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Adams Makes final remarks in Assembly

6 December, 2010 - by Pat Sheehan

Sinn Féin President Gerry Adams today made his final contribution in a debate in the Assembly. Today is his last day as an MLA.

Speaking in a debate on an Early Years Childrens Strategy Mr. Adams said:

“I want to speak in support of the motion and to thank the Education Committee for bringing it forward.

‘Mol an óige agus tiocfaidh sí’ is an Irish seanfhocal.

Cherish the young and they will flourish.

There is a wealth of reports, studies, and information to support the wisdom of this proverb and to conclusively prove the value of early years programmes for children.
This period in a child’s life is crucial in its personal, social and educational development.
Basic social skills such as learning to co-operate or to take turns and the development of an emotional vocabulary are also essential to children.

Young children need these skills if they are to develop and function effectively in social settings or in school.

There are also some children who have special needs, for example, children with Aspergers syndrome or autism, who need additional support.

The earlier these children can receive this assistance the better.

So, it is obvious that all children will benefit from early years programmes.
I therefore welcome the Departments draft Early Years Strategy.

The goal of the draft strategy and of the consultation must be to ensure the provision of the best possible services for children and their parents.

This will not be achieved by the Department of Education in isolation.

In the Shankill area of west Belfast nursery school teachers have told me that more than half of their pupils have special learning needs.

This is totally unacceptable and it is crucial that any strategy must bring together all of those providing support for families and children.

The ‘Integrating Service for Children and Young People’ is an excellent example of this approach in west Belfast under the auspices of the Task Force.
Poverty issues, child care provision and protection, and health provision are all matters that extend beyond the remit of the Department of Education, as is acknowledged in the motion.

For example, in the Colin area of west Belfast I am advised that 46% of young children are not registered with a dentist.

There is a model for co-locating services advocated by Edenderry Nursery School on the Shankill which I strongly support. It envisages family support workers, speech and language therapists and health visitors co-located with children on school sites.

This is essential in tackling the impact of poverty and disadvantage on children.
Some young children from disadvantaged families have very limited vocabularies.
When I queried this with nursery school teachers recently to my surprise I was told that this is because the telling of nursery rhymes and stories no longer happens in some families.

I have been told of young children who have coca cola in their feeding bottles.
Not only is this bad for their general health but it also causes tooth decay which apart from the obvious discomfort also affects their ability to speak clearly.

Some months ago I visited Sure Start projects.

I commend the commitment of the staff and the exceptional work they carry out on a daily basis providing help and support for families and children, particularly those who are disadvantaged.

There are many such committed professionals and voluntary and community workers active in supporting children particularly teachers and boards of governors and school staffs.

I want to commend all of them and to argue for a joined up and cohesive approach involving all those sectors and all appropriate agencies and departments.

I also want to advocate the concept of special learning zones to break the cycle of educational disadvantage and I commend this to the Minister.

I know that the Minister is very determined to construct the best Early Years strategy possible and that she is very mindful of the need for a holistic approach to achieving this. I wish her well in this work.

With your indulgence and as this is my last speech in this Assembly, in this phase of my life, I would also like to extend best wishes to my colleagues here.

I want to thank you, your colleagues and especially the Ceann Comhairle for the fair, balanced and inclusive way the business of this Assembly is conducted.
My thanks also to all of the staff, from the cleaners to the admin people, the ushers, caterers, security and the civil servants. Tá mé fíor buíoch daoibhse.

The Assembly is approaching the end of its full term. That is a remarkable achievement given the difficulties that had to be overcome, but of course a Leas Cheann Comhairle this Assembly has to be about delivering for citizens.

The island of Ireland is too small for us to be separated forever by an artificial border. Most sensible people know this and the Good Friday Agreement recognises this.
God speed the day when we will be united.

Today’s debate is an example of the issues that must be tackled if we are to improve the living conditions of citizens and particularly our children. So, good luck to you all in this important work. I commend the motion.” CRÍOCH

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