in their own community, including early childhood and pre-school education. States must ensure the provision of required support, including the specialised training of teachers, school counsellors and psychologists; an accessible curriculum, accessible teaching medium and technologies, alternative and augmentative communication modes, alternative learning strategies, accessible physical environment, or other reasonable accommodations to ensure the full participation of students with disabilities. It states that no child with disabilities should be excluded from free and compulsory primary education on account of their disability. It directs that States ensure that where the general education system does not adequately meet the needs of persons with disabilities, special and alternative forms of learning should be made available. Any such special and alternative forms of learning should reflect the same standards and objectives provided in the general education system, and be provided in such a manner to allow children with disabilities to participate in the general education system to the maximum extent possible. It should allow a free and informed choice between general and special systems, and in no way limit the duty of a state to continue to strive to meet the needs of students with disabilities in the general education system. This draft Convention sets the standard. Sinn Féin have called for this and we welcome it and hope that it will eventually be ratified by Ireland.
But the reality is that despite Governent rhetoric, children with special needs are still not receiving the education which is theirs by right. Families still find it necessary to seek redress in the courts for the failure of the State to meet the educational needs and equal rights of their children. Deployment of teachers is still not based on the right of each individual pupil to have his or her special educational needs assessed, and the right of each pupil to the resources required to ensure that each can reach his or her full potential.
When education is not provided on the basis of everyone's equal RIGHTS, the vulnerable get left behind. This is happening around us every day. In my own constituency for example, I was contacted yesterday by the mother of a four year old special needs pupil in a school in Ballyfermot. This child is being sent home from school early because a Special Needs Assistant is not available to him, despite the recommendation arising from his needs assessment in September 2004. This is totally unfair. It further disadvantages him. It is an act of neglect on the part of the state. It is an act of denial of his equal right to education.
The 1916 Proclamation commits republicans to ensure that all the children of the nation are cherished equally. This is a core task for republicans and the source of our Equality Agenda. Sinn Féin believes in building a rights-based society, an Ireland of Equals in which social and economic rights are fully protected in the context of human rights-based governance. This is why we have recently recommended constitutional amendments including a new article on the rights of the child and a stronger article on the right to education. I also commend the leadership and initiative of former Sinn Féin Minister for Education Martin McGuinness, who made education for people with special needs a priority under his tenure.
I call on other deputies to put aside the politics of condemnation for one night. There is a lot of consensus among us about the rights of our children to special needs education. I commend the Sinn Féin motion because it's not about us politicians. It's not about the rivalry of the political parties. It's about the children and our future. Let's move forward on this together.