Amendment No. 131 has already been discussed with amendment No. 120.
Education for Persons with Disabilities Bill 2003: Report Stage (Resumed).
I move amendment No. 131:
In page 16, to delete lines 9 to 12.
I move amendment No. 132:
In page 16, lines 11 and 12, to delete "1 week from the making of the decision" and substitute "2 weeks from receiving the request".
I move amendment No. 134:
In page 16, line 17, to delete "consider" and substitute "hear".
This is a drafting amendment. It is provided elsewhere in the Bill that the appeals committee will hear, as oppose to consider, an appeal. This amendment will bring this provision into line with the rest of the Bill. A Member brought this point to our attention on Committee Stage.
I move amendment No. 135:
In page 16, between lines 40 and 41, to insert the following:
"(b) any statement or description of their child’s special educational needs as set out in the education plan,”.
The Minister changed the Bill in this regard on Committee Stage. Prior to that parents could appeal against any statement or description of their child's special needs in an education plan or against any other statement or description. They are now restricted to appealing the discharge of duties by the council or the school on the basis of these statements. This is a small but important difference. In other words, they cannot appeal on the basis of the statements in the plan but only on the basis of the manner in which the council or schools implement them. The root of the problem parents may have with an education plan may be based on descriptions or assumptions made in it, but if the council and the schools are implementing the plan accordingly, the right to appeal will be lost because they cannot appeal against inaccurate descriptions in the plan.
This change made on Committee Stage is a step back for parents' rights. I ask that it be addressed. If the statement or description of the child's needs is wrong, then however well the duties of the council or the school are discharged, the system will break down.
This amendment is unnecessary given that what the Deputy is trying to achieve is already included in section 12(1)(a). That section already permits an appeal against the council or a school principal on the ground that a statement or description in an education plan is incorrect or inadequate. What the Deputy is trying to achieve is already contained in that section. For that reason I do not intend to accept this amendment.
I move amendment No. 136:
In page 16, between lines 42 and 43, to insert the following:
"(b) the failure to include any particular action or service in an educational plan, or”.
This amendment relates to parents appealing what is contained in an education plan. I want to insert "the failure to include any particular action or service in an educational plan" as one of the conditions under which parents can appeal. Currently, they can appeal against the description of their child's needs and the failure to carry out action specified in the plan but they cannot appeal against the exclusion of a particular action they deem to be necessary for their child, if that is not included in the plan.
I want to ensure that parents will be able to appeal if they feel that a particular action that is needed for their child is not included in the child's individual plan.
This is covered in section 12 (1)(a) which provides that parents will be able to appeal an incorrect or inadequate statement or description in an education plan. The objective of Deputy O’Sullivan’s amendment No. 136 is covered in the Bill.
A description of the child's needs is not the same as the actions which are required to address those needs. My amendment is trying to include a reference to "any particular action or service". I ask the Minister to consider my point and to respond before I decide whether to press my amendment.
I will consider the Deputy's suggestion before the Bill is sent to the Seanad. I believe that her demand is catered for under the existing section 12(1)(a). I will examine the matter before the Seanad considers the Bill to ensure that it is fully covered.
I will not press the amendment in light of the Minister's promise to consider the matter. He has been quite good about accepting amendments.
Amendments Nos. 137 and 138 are related and may be discussed together, by agreement.
I move amendment No. 137:
In page 16, line 47, to delete "2 months" and substitute "4 weeks".
The Minister has proposed in the Bill that the appeals board will "hear and determine an appeal" within two months of receiving it. It would be better to reduce the timescale because two months is a long time in the life of a child with special educational needs. We propose a period of four weeks, or one month, as a reasonable amount of time. I ask the Minister to examine my proposal and to respond to it.
We had a good discussion on the matter on Committee Stage. We agreed that we did not want children to lose out in any way if it could be avoided. The Deputy will note that we have introduced a number of amendments on Report Stage on foot of our concerns. One of the amendments, if accepted, will ensure that children will receive the services that are not in dispute in the assessment. Children will not therefore lose out. If an appeal is ongoing, whatever is agreed should be provided. If the basis for the appeal is the provision of extra services, assuming such services are the only matters under dispute, the child's plan will be put into effect immediately. I have examined the time limits carefully since last week. In light of the potential complexity of what might be dealt with, as well as the amendment to which I have referred, it is better to retain the maximum timescale in the Bill. I ask Deputy Stanton to accept that I have met the concerns we expressed. Amendment No. 138 is a drafting amendment to correct a grammatical error.
I accept what the Minister has said. I agree with him that these matters can be quite complex. I accept his comments about his acceptance of proposals in this regard. I would like him to consider an issue when the Bill is before the Seanad. I agree that a maximum period of two months might be needed in some cases. Can the board be encouraged to make determinations "as soon as possible", or "at the latest within two months" to provide a sense of urgency? One should not have to wait for two months, as one must with planning permission applications.
I hate to make such an analogy. It is not right that people do not do something until the last minute when they have to do it. I am not sure if it is in order to suggest the inclusion in the Bill of a phrase such as "as soon as possible". I would like section 12(2) to state that the appeals board would hear and determine an appeal "as soon as possible, or at the latest within two months". Perhaps the Minister will take this suggestion on board when he takes the Bill to the Seanad.
I will examine that.
I move amendment No. 138:
In page 16, line 47, to delete "after" and substitute "from".
Amendments Nos. 139 and 140 are related and may be discussed together, by agreement.
I move amendment No. 139:
In page 17, line 16, to delete ", with the consent of the Minister for Finance,".
We have reached the amendments to section 13, which is the core section of the Bill because it deals with the provision of resources that are needed by children with disabilities if their educational needs are to be addressed. Section 13(1) is particularly restrictive. It is more restrictive than the equivalent section of the Bill that was published last year. The reference to the determination of the Ministers for Education and Science and Health and Children in respect of the provision of the necessary money and resources was not included at that time. I think the relevant amendment, which has been resubmitted by Fine Gael, will be ruled out of order. I did not resubmit my amendment after it was ruled out of order on Committee Stage.
Amendment No. 139 proposes to delete the words "with the consent of the Minister for Finance". Section 13(1) causes grave concern to the Opposition and those lobbying on behalf of people with disabilities. The nub of the issue is rights-based legislation, which is also relevant to the proposed disabilities Bill. There is great disappointment not only because the disabilities Bill has not been published but also because it appears that the Bill, when published, will not be rights-based. If section 13(1) is not amended, the Bill before the House will have the same problem, in effect. The Bill is based on resources as well as the determination of the Ministers for Education and Science and Health and Children and the consent of the Minister for Finance.
We can submit many great education plans, but children and parents will be stuck in the queue for resources. It is not good enough. For that reason, I have tabled amendment No. 139 to remove the words "with the consent of the Minister for Finance". The Minister for Education and Science will tell me that it is a normal procedure. If the consent of the Minister for Finance and the determination of the Minister for Education and Science are needed, parents will lose hope that any change will be brought about by this legislation. When it is once again a matter of resources, people know that they do not really have a right to services and that the only way to vindicate their right is to go to court.
My amendment No. 140, which is being discussed with amendment No. 139, proposes to include in section 13(1) a reference to "the duties of the State pursuant to Article 42 of the Constitution". One of the few direct rights provided for in the Constitution is children's right to education. Section 13(1) curtails the rights of children under the Constitution. A section of this Bill will give the Minister for Finance control over the expenditure that is necessary for children with disabilities. I want to remove the provision that requires the consent of the Minister for Finance. Surely the Minister for Education and Science has some discretion in deciding how to spend money within his own budget, if not within the Government's entire budget, and has influence at Cabinet level.
Section 13(1) needs to be strengthened substantially if we are to have the power to ensure that the education of people with disabilities is at the top of the agenda when resources are being provided. The State has enough resources, but a great deal of money is being misspent in a wide variety of ways. The education of people with disabilities should be a priority. It should not be put at the bottom of the agenda, below horses in Punchestown, electronic voting and all the other examples of wasted Government money that have been highlighted in the media. We want to ensure that the money is spent on priority areas, and surely school children with disabilities constitute an absolute priority. This is particularly so given that under the Constitution they already have the right to an appropriate education. Such children will not have an appropriate education, however, unless resources are provided for it.
I strongly support amendment No. 139. Section 13 is an important element of the legislation because it concerns resources for children with disabilities. I find it hard to accept that the State can spend money on roads and infrastructural development, yet when it comes to providing services for children with disabilities there is always a financial problem. An economic argument is always made against the families of such children. I find it amazing that we can put grants for roads and animals ahead of young children.
The amendment is important because it seeks to delete the words "with the consent of the Minister for Finance", in page 17, line 16, in terms of allocating resources. The Minister for Finance should keep his nose out of education, however, particularly when it comes to providing services for the most needy in our society — people from disadvantaged backgrounds and those with physical or intellectual disabilities. We must prioritise State services and if more affluent people have to wait, so be it. Let us take the tough decisions to tackle the interests of the most needy.
I am concerned about the current crisis facing services for children. While I do not have the figures for second level or other sectors, 7,000 to 8,000 children are currently awaiting services in various primary schools. Children only get one shot at life in the Irish education system and if they miss out from junior infants to sixth class, they will already be behind when they start first year of secondary education.
Finance for educational resources is the key issue in this respect. As Deputy O'Sullivan said, we can somehow find resources to fund other projects but why can we not finance resources for children with disabilities? There is always a debate about it but that is not good enough. It maddens me that we have to come into the Chamber yet again to fight every inch of the way to get the necessary resource funding.
The amendment demonstrates that we need to be strong in supporting the legislation. Services are urgently required to protect the rights of children. If we are serious about providing such rights, this is an important aspect of the legislation. There is much debate, both inside and outside the House, about human rights but such rights should always begin with the younger sections of society. The human rights of children should always be top of the political agenda. If it costs extra to provide the necessary services, so be it. The vast majority of people are realistic, they would like to see their taxes being used for necessary services and they are annoyed when they see their money being wasted. I take their point when we can see taxpayers' money being squandered on certain projects. People do not mind paying taxes if they go to the most needy by providing back-up services for children with disabilities.
I urge the Minister to accept this amendment. Children with disabilities get one shot at life. They need our support so we have to provide the required services as well as protecting their rights. The United Nations has criticised the Government for its persistent discrimination against persons with physical and mental disabilities, especially in the fields of employment, social security benefits, education and health. The UN has taken a swipe at the Government in this respect so we should put our money where our mouths are by supporting the amendment, which is at the heart of the Bill.
This is the section that will ensure whether the aims of the Bill are achieved. I regret that amendment No. 141 has been disallowed as it involves a potential charge on the Exchequer but, in a sense, that explains the importance of amendment No. 139. If we are not in a position to insert, in page 17, line 18, the word "necessary" instead of what is "determined by" a particular Minister, as was proposed by amendment No. 141, it demonstrates that everything in the Bill will be dependent on resources. The Minister's argument is that this is standard practice, but I am concerned because parents and teachers have told me that since the publication of the Bill last summer, they have already seen a change in the Department's approach. Initially, the Department altered its approach following a number of court judgments but I am concerned that the clause in section 13 effectively reduces the rights that followed those court judgments. That is the approach the Department of Education and Science seems to be adopting.
If everything boils down to the consent of the Minister for Finance, he will not deal with this brief on a daily basis. If the moneys provided, and the question of how they are to be spent, must revert to the Minister for Finance I would be seriously concerned about the future direction of the legislation. We can have all the goodwill in the world encapsulated in the Bill, but it will all come to nought if section 13 is passed as currently drafted.
The Minister for Education and Science has frequently said that if he had more resources he could do more for the school building programme, but he must defer to the Minister for Finance when seeking multi-annual funding, for example. We have seen how crippling it can be to try to get things done. I am afraid we will go backwards when we should be progressing with the legislation.
Yesterday, I met a school principal who has an eight year old pupil suffering with ADHD. The principal has had an application in since January 2003 for a special needs assistant. Parents wrote to the principal yesterday to state that they are seriously considering withdrawing their children from the school because the child cannot be controlled and does not have the services of a special needs assistant. If resource issues are to require the consent of the Minister for Finance, I do not hold out any great hope that such children will be assisted. I am interested to hear what the Minister has to say about this matter.
In previous discussions about the Bill, the Minister has stated that parents can go to court. The whole purpose of this legislation, however, is to stop them going to court.
That is right.
That is the one thing they do not want to have to do.
It says much about Irish society that parents have to go to court to secure appropriate education for their children. I thought the whole idea of the Bill was to move forward, not backwards. The Bill will stand or fall on the question of resources. The biggest worry of all the parents and disability groups that appeared before the Committee on Education and Science was whether resources would be made available for their children as a result of this legislation. They all shared a common suspicion about the future availability of resources and their concerns arose from their own experiences with disabled children.
I suppose the Minister will say that the provision in section 13 is there for technical reasons. I support the amendment because it sends the right signal to those who are worried that resources will not be available, that the Bill is an inclusive document. We want to move on rather than taking a retrograde step. The debate on this section is also about the quality of education and people's right to receive an appropriate education. If this section is not amended, many people will consider that the Bill has failed to achieve its aims.
I support what has been said by other Opposition Deputies and I am concerned about the need to provide adequate resources to enable the laudable aspirations of the Bill to be put into practice. This is a double whammy. First, the Minister for Finance must give his consent as to how much money can be spent, my reading of which is that he or she can place a ceiling on what is available to the Minister for Education and Science of the day. Second, the Minister for Education and Science is also empowered to decide what is required to implement and prepare education plans.
It may be that an education plan could be prepared by a school and forwarded to the Department of Education and Science, only for the Department to find it does not have enough money and sees how it can cut back on it, leaving the Minister to determine what is required. One could argue that resources would be made available and that a plan of sorts would be put in place, although it may not be the full plan. Moreover, as Deputies have stated, parents will make appeals, may try to go to court or may have access to the mediator which the Minister plans to introduce in another amendment. If they do this, any other court proceedings parents wish to take may be influenced to their detriment by the mediation process.
While this is ongoing children with special educational needs and for whom time is of great importance are waiting. We all know that in regard to children with autism, the earlier we intervene the better. It is important to intervene early in an appropriate manner and assist such children. The Minister of the day might decide, for example, that the applied behavioural analysis, ABA, method costs too much and we could make do with something else such as the TEACH method. In this situation, the Minister for Education and Science could determine, under the whip of the Minister for Finance, that he or she will not allow the ABA methodology to be used. I understand there is already great concern in ABA schools that just such a situation might arise and that there are already moves afoot to undermine the ABA structure. I am not sure whether the Minister is aware of this but it is my information, about which I am very concerned.
I spoke to a senior psychologist during the week who told me the ABA methodology was the most effective for children with autism. However, it is expensive and we must weigh up the use of an expensive but effective methodology against the long-term benefits for the child and his or her family and, from a cost point of view, the great benefits to the State if we can intervene early, appropriately and adequately. If we do not, it is likely that, as adults, these children with special needs will end up falling back on the State to provide shelter, care and so on, which will cost far more in the long run. This is why section 13 is so important.
As Deputy Enright stated, we seek to delete "as determined by him or her" and substitute "as necessary". The necessary resources should be provided for the child as of right with no questions asked. If we insert the double whammy whereby both Ministers can have a veto on what can happen, in the long run it may affect children. I have been perhaps too loud in my praise of the Minister's work at times, but credit where credit is due. He and his officials have taken on many suggestions for which I credit them. However, perhaps in this case he does not have the authority to change this area himself. If we insert this belt and braces mechanism, whereby a future Minister or Administration of any hue can use this section to cut back and limit the amount of resources available, it will be detrimental to everyone in the long run.
We have an opportunity now to ensure that the necessary resources will have to be made available if we take on board the amendments as suggested by Deputy O'Sullivan.
I agree with Deputies that section 13 is very important. It is not there, as Deputies have portrayed, to ensure the Minister for Finance can clobber the Minister for Education and Science——
He tries it all the time.
——or so that the Minister for Education and Science can clobber children with special needs. In carrying out functions under this or any other Bill, Ministers must act in accordance with the Constitution and have regard to, in this case, the objective treatment of all children, including those with special needs, in respect of their right to education. That factor will decide how much money is provided by the Government to ensure that all the rights in the Bill are delivered upon. Section 13 is not about trying to limit financial resources for children with special needs, rather it is about requiring resources to be made available to deliver on those constitutional needs. The heading of the subsection is "Duty of Minister and Minister for Health and Children to make resources available." It clearly states that there is a duty and an obligation.
Deputy O'Sullivan referred to the Minister for Education and Science having some discretion in how he or she spends money. The Minister has such discretion within the overall envelope given by the Minister for Finance. However, the Minister's discretion within the education budget is being curtailed by this section in that it specifically states that the Minister must take into account the priorities in regard to children with special needs. This Bill states that, whatever else is provided for in the education budget, children with special needs are a priority, which factor must be reflected in spending. It states the same to the Minister for Health and Children. One will not find this type of curtailment of discretion in any other Bill. Within the overall envelope which is allocated to the Minister for Education and Science, priority must be given to ensure equal treatment for children with special needs. I appreciate what the Deputies have stated but I must say respectfully that they are looking wrongly at the provision. The provision prioritises within the overall envelope.
Within our constitutional and Government framework, we cannot write the Minister for Finance out of legislation. The Minister for Finance is the only Minister mentioned in the Constitution and he or she has constitutional obligations in respect of public expenditure. No matter what rhetoric we engage in here, it is not possible to write the Minister for Finance out of a Bill which involves public expenditure. The section accepts the reality of the constitutional and legislative input the Minister for Finance has on the total amount of money the Department of Education and Science is allocated. The section goes on to provide that the Ministers for Education and Science and Health and Children must have regard to the policies we have enunciated and the priorities to treat all children equally and give them an equal chance. Deputies are concerned that this is a negative, but it is a positive. It has not appeared anywhere else and it has been included here specifically to prioritise expenditure on education for children with special needs.
Some Members have asked why people with special needs or disabilities always have to wait. Within my departmental budget almost €450 million is dedicated directly to providing services for students with special needs. Across all Departments, including mine and the Department of Health and Children, approximately €3 billion goes to people with disabilities. That is a sizeable amount, but while I accept it may not be targeted or focused as well as it should be, we hope this Bill and the Disability Bill will help to improve that focus. This is our template to provide for people with disabilities and each Department will have its own template and work plan to help focus spending. At present, when the latest increases are taken into account we are providing just under €450 million for children with special needs before this legislation comes on stream. The Bill will copperfasten those rights and give them a statutory basis.
I do not agree with Deputy Enright's comment that there is a change in the Department's approach since the Bill was published, with everything going back to the Minister for Finance. There is a problem we are trying to overcome in the way we operate in providing resource teachers and so on. As I told the Deputy we hope that will be resolved from September on.
Deputy Stanton said a Minister might decide that ABA is not suitable and that people were worried about this. We have a report on autism from the task force which outlines the benefits of ABA. It has been beneficial and while it may not be the answer for every child with autism, as there are other methods which can be used, it seems to be working well. The Deputy asked me to visit some autism units and I have done so in recent months. It is not up to the Minister to make the decision that ABA is no longer suitable as a cost-saving exercise, particularly when the Bill is passed. The council will advise us and we have included a provision in the legislation that the council has to make recommendations and decisions on best international practice. A Minister cannot decide on a whim to save money; the special education council will deal with this matter.
I realise that people worry about the provision of facilities for those with disabilities but this section does not do what Members fear. It is probably the best guarantee they could have that funding will be made available and that priority will be given within the education system to the education of people with disabilities. There will be a focus on that. The reason the Minister for Health and Children is included in the Bill is that I wanted his policies aligned with ours. He has a current role in the pre-school area, one which our Department will take over to a greater extent according to other policies on disadvantage. However, it is important that the Minister for Health and Children comes under the same constraints as the Minister for Education and Science and that the former has to prioritise to ensure those with special needs are dealt with within his budget as well.
On amendment No. 140, each Minister must take due account of the principles set down in section 13, where there is a strict constitutional requirement. "Taking due account" means complying strictly with that requirement. One cannot take due account of a constitutional requirement by ignoring it. As a result amendment No. 140 is not necessary.
I accept the inclusion of the Minister for Health and Children in the Bill is good and I also agree with some of the comments of the Minister for Education and Science. I accept that this section states that resources should be provided but that is a given. That we have the Bill is an indication that resources will be required to address the needs of children with disabilities in accordance with the individual assessments which are provided for. My point with amendment No. 139 is that resources are doubly constrained, first by the opinion of the Minister for Education and Science and then by the consent of the Minister for Finance. In effect children are not being given the right to resources determined by their individual education plans.
On the constitutional right to attend school, if there are not enough school places in an area then they will be provided. I know that from dealing with the recent situation in Limerick, though there were enough places in that case. There are educational welfare officers in place and if school places are needed they will be provided. That is what children without special needs require, but those with special needs require more than a school place. They require specific resources to give them the opportunity to have an education. That is why we need a strong principle in the Bill to the effect that resources will be provided as needed and as determined in accordance with the assessments of need and individual education plans. That is why I feel strongly that this subsection must be strengthened. If this is ruled out of order I will press the amendment.
- Ahern, Michael.
- Andrews, Barry.
- Ardagh, Seán.
- Blaney, Niall.
- Brady, Johnny.
- Brady, Martin.
- Browne, John.
- Callanan, Joe.
- Callely, Ivor.
- Carey, Pat.
- Carty, John.
- Collins, Michael.
- Coughlan, Mary.
- Cregan, John.
- Davern, Noel.
- de Valera, Síle.
- Dempsey, Noel.
- Dennehy, John.
- Devins, Jimmy.
- Ellis, John.
- Fitzpatrick, Dermot.
- Fleming, Seán.
- Glennon, Jim.
- Grealish, Noel.
- Hanafin, Mary.
- Haughey, Seán.
- Hoctor, Máire.
- Jacob, Joe.
- Keaveney, Cecilia.
- Kelleher, Billy.
- Killeen, Tony.
- Kitt, Tom.
- Lenihan, Conor.
- McCreevy, Charlie.
- McDowell, Michael.
- McEllistrim, Thomas.
- Martin, Micheál.
- Moloney, John.
- Moynihan, Donal.
- Moynihan, Michael.
- Mulcahy, Michael.
- Nolan, M. J.
- O’Connor, Charlie.
- O’Dea, Willie.
- O’Donovan, Denis.
- O’Keeffe, Batt.
- O’Keeffe, Ned.
- O’Malley, Fiona.
- O’Malley, Tim.
- Parlon, Tom.
- Power, Peter.
- Sexton, Mae.
- Treacy, Noel.
- Wallace, Dan.
- Walsh, Joe.
- Wilkinson, Ollie.
- Woods, Michael.
- Wright, G. V.
- Boyle, Dan.
- Breen, Pat.
- Broughan, Thomas P.
- Bruton, Richard.
- Burton, Joan.
- Connolly, Paudge.
- Costello, Joe.
- Cowley, Jerry.
- Crawford, Seymour.
- Crowe, Seán.
- Cuffe, Ciarán.
- Deenihan, Jimmy.
- Durkan, Bernard J.
- Enright, Olwyn.
- Gogarty, Paul.
- Gormley, John.
- Harkin, Marian.
- Hayes, Tom.
- Healy, Seamus.
- Higgins, Michael D.
- Howlin, Brendan.
- Kenny, Enda.
- Lynch, Kathleen.
- McCormack, Padraic.
- McGrath, Finian.
- McGrath, Paul.
- McManus, Liz.
- Mitchell, Olivia.
- Murphy, Gerard.
- Naughten, Denis.
- Neville, Dan.
- Noonan, Michael.
- Ó Caoláin, Caoimhghín.
- Ó Snodaigh, Aengus.
- O’Dowd, Fergus.
- O’Keeffe, Jim.
- O’Shea, Brian.
- O’Sullivan, Jan.
- Pattison, Seamus.
- Perry, John.
- Quinn, Ruairi.
- Rabbitte, Pat.
- Ryan, Seán.
- Sherlock, Joe.
- Shortall, Róisín.
- Stagg, Emmet.
- Stanton, David.
- Upton, Mary.
Amendment No. 141 in the names of Deputies Stanton and Enright has been ruled out of order.
I move amendment No. 142:
In page 17, line 44, after "needs" to insert "and that children with educational disabilities receive the services required to meet their needs in accordance with assessments and educational plans prepared under this Act".
In many ways this follows on from section 13(1) which we have been discussing. It concerns the Minister's responsibilities, which is dealt with later in the section. The amendment will give a similar result to what we discussed. The effect is that the services would be provided for each individual child in accordance with his or her assessment of need and individual education plan. We wish to ensure that the money will be provided for the Minister and that he will spend it appropriately in order to provide for the need.
I will not repeat the arguments I made for amendment No. 139. Essentially it is the same argument and it is to ensure the Bill is strong enough to address the needs of people with educational disabilities and to ensure the resources are in place.
I support strongly amendment No. 142. This very important amendment contains the key words, "in accordance with assessments and educational plans prepared under this Act." The assessments have to be carried out professionally and properly in order to have the child ready for the services. It is important to plan a service for the child with a disability. I would like to see the professionals, teachers, psychologists, the principal, the class teacher and the resource teacher with the parents working together to ensure the child gets the maximum service. When a child with a disability comes to school, the preparations should have been made well in advance and the resources should be ready to come on stream as soon as the child comes to school on 1 September.
The weakness in the past was that some children had been in the school system for four to six years before their name went on a list. I know from dealing with families who have a Down's syndrome child that their child had reached fourth class before he or she was given the necessary services.
The Minister stated that some of these additional services were provided before the introduction of this Bill and that €450 million has been spent on such services. However, there are still major gaps in the services. I accept that areas have been prioritised, for example, I know that schools, particularly in disadvantaged areas have received resources for services. I acknowledge such positive measures. However, there are still major gaps.
We must ensure that the resources and back-up services are available for the child with an intellectual disability who starts school in September. There should be no more debates about the lack of ramps and lifts to cater for those with physical disabilities. The Department of Education and Science has to be more radical in its thinking and ensure it plans for the disability sector of society before schools are built. That should not be a major problem. We need the education plan. The services must come on stream at the proper time.
This important amendment copperfastens the educational objective which is to ensure that children with special educational needs have the same right to avail and benefit from appropriate education as their peers who do not have such needs, and that children with special educational needs receive the support services required to meet their needs in accordance with an educational assessment. The objective is that people with disabilities would have the right to and avail of appropriate education and that the support services will be put in place.
The issue of special classes in schools was brought to my attention last weekend. Children might move from a small primary school to a secondary school, which invariably will be larger. A child with Asperger's syndrome might be very afraid.
Section 2 provides that education take place in an inclusive environment "unless it is inconsistent with (a) the best interests of the child as determined in accordance with any assessment carried out under this Act”. We have not given guidance as to what that might be. An area we might need to include somewhere in the Bill is that of special classes, namely, separate classes in mainstream schools if that is appropriate for certain children. Not all children with special educational needs will require this but there will be children who will specifically need special classes.
The other issue I bring to the Minister's attention which has not been mentioned — he knows I brought it up on a number of occasions by way of parliamentary questions — is dual enrolment. I am not sure if we need a change in legislation to enable dual enrolment to take place. Dual enrolment is where a child attends a special school for part of the week and a mainstream school or a special class in a mainstream school for the rest of the week. The idea is to help the child become integrated or included in mainstream education and, over time, to be fully involved in and be able to attend a mainstream school on a full-time basis. For that to happen, we need a transitional period in which the child would attend both schools for different parts of the week. I have been told there are difficulties in regard to this matter with insurance, grant aid, who is responsible for the child and getting the child from one school to another. It is a fairly crucial issue which perhaps we should include in this Bill, and I am sorry I did not think of it sooner.
Deputy O'Sullivan's amendment may go some way to meeting the issues of special classes and dual enrolment. Will the Minister look at these issues before he brings the Bill to the Seanad to see if he should consider tabling amendments on Committee Stage to make it clear where people and schools stand as far as both those issues are concerned and to enable and alert schools that they can establish special classes and that, in certain cases, it may be necessary to do so?
From my reading of section 7, the amendment tabled by Deputy O'Sullivan copperfastens the rights of children. The Bill deals with the assessments, the multidisciplinary approach and so on, but the services being provided are the kernel of the issue. This amendment copperfastens that by reiterating, to some extent what is in section 7. It is an improvement on, or an addition to, section 7. The services required need to be restated at this point in the Bill. For that reason, I ask the Minister to support the amendment.
The purpose of this legislation is to put in place mechanisms whereby children are provided with the educational and related services they require in accordance with the provisions of the Bill, which include assessment and educational plans. For that reason, this amendment is not necessary. As Deputy Enright said, all this is dealt with in section 7. I do not believe it is good practice to lay something out in one section of a Bill and restate it in another because, as sure as God made little green apples, if one does that, a lawyer will find a difference between one section and another and will cause chaos in regard to the legislation.
What we are talking about here are the principles under which and by which Ministers must make decisions in regard to the priorities. They are broad principles and are not meant to be a restatement of anything. They are broad principles under which any Minister of the Government must operate in regard to the education of persons with disabilities. We dealt with this issue in section 7. We are dealing with something entirely different in section 13 and it is not necessary to reiterate it — in some respects, doing so could perhaps cause confusion.
I will look at the question raised by Deputy Stanton but I do not believe it is absolutely necessary to include it in the Bill. The individual educational plans will meet the difficulties he sees, whether special classes in schools, dual enrolment or otherwise. Part of the individual educational plan will be the conclusion as to the services needed and the most effective way of meeting the educational needs of the child. If the educational plan states that it is necessary for the child to be in a special school or a special class for a portion of the week and in a mainstream school for the rest of it, that would have to be complied with. I will see if we need to copperfasten that in some way. There are probably practical issues which would have to be dealt with and which I believe Deputy Stanton mentioned on Committee Stage, including dual enrolment, who is credited with the pupil and so on. I will look at that to clarify the situation.
We have dealt with amendment No. 142 in a straightforward way. We have improved and strengthened section 7 to ensure that assessments, educational plans and services are provided. For that reason, I cannot accept the amendment which could cause confusion, and I know the Deputy would not particularly want that to occur.
I accept the issue is addressed in section 7 but I seek to include it in the section which deals with the principles to which the Minister should adhere. Section 13 relates to the Minister's duties in regard to policy and the principles of which he should take account. It is appropriate to include it in that section with the two other subsections.
Amendments Nos. 143 and 144 in the names of Deputies Enright and Stanton have been ruled out of order. Amendment No. 145 arises out of committee proceedings.
I move amendment No. 145:
In page 17, between lines 44 and 45, to insert the following:
"(4) The Minister shall take into account the views of the Deaf community in the provision of resources and when determining policy under this Act.".
We mentioned this on Committee Stage. Members of the deaf community asked us to highlight their needs, the fact they have different needs from others and that these needs should be met in the provision of resources and in determining policies. They made the point that it is better for deaf people to be educated in schools for the deaf rather than in mainstream schools. Another issue that has arisen since is that people who are hard of hearing have different needs. I am not sure whether the Minister can accept an amendment of this kind, but I wanted to highlight this issue once again and see if there might be some way to incorporate special needs.
I strongly support amendment No. 145 because it is important in taking on board the views of the deaf community. Like some of my colleagues, I was talking to them recently, and there is definitely a problem. I would call it more than a problem. There seems to be a major issue regarding the educational and political establishments of this State, as well as wider society. We all have a responsibility, but we are not taking on board their views. It is essential when dealing with the legislation that we take on board the views of the deaf community which is feeling excluded and isolated. I know from my talks with them and listening to their views and those of their friends on an international level that they feel that society should begin taking on board their new, creative ideas on such matters as education, communications and sign language. It is important that we accept amendment No. 145.
In the debate on education in the context of the special school system and the choice of integrated education, it is important to remember that there are many families with different views. It is up to us at the Department of Education and Science to provide choices for the families and adapt to the children's needs. There are many different views on whether a special or integrated school system is best. I have had positive personal experiences of both at primary and secondary level. That was my choice regarding education. Some people feel strongly about inclusive education. Others feel strongly about special education. The important point is that the Minister for Education and Science should put forward the options to allow parents, with the assistance of professionals and his officials, make an informed choice in choosing the right service for their child.
I strongly support amendment No. 145 because the deaf community has been ignored for too long. We should be more proactive in taking their views on board, particularly when it comes to the provision of resources and determining policy through such measures as this Bill.
I support the amendment. Deputy Finian McGrath spoke of the need for families to be given choices. I recently attended the Irish Deaf Society annual general meeting at which concerns were expressed regarding the Bill. Those concerns extended even to its Title. I informed them that the Minister had proposed to change it. They raised several matters. For instance, we have spoken of being an inclusive society and preventing the marginalisation of people and so on. It would be difficult for anyone from the Irish Deaf Society to follow this discussion on "Oireachtas Report" because it is not subtitled, which is a disgrace. We want to encourage people to have a greater interest in politics, yet a significant section of society cannot follow what is going on. There is probably quite a significant section that does not want to do so, but members of the Irish Deaf Society want to be a part of society rather than be marginalised or excluded. Despite this, that is what is happening. One of the more positive actions we could take is collectively encourage RTE to subtitle "Oireachtas Report".
Another matter that has arisen once again is that Irish sign language has not been recognised. A British Minister in the North has recognised Irish sign language alongside BSL, and people are asking why it is not included. We must take on board the opinions of the deaf community in this Bill, and considerable concerns were expressed, not only from the deaf community itself, but by parents of deaf children. They were concerned that the Bill did not address their needs.
I will also speak in favour of the amendment. I had been trying to say nothing since much was said on Committee Stage and the Government has a majority. I do not wish to rehash anything, but some of my predecessors made some very relevant points regarding Irish sign language, for example. There is no reason Irish and British sign language in the Thirty-two County context of the Good Friday Agreement cannot be pushed by the Department. Regarding education for deaf people, we knew on Committee Stage that it is very beneficial to educate children with educational disabilities in an inclusive context in the same school as others. However, both the deaf and blind communities have strongly stated that they feel that it would be almost impossible for such education to take place for their specific disabilities. Cognisance must be taken of that fact, and some effort has been made.
I am leaning towards not voting against this Bill, although it is flawed in places. The sum of its parts, notwithstanding the role of the Minister for Finance, Deputy McCreevy, will probably do more good than bad. However, I ask the Minister to take on board the views of the deaf and blind communities regarding their stand-alone educational requirements.
I support this amendment. We had strong representations from the deaf community at the committee, and those should be taken into account. They have a special issue because they have a separate language, Irish sign language. I support what has already been said. It is rather like the idea of gaelscoileanna. Where people want education through a different language, they have it separately. Some of those who attended to represent the deaf community certainly expressed the view that they wanted full provision through schools for the deaf that would cater for their language. However, I agree with what has been said on the need for those of us who are not deaf to have access to that language. There is a need for a better response from the general community to learning Irish sign language. If it were more prevalent, especially on television, it would become more the norm, meaning that the community in question would no longer be isolated from the rest of us.
Deputy O'Sullivan made an important point that the wider society and community also have a duty to take on board Irish sign language. I recently met a group of children with Down's syndrome who were involved in sign language. They had to communicate with deaf children. Children with disabilities were teaching broader society and communicated with other children with disabilities. It is more than just the deaf community; it is the wider society, the whole State and the country. We must all change, move out and be more inclusive. We all experienced the feel-good factor during the Special Olympics, which was a very successful project, and I commend all those involved. However, one must remember that, now that it is over, we must try to continue that feeling of inclusiveness. Respect in accommodating difference must continue 365 days a year. This legislation and the debate in the House are part of that.
I will not accept this amendment, since, as I said on Committee Stage, the Bill has deliberately stayed silent rather than identify any group of people with disabilities. We changed definitions through amendment No. 12 so that we would not have to mention any individual disabilities. I respect what the Deputies are saying and very much agree with a great deal of what has been said.