Léiríonn tuarascáil an Ombudsman teip iomlán an Rialtais áiteanna scoileanna a chur ar fáil do pháistí agus do leanaí a bhfuil riachtanais speisialta acu. Tá gníomh éigeandála de dhíth anois le cinntiú go mbeidh áit scoile ag gach páiste sa Stát i mí Mheán Fómhair. The Ombudsman for Children has released a scathing report of the Government's failure on children with special needs who cannot secure appropriate school places come September. Mr. Muldoon was very clear regarding the seriousness of the situation. He said the situation is "a clear failure on the part of the State, which has an obligation to respect, protect and fulfil the right to education of every child." The Ombudsman went further. He said the failure to provide children with special needs with an appropriate school place is discrimination.
As things stand there are hundreds of children with special needs who do not have an appropriate school place. Today, on 23 June, we have parents who do not know whether their child will have a place in a school come September. It is scandalous that children with special needs and their parents are treated in such a way. The failure of the Government to plan for the school places needed happens year in year out. We can speak about the statistics all day but behind all of these numbers are human stories of stress, worry and heartbreak. Take Aaron's story for example. He is 12 years old and has a dual diagnosis of autism and intellectual disability. This was identified in his early years. He went on to early intervention, preschool and a special school. Recently he graduated from his special school. He has no place to progress to in September. He is 12 years of age with nowhere to go. Aaron's mother said that in her opinion the Department of Education and the National Council for Special Education, NCSE, did not engage in forward planning to ensure Aaron and his classmates had a right to education that was guaranteed. She said that even if he was accepted now there would be no opportunity for a transitionary programme for him to familiarise with the new school environment. She said that Aaron is confused about his future.
Unfortunately, Aaron's story is not isolated. There are children and families the length and breadth of the State who are in the same situation, particularly in blackspots such as Cork, Dublin and the midlands. We know the courts have ruled that the failure to provide children with special needs an appropriate school place is a breach of their legal rights yet every year we are faced with this appalling situation. The Department scrambles for school places and parents and their children are left in the lurch. It is a result of a complete failure to plan on the part of the Government. It is even more frustrating when we consider that the NCSE has the data and information to get this right but here we are once again.
This is an emergency for every one of these children and their families. Children with special needs and their families need action and they need it now. The Minister of State, Deputy Madigan, who accepts, in fairness, that this is discrimination by the State, has thrown out a few possible solutions but there is still real confusion as to what will happen. The section 37A process, which takes 13 months, needs to be shortened to guarantee an appropriate school place for these children in September. There are three weeks left in the Dáil term. Will the Government pass emergency legislation to make sure this happens? Sinn Féin will support the Government in trying to meet this objective.