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Dáil Éireann debate -
Thursday, 9 May 1991

Vol. 408 No. 2

Ceisteanna—Questions. Oral Answers. - Closure of Special Schools.

Pádraic McCormack


4 Mr. McCormack asked the Minister for Education if her attention has been drawn to the fact that her policy of closing special schools and the consequent integration of children into standard primary schools is leading to major disquiet among parents and educationalists; and if she will make a statement on the matter.

I assume the Deputy is referring to the Holy Family School for mildly handicapped children in Renmore, Galway. The position in relation to that school is that enrolments have declined rapidly in recent years and indications are that this trend is set to continue. A consequence of this development is that six of the current ten teachers in that school are due for redeployment and it is expected that there will be further redeployment. In this situation, it was considered that a continuation of Holy Family School no longer represents the best response to the needs of the Galway area.

From the outset, it has been clearly stated that the closure of the Holy Family School would only take place in the context of a wider development programme aimed at meeting the needs of handicapped children in the Galway area generally, including those from the Holy Family School. I remain convinced that the action proposed in relation to the Holy Family School and the implementation of an alternative and more comprehensive support programme in the Galway area, represents a positive development from all concerned and will be seen as such in the years ahead.

The Minister incorrectly assumed that I was speaking about the Holy Family School only — I also had in mind the general policy of closing schools for mentally handicapped children. For example, St. Anthony's School, Castlebar, is also threatened with closure. I will not go through the list of the schools throughout the country which are due to close. This is contrary to the wishes of the parents, both in the case of the Holy Family School, with which the Minister will be familiar, and in all other cases. Despite the fact that the Minister for Education at a recent conference stressed that parents would be consulted about these matters, I ask her if she really means that. Obviously, they were not consulted in the case referred to by the Minister or in Castlebar where the school is being——

The time for dealing with Priority Questions is exhausted. I am sure the Deputy will have regard to that fact and will be brief and relevant.

The school in Castlebar is being closed because it is run-down and the Department do not want to replace it.

Is the Deputy asking questions or answering them?

It is totally incorrect to say that the Castlebar school is being closed or that it is threatened with closure.

Totally incorrect.

I have a whole list here.

That is a totally incorrent statement. The Minister has met the parents and authorities from Castlebar and I have also had discussions with them.

Will the Holy Family School be closed?

We are talking about Castlebar. On a number of occasions I have also met the parents of children in the Holy Family School and I continue to do so.

Since the decision was made.

It is totally incorrect for the Deputy to say there is wholesale closure of special schools. That is not the case. The Department's policy is as far as possible to integrate slow learners into the normal education process, providing the necessary resources for specialist education and specialist services to those children in the normal education environment.

It is not correct to say that there is major disquiet among educationalists about this matter. They are pushing the Department to get on with this development, and we are very satisfied with the positive nature of the development. Only last night I indicated to the Deputy's colleague from Limerick that we are developing speech therapy services in Limerick, and that is also being done in other places throughout the country.

In the case of the Galway school, I wish the Deputy would be a little more responsible in terms of his attitude to the efforts being made there. I assure him that parents have been consulted — and will be consulted——

Why did they picket the convention?

The time has long since passed for dealing with Priority Questions.

We are consulting the parents but, unfortunately, some people are not interested in the positive developments taking place, they are more interested in giving misinformation to parents and the Deputy's last remark shows that he is more concerned about being mischievous——

I read it in the newspaper; I did not know about it until then. If the Minister consults the parents he will not go wrong.

The time for dealing with Priority Questions has been exhausted.

May I reply to Question No. 5?

No, time does not permit. The Chair is bound by Standing Orders and if the House wishes to change them, that is its prerogative.