Sinn Féin - On Your Side

British and Irish governments must prioritise opening of Middletown Centre for Autism in Armagh

5 March, 2005

Sinn Féin representative from Armagh Siobhan Vallely - speaking to motions 184, 185, 186, 187, 188, 189 & 190 on Children & Special Needs said "The children most affected by the shortcomings of both systems are the most vulnerable in our society who need help to access the school curriculum, to develop their skills and reach their full potential as citizens."

The record of the relevant Departments in both parts of this island in providing for children with special needs has been extremely poor. As with many other areas which this section of the Ard Fhéis will debate, there has been a record of consistent historical under-provision and under-funding. That historical deficit has resulted in the growing frustration, anger and dismay that is felt among the parents and primary carers of children with special needs, and widespread concern among teachers, principals and other advocates at what appears to be totally uncoordinated plans regarding existing and future provision for those with special needs. The children most affected by the shortcomings of both systems are the most vulnerable in our society who need help to access the school curriculum, to develop their skills and reach their full potential as citizens.

Time and time again when parents or primary carers contact our Party representatives and activists to lobby on behalf of their children's welfare, the lack of psychological services, speech therapists and occupational therapists and the inability to gain access to those existing services are frequently mentioned. I would also take this opportunity to commend our Sinn Féin Deputies in Leinster House on their introduction to the House of the recent motion on Special Educational Needs.

A common feature for children with special needs is the failure of health and education authorities to work together at a local level to meet the needs of those children. Young people value their school life but need support from school staff and health professionals to manage their condition effectively. Unfortunately, there is considerable confusion about whose responsibility it is to provide support at school for children with special needs. Action is required to ensure effective joined up solutions, in partnerships with the parents/primary carers and the child, which will maximise the educational opportunities for all pupils with special health needs.

This motion before the Ard Fhéis is about real people. It is about families and children who often struggle against the odds and about people with disabilities who demand their right to education. It is about parents and primary carers whose lives revolve totally around their children and the struggle to allow them to reach their full potential. All they ask for are the proper supports and rights that has promised them repeatedly. [Article 24 of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child states that there must be assistance extended free of charge, whenever possible, "to ensure that the disabled child has effective access to and receives education, training, health care services, rehabilitation services, preparation for employment and recreation opportunities in a manner conducive to the child's achieving the fullest possible social integration and individual development, including his or her cultural and spiritual development." ]

To achieve that goal, there must be accelerated investment and effort on the part of all relevant Departments to ensure that people with special educational needs and their parents/primary carers are provided with proper and appropriate services which are timely, efficient and child-centred.

A necessary prequisite to this must be the immediate provision by the Irish and British Governments of all the necessary additional financial, personnel and other resources required to accelerate delivery of the Middletown Centre for Autism, County Armagh, which was initiated by Martin McGuinness in his term as Minister of Education in the Six County Executive.

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