Education for Persons with Disabilities Bill 2003: Presentations.

It was the intention to hear from four groups, but only two are in attendance. We understand the difficulties people sometimes have in accessing Leinster House. With the agreement of the joint committee, we will proceed with the two groups present. If the other groups arrive while we are dealing with the matter before us, we will hear from them. If they do not, we will proceed to questioning of the two groups present. There is a really tight schedule as there is only half an hour between the end of this meeting and the start of the next.

We continue with presentations on the Education for Persons with Disabilities Bill 2003. As committee members will be aware, this is the third day of hearings on the matter. I am delighted to extend the committee's welcome to the four groups which have been scheduled to make presentations, two of which have yet to arrive, the Advisory Committee on the Education of the Deaf and Hard of Hearing, the Irish Deaf Society, the Irish Association for Spina Bifida and Hydrocephalus and the National Council for the Blind. The committee is aware of the main points of the presentations which have been conveyed in written submissions. Each organisation will therefore have about five minutes to outline their main points after which the members of the committee will ask questions. We will try to keep as close to the five minutes as we can for the initial part of the process.

People appearing before the joint committee do not enjoy the absolute privilege members enjoy. I remind members of the long-standing parliamentary tradition that they should not comment on, criticise or make charges against a person outside the House or an official by name or in such a way as to make him or her identifiable. We will begin with Ms Carolyn Gleeson who speaks on behalf of the parents of deaf children who attend mainstream schools.

Ms Carolyn Gleeson

The Advisory Committee on the Education of the Deaf and Hard of Hearing was established by the Minister for Education and Science in November 2001 and it welcomes this opportunity to make its views on the Education for Persons with Disabilities Bill 2003 known to the joint committee. There is no evidence to indicate that deaf and hard of hearing students are inherently less intelligent than their hearing peers, yet as a group they consistently underachieve in our education system. It is widely accepted that educational systems in Ireland and elsewhere have failed in the past to adequately recognise and respond to the needs of deaf and hard of hearing students. While the Department of Education and Science has taken substantive steps in recent years to improve the supports available to students with disabilities, further ongoing initiatives are essential if deaf and hard of hearing students are to realise their full educational potential.

The Education for Persons with Disabilities Bill represents a unique opportunity to put in place a legislative framework to ensure the rights and needs of students with disabilities are met. In its written submission to this committee, the advisory committee expressed its views on the contents of the Bill in so far as they relate to the needs and rights of deaf and hard of hearing students. While all of the observations in our written submission are important and merit the committee's attention, we would like particular note to be taken of the following points. The status of Irish sign language as a minority language and as part of deaf culture must be formally recognised by the State as is already the case in some other EU countries including the United Kingdom. Article 30 of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child provides that in those states in which linguistic minorities exist a child belonging to such a minority shall not be denied the right in community with other members of his or her group to enjoy his or her own culture or to use his or her own language. Article 21 of the Salamanca statement of 1994 states that provision should be made to ensure that all deaf persons have access to education in their national sign language.

The assessment of need proposed in the Bill should result in a statement of need with legal obligatory status. The prompt provision of appropriate pre-school educational support measures is an essential prerequisite to the effective acquisition of language and communications skills by children and parents. Deaf and hard of hearing students should have equality of access to the full education curriculum on a par with their hearing peers and with the assistance of whatever support measures are necessary. There should also be equality of value in regard to consideration of mainstream and special education options. The right of deaf and hard of hearing persons to second chance education to compensate for past deficiencies in their education must be recognised.

The Education for Persons with Disabilities Bill provides for the establishment of special committees under the National Council for Special Education. It is essential that a committee for deaf and hard of hearing students be established under this provision. The advisory committee believes that while commendable initiatives have been undertaken by the Department of Education and Science to improve the quality of education for students with disabilities, the position of deaf and hard of hearing students requires particular ongoing attention. The establishment of a committee to consider the education of deaf and hard of hearing students will ensure that ongoing issues are identified and discussed and that the National Council for Special Education is kept informed of matters pertaining to this important area.

In conclusion, we thank the Chairman and members of the joint committee for providing us with the opportunity to speak today. Students with disabilities have experienced great difficulties with the Irish education system and it is to be hoped that this Bill will go a long way towards resolving their problems. The experiences of deaf and hard of hearing students in Irish education have been particularly difficult and, at times, traumatic. All of the issues mentioned are important, but we place particular emphasis on the immediate importance of the formal recognition of Irish sign language as a minority language of the State and the establishment of a special committee for the deaf and hard of hearing under the National Council for Special Needs.

I forgot during my introduction to welcome Ms Amanda Coogan, the sign language interpreter who is here to help with today's proceedings. I mention also that it is not sufficient to have the tones of mobile phones turned off as the devices affect the recording system while switched on. They must be turned off completely. I thank Ms Gleeson for her presentation. We move on to Mr. Kevin Stanley and Mr. BrianCregan who are with us on behalf of the Irish Deaf Society.

Mr. Kevin Stanley

Good morning. Many thanks are due to the Chairman and members of the joint committee for inviting us to make this presentation. We are delighted to have this opportunity to present our ideas.

The Irish Deaf Society, IDS, is a national representative organisation for deaf people all around Ireland. The IDS promotes human and civil rights for deaf people and approaches matters from an equality perspective. Our most important aim is the official recognition of Irish sign language which, of course, relates to the education of deaf people. For the last 50 years, deaf children have had no opportunity to be educated through their first and natural language. We are very disappointed with the education of deaf children in the State during that time. The current system, as operated by the Department of Education and Science, has failed deaf children who have a right to a consistently high standard of education and the full range of choices within the curriculum. The Education Act 1998 stated that deaf children had a right to be educated through sign language, but we have seen no evidence of this on the ground.

The education system has consistently failed our deaf children and led to under-achievement. We seek the high quality of education for these children which is being denied to them at present. We have found that the education system is extremely damaging to our deaf children and their potential. Committee members may be aware that deaf children have been educated in special schools for the deaf through what is known as an oral system since the 1950s. We propose, not to get rid of the special schools for the deaf which would be to throw the baby out with the bath water, but rather to make them centres for excellence in the teaching of deaf children. We believe strongly in the importance of a bi-lingual education, by which we mean children should learn through Irish sign language, their first and native language as Irish deaf children, while learning English in its written and visual forms as a second language. This does not mean we are against speech and speech therapy, but we do not think the acquisition of speech should denigrate the educational achievements of these children.

Bilingual education has been practised for the past 20 years in Scandinavian countries in which 99% of deaf children attend special deaf schools where they achieve parity of education with their hearing peers. While we cannot tell the joint committee that we are completely against the mainstreaming of deaf children, we have severe reservations. Deaf children do not immediately and readily fit into a hearing world. In mainstream education, deaf children are taken outside the classroom for a great deal of compensatory education, which means they lose out on much of the educational part of their schooling. To successfully mainstream a deaf child, the teacher must be fluent in Irish sign language to communicate with and understand the child and the child's hearing cohorts should also learn the language. As members can imagine, this is an unreasonable expectation which is economically ludicrous. To maintain the specialist deaf schools while changing the educational systems they utilise is the most economically sensible manner in which to proceed. The schools should become centres of excellence and leaders in the education of deaf children through a bilingual system.

We propose the inclusion in the Education for Persons with Disabilities Bill 2003 of a separate section to address the education of deaf children. This is a unique situation and we must be aware of the need to protect deaf children's rights to their identity, language and culture as deaf children and to maintain standards in their education. Deaf children can achieve parity of educational standards with hearing children if they are educated through accessible means. The educational system needs more deaf teachers. A deaf person should be appointed to the post of education officer within the Department of Education and Science to monitor the workings of special schools and a bilingual system.

I am aware of the pressures of time and I thank the joint committee for the opportunity to have made my presentation.

I thank Mr. Stanley and Ms Coogan.

Mr. Nick Killian

On behalf of the Irish Association for Spina Bifida and Hydrocephalus, I am grateful for the opportunity to make a presentation to the joint committee on the Education for Persons with Disabilities Bill 2003, which the association warmly welcomes. Particularly welcome is the fact that the purpose of the Bill is to guarantee the education of children with learning difficulties as a right enforceable in law. We also appreciate that the Bill sets out in every respect to be parent friendly and to involve parents in all aspects of a child's education. While the Bill gives legal recognition to children with special educational needs, there are aspects of it which are a matter of concern to the association. We would like to see some aspects of the Bill altered following Dáil debate.

The Bill seems to fail to address the training of primary and post-primary school teachers of children with special educational needs in a mainstream setting. Disability awareness training should be a special module within primary teacher training and higher diploma training for new teachers at post-primary level. A programme of disability awareness should be put in place for all teachers within our primary and post-primary systems. Our senior occupational therapist gives a talk every year to new and existing teachers at St. Patrick's training college following which we receive many requests from teachers seeking information about our situation or areas of need for students. Many teachers are unaware of how to deal with problems, particularly in the area of mobility, and the personal requirements of students with special educational needs.

One of the matters about which we and the Dyslexia Association of Ireland are greatly concerned is that the types of disability we address are not dealt with in the 2003 Bill despite the fact that they formed part of the Bill brought forward in 2002. We fully support the contention of the Dyslexia Association of Ireland that this Bill quite deliberately excludes dyslexic children. The definitions of special learning disabilities must be clarified within the legislation. We ask the joint committee members to address this exclusion of dyslexia and we recommend the amendment of the Bill accordingly by the Minister for Education and Science, Deputy Noel Dempsey.

The Bill specifically imposes a statutory duty on the Minister for Education and Science and the Minister for Health and Children to make resources available to schools for the provision of adequate and appropriate education to children with special needs. While the Bill provides for co-ordination between the Departments of Education and Science and Health and Children, it is a well-known fact that the co-operation and co-existence of Departments are not always of benefit to their clients. It would be disastrous for students with an educational disability to fall between two stools with the Department of Education and Science on one side and the Department of Health and Children on the other, as has happened far too often in the past. Section 6(5) provides that where a dispute arises the Special Education Council can refer it to the appeals board. The IASBAH is of the opinion that the time span of three months is far too long for students as it could extend to six months and more. Depending on the volume of work being undertaken at any given time by the appeals board, the IASBAH asks that the three months be reduced to one with a definite time span of three months for any dispute between the council and the relevant health authority. An interim strategy suited to student needs should be put in place while matters are being resolved.

Many parents have raised the matter of another area of concern to the association which has to do with children aged from three to five years. We fully realise that no one Department has responsibility for the education of children under the age of four and that no one apart from a parent has responsibility for a child with special educational needs. It is well recognised by education and health personnel that the entirety of a child's formative years are extremely important in respect of his or her overall educational attainment. The Education for Persons with Disabilities Bill excludes and refuses to recognise children under the age of four. As we all know, the Department of Education and Science does not take responsibility for the educational needs of children under the age of four. Any services currently provided are provided by the Department of Health and Children. This position must not continue. The rights of under age children, particularly children with disabilities who have special educational requirements and needs, must be protected by the State and their educational needs provided for.

While I could address many other aspects of the Bill, I am sure many of the other witnesses availed of the opportunity to raise these issues. The Irish Association for Spina Bifida and Hydrocephalus wanted to share its views with Senators and Deputies on the four issues I have raised. On behalf of IASBAH, I thank the committee for affording us this opportunity to make a presentation.

The final presentation is from the National Council for the Blind, represented by Desmond Kenny, its chief executive, and director of services, Ms Elaine Howley.

I apologise for being late, we were delayed by the Luas, which is not what we came here to discuss.

We all understand that.

We are grateful for the opportunity to appear before the committee to amplify the comments made in our submission. The submission did not address the specifics of the Bill but focused on the broader context of the position in which education for vision impaired children finds itself and how it is likely to evolve in the future. The previous presentation concluded with a concern which is in many ways the point at which our submission starts, namely, the early learning ages and stages of children with a disability and, in our case, vision impairment. Support is required not only for the child but also for its parents.

The National Council for the Blind's difficulty is primarily with the Department of Education and Science, which tends to work as a separate agency and Department. It has not developed a discipline of collaborating with the Department of Health and Children, except at policy level. In recent months, the organisation I represent has experienced difficulty with regard to services we provide being duplicated by the Department,not necessarily because the services in question were poor but because the Department felt it needed to supply holistic educational services to children.

Services have moved on from a time when, of necessity, I would have had to attend a special school for children with a vision impairment. Nowadays, we can supply good services to people's homes through the support services. When I lost my sight, support was not available in my national school and I had to attend a special school in Dublin. The school in question had a caring ethos and was founded back in the 1880s. The two special schools for blind children are evolving into a support mechanism for achieving our overall goal, which is to educate children in their home context.

We are fearful that the new legislation somehow, due to the ethos of these schools in the past, appears to confer on them the power to determine what future excellence might involve. We do not regard this as necessary because the providers of this form of education are largely leaving the sector. In many ways, only the shell of a legacy of the education providers remains, much of it good. Our fear is that in trying to protect, develop and foster excellence - a common word in this context - for disabled children, particularly vision impaired children, centres of excellence would be attached to such schools, which are, in their own way, segregational, and that this would militate against and detract from the philosophy of inclusion.

Our final concern is that the visiting teacher service is currently operated by the Department of Education and Science on an inspector basis, which makes it unaccountable in many ways, even though excellent work is done by the individuals involved. We recommend that the service should be treated like a school without classrooms, which would mean appointing a principal and board of management on which parents and other community interests would sit.

The Department of Education and Science must take a collaborative, community-inclusive approach and admit the services provided by other agencies and individuals. Its overall abiding interest must be to sustain children in viable education in the areas in which they live, grow up and ultimately want to work. Our agency is appreciative of the work being done by the committee and grateful for the opportunity to present to it these brief reflections based on our submission.

I thank all the contributors. We will now have a question and answer session for which we have agreed a panel of members to ask questions. It is unlikely we will have time to take questions from others unless members keep their contributions brief. The aim of the committee is to have the benefit of the experience of the delegations in the preparation of the Bill, particularly with regard to Committee Stage where the select committee will deal with amendments. It is important that we have the benefit of the witnesses' knowledge and experience.

I welcome all the delegations. As the Chairman stated, we are trying to improve the legislation by listening to the contributions of the various delegations. This is the third day of this useful exercise. My job is to direct my questions to the Advisory Committee on the Education of the Deaf and Hard of Hearing. I was struck by the comments on special schools. The legislation refers to the assignment of schools for the purposes of the Bill. This strikes me as being unsuitable to the circumstances of the organisations represented here today. How could this difficulty be overcome? If the Bill contained a reference to the 1998 Act in so far as it touches on the provision of education for deaf people, would that solve the problem? The submission refers to supports and requirements at third level which need to be mandated. Will the delegation from the advisory committee expand on this statement?

I welcome the delegations. Concern was expressed that the Bill does not address the issue of pre-school children. I am interested in the remarks of Mr. Killian who voiced the concern that the legislation does not adequately address the needs of pre-school children. A child is defined in the Bill as a person of not more than 18 years. If Mr. Killian has a different definition, will he expand on it? I agree there is a conflict between the Departments and no Department has overall responsibility for pre-school education. This issue needs to be addressed as we do not want, as was stated earlier, children to fall between two stools.

I thank the representatives of the deaf community for educating us on the issues and ask them to excuse my ignorance. Irish sign language, according to the submission, is a separate, indigenous language. Linking it with pre-school education, how does the group see the teaching of Irish sign language to children who are deaf or hard of hearing being advanced at pre-school level? How important is it at that level and how should it be taught? How should parents be included? Is it like other languages in the sense that the earlier one begins to learn it, the better? Languages are picked up very early on with some people even arguing they are learned in the womb. I apologise for being facetious. What are the views of the Advisory Committee on the Education of the Deaf and Hard of Hearing and the Irish Deaf Society on that issue?

While I understand the views expressed on special schools, do the witnesses not have concerns about segregation? What are their views on mainstreaming and inclusion? While I accept it would be unrealistic to expect every teacher and student to be able to communicate through Irish sign language, on the other hand, should there not be an element of training in Irish sign language for all teachers? Would it be realistic for trainee teachers to at least learn the basics of the language at college? To what extent should children in mainstream classes be made aware of and perhaps even taught a certain amount of sign language? I am not sure whether that would be possible and apologise again for my ignorance.

In its submission, the National Council for the Blind states the visiting teacher service wishes to exclude National Council for the Blind staff from school settings. Will the NCBI expand on this statement which is a cause for concern? I am taken by the idea of schools without classrooms. How would this work? Are there working models elsewhere?

I welcome the representatives of the various groups. As my colleague, Deputy Andrews, stated, the meetings of the past three days have been useful and enlightening. Mr. Killian referred to children under four years and the need for parents to receive educational assistance during the early stages of a child's development. How best could the Bill serve children aged under four years with spina bifida and hydrocephalus? Should its focus be on assisting parents and educating them on working with the disability or should greater emphasis be placed on the community and early intervention? I ask Mr. Killian to elaborate on this question.

With regard to the representatives of the deaf, other organisations representing the various groups working in the area of disability have placed great emphasis on moving away from a concept mentioned repeatedly in the Bill, namely, designated schools. They also emphasised the need to achieve as much integration as possible for children with disabilities in the wider mainstream area and requested that children should be allowed to attend their local school rather than being sent to designated schools. Ms Coogan stated that deafness is a particular special need and asked whether a designated school, which she mentioned, would serve the child better overall than the local mainstream school. I ask the representatives of the Advisory Committee on the Education of the Deaf and Hard of Hearing to elaborate.

I welcome the groups. My first point, which also arose in the other questions, relates to the difference in the approach of the National Council for the Blind and the deaf community on whether special schools or integration in local schools is the best option. The reason for the different positions is understandable. The purpose of our meetings is to ensure the Bill is as good as possible for everyone with special needs. We want to ensure it provides for the different approaches to different needs. Are the groups satisfied that the arrangements in the Bill for assessment of need are appropriate for the needs of the different groups?

Other members raised the issue of pre-school needs. The Bill provides that the health boards will, by and large, address pre-school needs. Does this need to be changed? The National Council for the Blind was concerned that educational provision should be made available at pre-school level. Should this be explicitly written into the Bill? Does the Bill address the concerns of the National Council for the Blind on the issue of ensuring that people who are blind are provided with the proper supports within the regular school setting or does it need to be strengthened in that regard?

As regards the deaf community, what specifically needs to be done with regard to the inclusion of Irish sign language as a language in legislation in general? As the representatives of the deaf community will be aware, I have had meetings with them in the past on this issue.

The question of training of teachers on disability awareness arises from Mr. Killian's presentation. Do the four organisations represented here believe teaching training and inservice training is adequate from the perspective of people who are hard of hearing or deaf and people who are blind?

I was not designated to ask a particular question of any group but I thank them all for attending today's meeting and welcome their presentations. I have one question for the two groups representing the deaf community, the Advisory Committee on the Education of the Deaf and Hard of Hearing and the Irish Deaf Society. They specified that a specialist school of excellence would suit their members and children who are deaf and there are practical reasons for that view. Given that section 9 proposes to give the Minister powers to designate a school a child may attend for the time being or a specific school, do they have objections to the designation of a number of what I would term integrated centres of excellence? What I mean in this context are centres focused on the needs of deaf children but which would also be attended by non-deaf children. Teachers at the centres would also be specially trained. Ideally, it would be preferable for some non-deaf children to attend such schools as they would be able to interact with deaf children and vice versa. While this would not be practical in every classroom, a number of regional schools of excellence would probably assist the integration of deaf children into second and third level and help increase the skills of the non-deaf community in Irish sign language.

I understand the representatives of the deaf community stated they were in favour of incorporating in the Bill a provision on Irish sign language. Is the Bill the appropriate place for such a provision? Should further pressure be put on the Government to recognise Irish sign language as a national language? Is the language a bigger issue than this legislation?

Do all the groups believe it would be better if the Department of Education and Science took the primary role for education from birth until death and issued directions to the Department of Health and Children where its assistance is required? Would this be a more helpful and practical solution than the current position where the Department of Health and Children assumes responsibility once a child reaches 18 years? Will the groups make such a recommendation? Does the National Council for the Blind want the question of visiting teachers, including the issue of resources and implementation powers, to be included in the Bill?

I welcome all the witnesses, particularly Kevin Stanley whom I congratulate on his recent appointment as programme development manager. The National Council for the Blind referred to a feeling of being excluded by the Department and stated no recognition is given to a range of educational supports the NCBI provides. It is interesting that the NCBI provides psychological assessments for children given that the team which will prepare an education plan under the legislation is set to include psychologists. Will the NCBI expand on this issue?

Does the Irish Association for Spina Bifida and Hydrocephalus believe the national council for special education to be established under the legislation is an appropriate mechanism for putting in place the disability awareness training module to which the association representatives referred, or is there a better way to do this? I agree that a limit should be imposed on the period the appeals board would consider disputes which may arise.

Will the representatives of the Advisory Committee on the Education of the Deaf and Hard of Hearing expand on their comments on section 19 on the need for a group or body within the national council for special education to focus on deaf education? How would this work? Will the representatives of the Irish Deaf Society also comment on this proposal? I am mindful of the point made by both groups that deaf and hard of hearing people are not regarded as disabled but part of a separate language group.

I note the Irish Deaf Society's comprehensive submission, which was different from the other submissions the committee has considered in that it reminds me of the kind of documents Irish language groups in the Six Counties used to publish when they were attempting to gain linguistic and cultural recognition from the State. While it might be a submission on disability legislation, it must also be considered from a different perspective and mindset. It could even be argued that separate legislation is needed to address the issue of education for the deaf and, in particular, the legal status of Irish sign language.

I ask the delegations to respond to the questions and points made. We will start with Ms Gleeson and Mr. Conama.

Mr. John Bosco Conama

I have been asked so many questions it is difficult to remember them all. We would like to have a full week to answer them all properly but I will try my best to do so. On special schools and setting up centres of excellence, for many years we have been trying to explain the differences between deaf education and mainstream education. Special schools and centres of excellence are most important. The Bill, however, is mainly supportive of mainstream education. This option is already largely available for deaf children, 90% of whom attend mainstream schools. We are very concerned about these children because deaf children recognise themselves as a different entity. Our concern for deaf children in mainstream schools relates to their socialisation, sign language skills and cultural identity as deaf people and how these factors will affect them psychologically and socially.

Deaf people have a different idea about the nature of our identity. Having one deaf person in a school of 200 children can be extremely difficult. Their speech will not be as skilful and understandable as that of their peers and this can, unfortunately, have a detrimental effect on them as they get older. When one has children in a special school who are all signing and equal, one has educational competition and socialisation and their language - Irish sign language - is in use all the time.

We are not recommending segregation but equal opportunity, which is the way forward. While I am aware that the philosophy is one of integration and mainstreaming, our focus is on deaf children and the optimum choice for them. We recommend that centres of excellence employ deaf teachers who become role models for deaf students. We are not against mainstream education but successful mainstreaming of deaf children requires that many more conditions are met instead of dumping them in hearing schools.

A question was asked about the 1998 Education Act. That legislation marked the first time Irish sign language was legally acknowledged. No further action has been taken on the issue in the five years since then. No further teachers or staff have been appointed and no other children have been given the right to access Irish sign language.

On the suggestion that a separate Bill should be introduced on deaf education, we have had some preliminary discussions on this issue. As members will be aware from personal experience, however, these are long drawn-out procedures. The big picture for us and our work is the national recognition of Irish sign language as the third national language. For now, we need to use all available opportunities to gain acknowledgement of the language. With the ratio of deaf children to hearing children about 1 to 1,000, we do not, unfortunately, have the necessary numerical strength, which means we need to take each opportunity that comes our way.

Some remedies are required regarding third level education. At present deaf students going to third level use an ad hoc service. They are in need of sign language interpreters and note takers, but they have to look for these services themselves. A very high drop-out rate of deaf students is evident at third level. The support services for deaf people in third level education need to be consolidated. The buck is being passed from Department to Department and deaf students are being left out.

Early intervention is extremely important for deaf children. For hearing children, language acquisition is immediate, because the language of the family is accessible. They hear it from their parents, on TV, radio, etc. By the time they arrive in school at four or five they have already acquired language. That is not the case with deaf children because the language at home is not an accessible language. It is of vital importance that they have pre-school education that gives them the chance to acquire Irish Sign Language - the native and only fully accessible language for them.

The National Council for the Blind of Ireland mentioned the visiting teacher service. We support its recommendation that the visiting teacher service needs to be examined and, possibly, set up in a different way. The deaf community shares the concerns of the visually impaired with regard to the visiting teacher service.

In response to Deputy O'Sullivan's questions, we would like to have a separate Bill on the recognition of ISL. That would be the optimum approach. The Northern Ireland Office has set up a working group to examine the possibility of gaining recognition for British Sign Language and Irish Sign Language, which are both used in Northern Ireland. The process there is ongoing and we are looking for something similar here. In Finland, for example, a sign language board has been set up which looks at the recognition of its native sign language and how that will influence educational provision and other such services.

I hope I have answered all the questions. I accept that time has been limited. I have tried to provide as much information as possible in the short time available.

Mr. Brian Crean

The Bill is very much focused on mainstreaming and the integration of children with disabilities. The deaf community has major concerns that deaf children will become second-class citizens if they are mainstreamed. The Irish Deaf Society is here to promote the views of the deaf community. It is essential that a committee for special education be set up as well as a sub-committee to look at education for the deaf and hard of hearing. Current policy-making in regard to the education of deaf and hard of hearing children is very much at an ad hoc and uninformed level. As ex-users of this service, we have a knowledge and understanding of the problems.

I support what John Bosco Conama said; we are certainly not against mainstreaming, but there are certain conditions which we think are essential in order to successfully mainstream a deaf child. Since the inception of ADA in America, mainstreaming has been encouraged. Some years down the line, however, it is recognised that they have gone the wrong way with regard to the mainstreaming of deaf education. They are now trying to row back to a special schools system. Let us learn from their experience.

There was a question about pre-school services and language acquisition for deaf children. Some 90% of deaf children are born into hearing families. That statistic has remained constant, which means that 90% of deaf children are at a complete disadvantage with language acquisition. The majority language, which in this country is English, is not accessible to young deaf children. They must acquire an accessible language, which in this country is Irish Sign Language. Irish Sign Language is a language in its own right which has met all of the linguistic criteria needed for a language. We have a pre-school that teaches deaf children through Irish Sign Language. We teach different subjects through ISL and explain different topics and phenomena. This is a major success and, while it is not a new idea, it is a scary one for the current system of deaf education in Ireland. In Sweden, 99% of deaf and hard of hearing children go to special deaf schools. They all achieve parity of education with their hearing cohorts. This is something we have to achieve here.

One would be excused for thinking that deaf children have intellectual difficulties based on the results emerging from deaf education at the moment. That is not the case. It is purely due to a problem with the education system, which at present does not educate deaf children. The system has low expectations of deaf children. We should look at Sweden and the rest of Scandinavia where 99% of deaf children go on to third level and acquire education on a par with their hearing cohorts and, therefore, are productive members of society. In Ireland, some 80% of the deaf community currently have literacy problems. We have to point the finger at the education system over the past 50 years. When we look at bilingual systems around the world we realise that this does not have to be so.

The issue of teacher training and in-service training was mentioned. In-service training in ISL would not lead to sufficient competency to teach deaf children. The curriculum would have to be altered to teach deaf children through Irish Sign Language.

In regard to the inclusion and mainstreaming issue which is the focus of the Bill, we are seeking equity of esteem and education for our community members. Integration and mainstreaming looks wonderful on paper but the practical day to day experience of a deaf child left in a school of 500 hearing children gives us cause for serious concern. We will leave the committee members with that thought. Mr. Stanley has something to add.

Mr. Kevin Stanley

Mr. Crean covered many points we wished to raise. I thank Deputy Crowe for his congratulations on my new position.

Deputy O'Sullivan commented on the assessment of deaf children and deaf people. It is important that the focus should be on the ability of our deaf children. We are all aware of the problems that exist in regard to communication. If we introduce a system of education through Irish Sign Language, then communication will no longer be a problem. We need to recognise our deaf children's skills and focus on their ability to educate themselves. They are a cultural minority in the sense that they are a different entity from what is considered the norm. We need to focus on their linguistic and cultural differences and acknowledge and support this aspect. The assessment team for deaf children should always include representatives from two essential groups - deaf people from the community and the parents of those deaf children. They have essential rights of involvement in any assessment process and any committees that are set up in regard to deaf education.

Some questions were raised with regard to segregation and the setting up of separate deaf schools. A committee member referred to the fact that most disability groups do not like special education. We are not asking for special education. We do not want special education. We want deaf education in a deaf school. We do not want a school for the deaf - we want a deaf school. There is nothing special about a deaf school. We do not want any changes to the primary or post-primary curriculum. We want it to be made accessible to our deaf children. The only difference between a deaf school and a regular school is the language of education.

From 1936 to 1949, the Department of Education received very good reports from inspectors who went into the deaf schools, St. Joseph's and St. Mary's in Cabra. They thought that the standard of education was very high. Pupils were taught through sign language until 1949 which is why their educational results were so good. Deaf people left those schools and became contributors to society. They got good jobs and were able to look after themselves. Our older generation of deaf people have magnificent written English and literacy skills which means they can access the world. The same is not true of deaf children who were educated from the 1950s. The oral system of education which we experienced has failed us. At one time the deaf schools in Cabra were among the best such schools in the world, but since the Department of Education brought in an oral system of education they have become among the worst in the world. We need to learn from history.

We are members of the World Federation for the Deaf, which had a conference in Montreal last July. We met delegates from all over the world who were lawyers, teachers, doctors, accountants and other professionals as well as business people. Where are our Irish deaf professionals? We can only conclude that they do not exist because of our education system. Putting in place a bilingual system of education would lead to high achievements that are within the abilities of deaf people. We have to give deaf children the opportunity to educate themselves to the best of their ability. We are very much under-educating them at present. As the ex-users of this deaf education service, we do not want this situation to continue. The cycle has to be broken and a bilingual system must be introduced. This vicious cycle of under-achievement, undervaluing and under-education of our deaf children must stop. The most practical way of introducing a bilingual system is to have a deaf school that is a centre of excellence which focuses on educating our deaf children to the best of their ability.

The question may be asked as to why we are looking for specific provision for the deaf compared to wheelchair users, the visually impaired and the other disability groups which are happy to go under an integrated and mainstream setting. The deaf community is different because it is a linguistic minority. Language is the key difference.

I urge the committee to take on board what was said and stop the discrimination against deaf people. The simple way of doing this is to provide education to the deaf community through an accessible language, that is bilingualism and Irish Sign Language.

Mr. Nick Killian

Many Deputies and Senators asked questions about the area of pre-school. The Department of Health and Children is mainly responsible for the rules and regulations of how pre-schools operate, whether the room is the right size or the heating is in the right place, but it does not have responsibility for education. There does not appear to be a willingness on the part of the Department to take under-age children on board. The fundamental approach of the Department has to be changed so that it recognises its responsibility for the education of the child from the start through to its adult years.

Parents are now faced with a difficult situation in regard to disability, be it spina bifida, hydrocephalus or whatever other disability. They need an education plan for their children from an early age. They need to be involved in the plan and to have confidence that their child will receive support from its early days. I fully agree with what the representatives of the deaf community said, in that they are looking at education from their perspective. We also need to do this with other children with disabilities.

The main focus of today's discussion is on education within the mainstream setting. When it comes to pre-school provision, the Department will have to recognise its responsibility. It is not for the disability organisations to say how this should be put in place. The Department needs to come up with proposals and we will be partners in the consultation process.

Deputy O'Sullivan or Deputy Hoctor referred to the training of teachers and inservice issues. I am a member of a couple of boards of management and one of the difficulties, particularly at post-primary level, is that there is a fear factor in respect of dealing with a child who enters a school presenting with a disability, whether he or she is in a wheelchair or ambulant with a disability. There is no form of disability training awareness at present. The special education council, which we all welcome, would be very much in a position to provide that training in partnership with the disability organisations. Obviously, the training of teachers is taking place in the colleges that exist for this purpose. A greater emphasis should be put on disability awareness. I know the colleges are doing their best and are dependent on outside assistance to do it. The issue should be recognised in the Bill. The training of teachers in terms of disability awareness could be dealt with very easily by the special education council.

One of the concerns I raised earlier, which Deputy Crowe mentioned, related to time limits. I ask the Chairman to examine this very seriously by way of an amendment. What happens to the child when a dispute arises? Will he or she be left in limbo for three or six months? Who will take responsibility and what interim plan will be put in place? We all realise that when the legislation is enacted, as far as interpretation is concerned, people will say, "It is three months and that is it". There is no flexibility and this will have to be addressed. The timespan is too long for children to be left in limbo when there is a dispute with the parent or another party.

I thank the members for their questions. The under age issue may not be one for this Bill, but somebody somewhere will have to take responsibility for it and the Department of Education and Science is best suited to do so.

Ms Elaine Howley

I will list the questions I was asked first and then follow up on them. Deputy Stanton raised visiting teachers and the feeling that our staff had been excluded. I was asked to expand on the notion of schools without classrooms. Deputy O'Sullivan highlighted the differences in the proposals of the NCBI and those of the representatives of the deaf community and asked me to elaborate on pre-school matters, support within the school setting and the training of teachers. Deputy Gogarty raised the issue of education of people from birth to death. Lastly, Deputy Crowe asked how we felt we had been excluded. He was also interested in the psychological service. I will address some of these questions before handing over to Mr. Kenny.

On visiting teachers and the notion of our staff feeling excluded, it is a matter of the clarification of roles. The visiting teacher service has existed for a long time and, as the representatives of the deaf community stated, it needs to be reviewed. We need to establish how we can work together more. What happens is that our community based staff have expertise in low vision rather than in education and, therefore, they perceive their role as advising teachers on issues relating to low vision and, for example, mobility training and independent living around the school environment. Sometimes this role can be confused with that of the visiting teacher. This needs to be addressed.

Mr. Kenny will elaborate on the issue of schools without classrooms. Briefly, on the differences in the proposals of the NCBI and those of the representatives of those with hearing impairments, what is standing out on the basis of having listened to all the presentations today is that each group has individual needs. Often the tendency has been to consider people with disabilities as a group when, in fact, they do not really comprise a group. The differences are evident. Children with visual impairment do not have any issues concerning language - language is probably their strongest point. Facilitation of access to education for visually impaired children is a different matter.

Deputy O'Sullivan asked me to elaborate on support within the school setting. It is improving but it is definitely not adequate. Mr. Kelly can elaborate on that in relation to the notion of schools without classrooms.

The idea of a centre of excellence has been talked about in different ways. For me, the important thing is that the training is of an excellent standard and that people who are enabled to live in their communities and attend their local schools can obtain excellent training in the extra skills that they need, be those in the use of Braille in the classroom, the use of adaptive technology or in the use of the low vision aids they may need to access print material.

I went to an ordinary school but had much backup and support in respect of the things I needed. Once these were in place there was no problem. Rather than taking people out of their environment, we could improve the supports pupils have within their communities. I will not elaborate any further on that although I could do so for a long time.

Many interesting things have been said. People with disabilities do not comprise a homogeneous group. We have our own unique needs. Sometimes, when blind and deaf people are being talked about, they are lumped together as the blind and the deaf. Now a softer term is used, which is equally abusive, namely, "sensory disability". We need to look at the unique needs of each group, as the members have heard articulated today.

I would die to destroy every residential school although I see great merit in the arguments of those who represent the interests of the deaf or the need for relevant institutions in this respect. It is a matter of destroying the concept of institution and considering institutions as places of liberation or places that belong to the present and future.

The concept of a school without classrooms is broadly within the whole context of distance learning, as practised by the Open University and similar operations. In Scandinavia, it has been used with the visiting teacher service. This service has a huge part to play in Ireland in addition to the education and inservice training offered to regular teachers to support the sustainability and viability of education in the classroom. Currently, it operates as an inspectorate and is not accountable to anybody except people in the Department who, in their own way, are not accountable to anybody. The Department of Education and Science is not yet entering into dialogue with anybody. It hides behind its own silence and will not engage in dialogue in the way other Government Departments have learned to do over the years. The school without classrooms would make the visiting teacher service answerable and transparent. It would support the teachers in the work they are doing and allow parents to contribute as well.

Ms Howley touched on the definition of our services rather than our agency. We are experts or contributors in vision impairment needs and mobility needs within the classroom. We do not go into the educational setting. The difficulty with the Department of Education and Science is that it thinks it should become a controller and provider of mobility and low vision services rather than working collaboratively. For whatever reason, it does not communicate with anybody or explain anything. It will start a mobility service that will cost the Exchequer approximately €60,000 to provide when it could be supplied free of charge by an agency like ours, which is already supported through the health board system. When that service is provided by the Department, it will discriminate in favour of children who are totally blind and not provide the same service to other children. It has a spasmodic desire to do good, but is meddling and doing things extremely badly in an area in which it is not conversant or willing to take advice.

I thank the Chairman and other members of the committee for their patience, courtesy and enlightened questions. We are all different and what we strive to see in the Bill is a recognition of our uniqueness. We will be fools and professors but somewhere between the two will be the normality of growing up as children with our classmates, our brothers and sisters and those around us.

I thank Ms Elaine Howley, Mr. Desmond Kenny and all our guests for sharing their expertise and experiences. I also thank Ms Coogan, who facilitated the discussion this morning. It has been an enriching experience for us all and we will try to include the delegates' ideas in the final draft of the Bill. We will be struggling with some of the interests, to which Mr. Kenny politely referred, in the final draft. However, we hope it will reflect the views and interests of the delegates.

Mr. Crean

I have two brief points. We talked about education for deaf people but the committee has an opportunity to obtain much more in-depth information on the progress of education for the deaf. The Model School for the Deaf Project is holding a conference this Saturday in Trinity College and perhaps members of the committee could attend.

The camera has been focused on the interpreter and on the sign language and I respectfully suggest it should be focused on the speaker instead. I thank the committee.

Sitting suspended at 11.35 a.m. and resumed at 12.15 p.m.

We will continue with our presentation on the Education for Persons with Disabilities Bill. We are starting 28 minutes late - I apologise for delaying everybody, but we ran considerably over time this morning. We will try not to repeat that in this session.

The first part of the meeting consists of five minute presentations from each group. The groups have already submitted a written presentation so they should concentrate on the changes they would like to see in the Bill. One of the responsibilities of the committee is to consider the Bill on Committee Stage, when amendments are made, so it would be useful for us if the representatives would concentrate on that area. After the presentations, members will ask questions and there will be an opportunity for discussion.

Before we begin I draw the attention of the witnesses to the fact that members of this committee have absolute privilege but this privilege does not apply to those appearing before the committee. Members are reminded of long standing parliamentary practice to the effect that members should not comment on, criticise or make charges against a person outside the House or an official by name or in such a way as to make him or her identifiable. I must also point out that it is not sufficient to turn off the sound on one's mobile phone; the phone must be turned off completely because incoming calls affect the sound recording system.

The first group is from People with Disabilities in Ireland and comprises Mr. Gerry Ellis and Ms Mary Walsh.

I am Gerry Ellis from the group People with Disabilities in Ireland. Ms Walsh and I are both elected members of the national board of People with Disabilities in Ireland. Ms Walsh will do the presentation and then we will both be available for questions.

Ms Mary Walsh

I am speaking to the committee today as a board member of PWDI. I and my colleagues, Mr. Gerry Ellis and Ms Elaine Cahill, have made a submission on the Education for Persons with Disabilities Bill 2003. We consider that the Bill is seriously flawed in certain key respects. We now propose to indicate the amendments necessary so that the Bill can deliver an appropriate learning environment to all who need it, no matter what their level of disability or where the person resides.

The definition of disability should be the same as that in the Equal Status Act 2000 and the Employment Equality Act 1998. Section 2 should be amended to include the following:

(c) the children for whom education alongside their peers who do not have a learning disability proves to be unworkable in practice, will be educated at special schools, or in a special class with appropriate supports at their local primary school, whichever is the most suitable to the child.

Subsection (5)(b) and subsection (10)(d) of section 3 should be removed on the grounds that where an Act permits an opt-out clause on the basis of “good and substantial reasons” and will allow an appeals board to dismiss an appeal, then in practice these subsections of the Act can be invoked simply because sufficient funding is not provided in order to allow the provisions of the Act to be implemented properly. We propose the following addition to section 3:

Where an appeal is dismissed the parents/guardians should be informed as to the reasons for the decision. They should be allowed a further hearing and the right to call expert witnesses if they feel the grounds for dismissal are not well founded.

This clause should also be added to section 4.

We will move on to section 5(1). In order to ensure equality and standardisation of services, all assessments should be carried out by appropriately qualified independent teams with similar levels of expertise. Each team should comprise five persons to include an appropriately qualified teacher in special education, an educational psychologist, an appropriately qualified therapist to carry out the particular assessment, a social worker and another expert best suited to assess the particular disability which the child has. We suggest amending section 8(4) as follows: "The Council in proposing guidelines under subsection 3 shall have regard to the most up to date expert opinion", not "the policy of the Minister" as currently in the Bill. To section 8(8)(c) should be added the following: “The content of the educational plan should not be diluted because of lack of appropriate staff or facilities.”.

In section 10(3), "the organiser may" should be changed to "the organiser shall". In section 18(g), the wording should be amended to read: "to ensure that a continuum of special educational provision is available as a right, in relation to each type of disability". This should include all initiatives in the area of lifelong learning with due regard to the developmental age of the person, not the chronological age. The Bill should cover third level education and should include preparation of an education plan at this level for those deemed able to benefit from such courses, and with the provision of appropriate supports.

Guidelines should be laid down detailing the qualifications required by all persons who are appointed to the post of special educational needs organiser and how they carry out their functions. In order that a uniform service is delivered throughout the country we suggest an educational qualification or a background in educational psychology together with a training period and strict working guidelines. The number of persons for whom a special educational needs organiser is responsible should be assessed and laid down. The appeals procedure should be standardised throughout the country and should include another team of experts similarly constituted to those who made the original assessment - unless it is deemed that the original assessors were not appropriately qualified - but completely independent of either the health board or the service provider in question. When the appeals board sits "in divisions of itself" as outlined in section 34(2), a quorum of not less than three people should be in attendance.

There is only one reference to access to the courts in the Bill. This is only available to the health board or council, not the parent. Parents must have the right to appeal in the courts every aspect of the plan and how it is implemented. The Minister has allowed a period not greater than five years following the establishment day for full implementation of this Bill. However, since the Bill does not specify the establishment day the active implementation of the Bill can be delayed indefinitely. An establishment day should be specified.

I thank Mr. Ellis and Ms Walsh. We will now move on to IPPA, the early childhood organisation, from which we have Ms Irene Gunning and Ms Carmel Brennan.

Ms Irene Gunning

I am the chief executive with IPPA, the early childhood organisation. I am here today with my colleague Carmel Brennan who will make the presentation.

Ms Carmel Brennan

IPPA has more than 2,000 members and we facilitate more than 40,000 children. Our particular concerns with this Bill are with the role of early childhood services, the concept of integration and the concept of the needy child. The timescale for resources and education plans is also a concern.

We believe that in early childhood, children are in the process of making sense of the world and their places within it. We see within our curriculum that there are outcomes that are basic to lifelong learning, such as learning that I am loved and I am lovable, I can relate to other people, I am responsible, I am capable, I can take an interest. These are the things we must all master in the early years and are in basic lifelong learning. Children are learning the skills of agency: how to be effective in the world, both as individuals and as community players. They can only learn that by being part of the world and only to the extent that they are allowed to participate. Like all children, children with disabilities must be given opportunities of participating in the lived-in world and to learn those skills of agency.

We have concerns about the Bill. In our view, the Bill emphasises the Department's differentiation between education and care. In this Bill, school age children are the responsibility of the Department of Education and Science while pre-school children remain the responsibility of the Department of Health and Children. This emphasises the differentiation between education and care. The Bill proposes that to overcome this division, which the Department's own White Paper refuses to acknowledge in the first place, health boards should apply to the national council for special needs for special resources and expertise for education when they need it. This council will then give the health boards feedback and help them to come up with an education plan. However, we live in the real world and we know how long all that consultation takes. In the meantime, the four year old child will have become five and a half, if not six, and will have left the area of early childhood education. We see that as a very basic flaw in this Bill.

We believe that early childhood services, more than any other element of the education and care sector, has the potential to integrate and offer educational support to children with disabilities. For all children, but particularly for the child with a disability and his or her family, this is often the first stage in social integration outside the family. All brain research tells us that the early years are crucial in learning for life. We know that children with disabilities often spend longer in early childhood services than other children because they have to be ready to go to school. This is the most effective time for identifying children's special needs or additional needs, so it has a particular role to play in this sector. We feel it has not received the necessary attention in this Bill.

We are very concerned about the concept of the needy child in this Bill. Needy children are to be continuously assessed: the Bill emphasises standardised developmental milestones and standardised testing. However, childhood disability will always fail against standardised testing. The plan is that we will work on the area in which the child fails. If the child is poor in literacy or numeracy, that is where we will move in and we will work on that weakness. In early childhood it is important to identify people's strengths and work on these. We firmly believe that this builds people's capacity to cope with their weaknesses. That is how the rest of us function; we would like to see more of that holistic approach within the Bill.

The Bill makes promises to children and their families on behalf of our sector. We need clarity about the rights of the child and the family within our sector and about the obligations of our sector with regard to those rights. We need far more clarity about the support and resources that will be put into the early childhood sector so that these obligations may be carried out. We are extremely concerned about the sector. It is in crisis - we are experiencing a reduction in VTOS funding for child care, Youthreach and Senior Traveller funding for child care. We are experiencing withdrawal of funding for VEC staff and the loss of community employment and jobs initiative staff, reduced contributions from the health boards and total lack of engagement on the part of the Department of Education and Science. We are very concerned about the capacity of our sector to meet the commitments of this Bill.

Thank you. We will move on to the Children's Rights Alliance, from which we have Ms Maria Corbett, policy officer, and Mr.Raymond Dooley, chief executive officer.

I thank the committee for the opportunity of commenting on the Education for Persons with Disabilities Bill. My name is Raymond Dooley and I am the chief executive of the Children's Rights Alliance, a coalition of 74 Irish non-governmental organisations concerned with the rights and needs of children in Ireland. We work to secure the full implementation of the principles and provisions of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, which Ireland ratified and accepted without reservation in 1992. The convention is international law which Ireland has agreed to uphold.

Under the terms of the convention, children with disabilities have fundamental human rights that State parties have an obligation to respect and enforce. I will detail some of those rights and the obligations that flow from them. All children have a right to education; the State has a duty to ensure that education supports the development of the child's personality, talents and mental and physical capacities to their fullest potential. Children with a physical disability or learning difficulty have the right to special care, education and training designed to help them to achieve the greatest possible self-reliance and to lead a full, active life in society. All the rights in the convention apply to all children without exception and the State has an obligation to protect children from any form of discrimination. The State is also obliged to undertake all legislative, administrative and other measures necessary for the implementation of the rights outlined in the convention.

The convention is based on four fundamental principles, each of which has relevance to the proposed legislation: respect for the best interests of the child, a fundamental principle - the best interests of children with disabilities are often not respected, primarily due to financial considerations; the right of all children to life, survival and development - the development of children with disabilities is often hindered by a lack of educational and support services; the right of all children to express their views freely on all matters affecting them - as children with disabilities are commonly considered to be incapable of making valid judgments, their views are typically ignored; and non-discrimination, which asserts the right of all children to enjoy all the rights in the convention.

The Children's Rights Alliance welcomes the introduction of the proposed legislation and recognises the improvements on the previous Bill. While acknowledging the many positive elements in the Bill, we recommend that a number of changes be made to strengthen the rights of children and young people with disabilities to access meaningful education suitable to their needs. In our written submission to the committee, we have proposed 49 specific amendments to the legislation. Many of our proposed changes are intended to address ambiguities in the legislation or to make important but relatively minor incremental improvements to the Bill. Because the time that has been allotted to us this morning does not allow for a section by section examination of these suggested changes, we ask the members to review the written submission we have made and the explanations we have provided for each of the proposed amendments. We do, however, wish to draw the attention of the committee to the language found in several sections of the Bill, most notably section 12, which we believe is inconsistent with an intent to formulate and enact rights based legislation. If this language is not removed from the Bill it could be used as a statutory basis for failing to provide the educational services to children with disabilities that would otherwise be mandated under the legislation.

Section 12 addresses the duty of the Minister for Education and Science and the Minister for Health and Children to make resources available to implement the educational plans prepared in respect of children with special educational needs. However, instead of inserting the obligation that arises out of the entitlement recognised by the legislation, this section limits the obligation to provide resources by making it contingent upon the consent of the Minister for Finance and by linking that consent to the formulation of policies by the Ministers in question. To be fair, the section goes on to make clear that the Minister for Finance, in formulating such policies and in consenting to or denying the provision of resources, must give due regard to certain principles and constitutional obligations regarding the equitable treatment of every child in the State. Nevertheless, the language provides the Minister with considerable discretion and authority to withhold his or her consent. To correct this deficiency in the Bill, the phrase "with the consent of the Minister for Finance" in section 12(2)(b) should be deleted.

A similar problem can be found in section 36 and for that reason we recommend the deletion of section 36(2)(b) and (c). These subsections allow the health boards to refuse to provide a child with services as directed by the council on the basis of available resources.

We also recommend the deletion of section 18 (3)(b). The council’s role in advising the Minister in relation to the educational needs of children with disabilities should not be constrained by requiring them to take into account the resource implications of such advice. Subjecting the educational services entitlement to financial and other resource considerations jeopardises the rights asserted in the Bill and sanctions their potential negation. To ensure that the Bill is rights based, it must guarantee all children with disabilities the right to an assessment and to the provision of services which they require to benefit from education. The provision of such educational services must be based on the individual needs of the child and not on external considerations such as changing priorities, the current economic climate or the numbers of children with disabilities seeking support in a particular year.

I thank you for your time and for considering our recommendations

The next presentation is from All Children Together and we have Ms Margaret Carroll, Chairperson, and Ms Deirdre Hennigan.

Ms Margaret Carroll

I thank the joint committee for inviting us and giving us the opportunity to make a presentation. All Children Together is a new parents' lobby group formed following the publication of the Bill. We have many serious concerns about the Bill that we have outlined in our submission and we are recommending many amendments. We will not have time to go through all of them today so we will concentrate on three of what we feel are the most significant issues. I will deal with the designated schools and the right to services and supports, and my colleague Deirdre Hennigan will deal with transition and students with disabilities approaching their 18th birthday.

The concept of designated schools is regressive. It contradicts the notion of integration and I believe it has been introduced for financial reasons - in other words, it would save money to have the resources concentrated in a few schools. While this might seem like a clever idea, it would pave the way for less integration and more special classes. It will ghettoise children with special needs. Resources and services allocated to a child must follow that child, not the other way round. Article 42 of the Constitution guarantees parents the right to send their child to the school of their choice. The concept of designated schools undermines this right.

This Bill does not give students with educational disabilities an automatic right to the supports and services required by them to benefit from their education in a meaningful way. What they receive will depend on the generosity of the Minister for Finance, and that is not good enough. The explanatory memorandum states that the Bill aims to provide equity in education services between children who have educational disabilities and those who do not. This Bill does not achieve this objective. If children with disabilities are not guaranteed the supports and services they need to benefit as an automatic right, it will make it more difficult for them to achieve any goals in an educational plan. The only thing that this Bill guarantees for children is an educational plan that will become redundant if the resources, supports and services are not in place. The Bill will also place more obstacles in the way of parents, many more hoops for them to jump through before they eventually have to go to the courts to enforce the rights of their children.

Ms Deirdre Hennigan

We are extremely perturbed about the wording of section 14(3)(a) and (b) that a child with special educational needs will have an assessment made when he or she reaches the age of 18. This is completely discriminatory and perhaps even unconstitutional. What other student is forced to have an assessment made at the age of 18? Many students commence school at age five or six. Most children with learning disabilities would be at least that age before they commence mainstream schooling, leaving them with very little leeway at the other end if they are to be discriminated against at 18. My daughter is 20 this year and doing her leaving certificate applied and it worked well in her case. I would be worried if this assessment, however, was introduced because it would allow schools to decide that they do not need the student if support services were to be withdrawn. I believe this is a backward step and I would like to see the section reworded.

The final presentation this afternoon will be made by the Mr. Peter Kearns, a social policy worker on behalf of the Forum of People with Disabilities.

Mr. Peter Kearns

The Forum of People with Disabilities also thanks the committee for asking us to make a presentation today. Initially we welcomed the publication of the Bill and we were delighted with the initial interpretation granting the right avail of and to benefit from an appropriate education, leading to social and economic activity. The recognition that disabled people have the right to that activity is a progressive step.

The interpretation, however, comes back with a medical model response in that it maintains the health boards' involvement in the process and the delivery. A medical model response is that the impairment or the condition, such as my cerebral palsy or another person's MS or schizophrenia, takes precedence over the education of the child. The forum would like the disabled persons or children not to be seen as those who cannot do something - cannot hold a pen or write - with the education system and society putting up barriers to disabled children fulfilling their economic and social potential. We would prefer a more social response. I will quickly go through our problems with the Bill, state the reforms we would like to see and then finish with some recommendations.

As there is a medical model response overall, the forum feels that there are many areas in the education plan where we have serious concerns. It does not target economic and cultural possibilities, through formal education that would give disabled students the right to the education they require. Section 8(1) outlines the contents of the education plan yet, in terms of best practice, it is incomplete in key areas because it does not include short or long-term goals that are crucial if the effectiveness of the plan is to be both transparent and measurable.

Another concern is that the Bill is not a rights based approach for disabled people in the education system and the Forum of People with Disabilities is a rights based organisation that would like to see such an approach. The Bill relies too much on health boards rather than education agencies. There is no integration or strategy across Departments or other relevant providers or agencies, including representative organisations such as ours. Many of us have gone through the special education system and the formal education system so we have acquired expertise on the whole process that the disabled child goes through. We are keen, therefore, to be locally involved in the process to look at each education plan for disabled children.

There is also no rigorous or systematic measuring or monitoring of outcomes and results. The Bill is not based on an inclusive or student centred approach to education and portrays the myth that disabled people are a homogenous group by not recognising diversity in gender, culture and ethnicity. We are often grouped together as disabled but we are not homogenous. There are many differences between us and it would be a progressive move if this was recognised in the Bill.

Section 3 of the Bill identifies the principal as the only one who can call for an assessment. Where is the parent who knows the child best in this decision making process and why is there not a call for the principal to bring in expert advice from disability representative organisations in the local community to educate and inform his or her decision?

The definition in the Bill would potentially exclude some disabled children, for example, students with dyslexia. Section 8(3) appears to limit the provision contained in the education plan to those contained in guidelines for different categories of impairment. Many disabled students may take longer to complete mainstream education and achieve educational outcomes and qualifications to take part fully in economic and cultural lifestyles and, therefore, the limit of 18 years of age will limit their potential. The medical model nature of the Bill perpetuates the view that the disabled student is the problem rather than the wider educational environment.

Section 12 of the Bill, concerned with funding, states that resources will be provided by the Minister for Finance to ensure the equitable treatment of every child in the State. The Forum of People with Disabilities is not clear if the spirit of the Bill recognises that disabled people do not necessarily want to be treated the same as everyone else. We want equal access to the means of economic, social and cultural potential. We are disabled people and we need effective supports.

We have positive feelings about the Bill but we feel that a rights based approach to the equality of disabled people in the education system beyond 18 years is needed because the special education system has failed generations of disabled people. There is a history of failed special education. There should have been inclusion of the diversity of educational responses and not just an effort to fit the problem of disabled students into an already under-resourced school environment. The Bill should have ensured the integration of strategy across the Department of Education and Science and other relevant providers, agencies and disability representatives.

We also feel that there should be inclusion of a coherence of provision of models of good practice of integration so that each school principal is not responding to disabled students and their parents coming up the school pathway. Focused target setting will facilitate the right to avail of and acquire the skills necessary to participate in the economic and social activities of society.

We have exceeded the time allotted to us by some considerable length and we will come back to some of the issues raised in the question and answer session.

I welcome members of all the groups who attended today. I was impressed by the amount of work that had been put in. It will be of great assistance to us in our deliberations on this important legislation.

The 18 year age limit has been raised by many groups. A child is defined as being under 18 years of age and many people have said those with disabilities take longer to reach the leaving certificate. Would the groups agree that the 18 year age limit will pose difficulties for people with certain disabilities? How can that be resolved? Should it be left open ended or is there another way to address it?

The qualifications of the SNOs was another issue that was raised. SNO positions have been advertised in the last week and if people are taken on, it may be difficult to change their terms of employment later. Do the witnesses have any advice about that? With regard to the assessment procedure, it appears that once the assessment is carried out, everything else is based on it - the school plan and the resources. At present, however, there seems to be a conflict between some psychologists outside the system and those involved in NEPS.

Every group mentioned diversity and put their views across very strongly. Maybe we need more than one Bill or maybe we need to break up different sections because people have different disabilities and require different responses. I wonder if this one size fits all approach might be inadequate and if it could be damaging in some ways.

There is pressure on parents to send their children to mainstream schools earlier and earlier. Last year 50,000 children started school but 25,000 of them were four years of age in the January after they started - some were actually three, which is illegal. Is that becoming more common because of economic circumstances and child care problems? If a child is not ready for mainstream school, could that be damaging? In other systems where there are progressive and well resourced pre-school systems, children do not start school until six or seven. Where children with disabilities are concerned, it is not unusual to start later because of the disability but that means they will be older when they finish school.

I thank all the witnesses for their valuable and enlightening contributions. Last week when the groups representing those with disabilities started this work with us, we recognised that there are levels of disability - mild, severe and profound - that may not be adequately addressed at all in the Bill. I would ask all of the groups to advise us further on how to address this. Deputy Stanton raised the idea of additional sections in the Bill so that it covers more than education for persons with disabilities because people can fall through the gaps if that is not addressed. I would also like to hear the witnesses' ideas on that.

I welcome the IPPA to the committee. In the training of Montessori teachers and some other pre-school teachers and assistants there is already disability awareness training. Could the IPPA tell us more about that? Is the organisation working on that? Is there an awareness programme within the Montessori training programme to help children who are able-bodied to become aware of those who are disabled?

In Finland, children do not start school until the age of seven but they are seen to be streets ahead of every other European country when they come to school leaving age. We could look to Finland for guidance in many ways.

The IPPA stated that while the Bill identifies supports for schools, it sheds little light on plans for the early childhood sector. How can we best serve the early childhood sector within the Bill? Do you believe the education of parents of children with disabilities who need help in the early stages of the child's development should be State school based at an earlier stage? This is linked to the later start in Finland, which is very progressive.

I also welcome the groups. I share the concerns of All Children Together about section 2(b) which has come up at a number of meetings. Clear guidelines for the operation of this system must be put in place. A minority of groups suggested its elimination and I would like to hear the views of other groups on that.

The problem of definition came up many times, particularly in relation to the exclusion of those with dyslexia or ADD. While groups agree that the definition must be changed, there were many suggestions about what it should be changed to. Some groups spoke of the Education (Welfare) Act and the Equal Status Act giving a common area to deal with disability. I accept the point made by the Children's Rights Alliance and acknowledge the importance of temporary disabilities.

I share the concerns of the Forum of People with Disabilities about emphasis, particularly with pre-school children and the involvement of health boards and the Department of Health and Children. I agree with the social model of disability and the need for the Bill to give due recognition to it. We carried out a training programme with the forum and I learned more at that with Mr. Kearns and his colleagues than I had ever before. There was interaction to show the social model and, as he said, it demonstrated that disability is socially constructed and, as such, under-representation of disabled students in educational institutions is not a result of a lack of ability but rather based on attitudinal and environmental barriers that disabled people face. Mr. Kearns goes on to say it is no longer the disabled person who cannot get up the school stairs or cannot on to the school bus; disability is created by the lack of a lift or accessible buses or people's attitude. That is the key to the Bill.

There was a reference to the need to set long-term goals in education plans. Currently the Bill outlines the need for goals to be achieved by the child in a period of less than a year. What long-term goals would the Forum of People with Disabilities like to see included, especially if we take the view that the Department of Education and Science should be responsible for the child's education from the cradle to the grave? Many groups have mentioned that this is a disability Bill for persons but within a few sentences it changes focus and deals with children. That is a weakness in the Bill.

I also thank all the groups for appearing before us today. It is helpful for us to see different perspectives and hear comments on the various sections because the committee will go through the Billl section by section.

Other than the contents of the submission of All Children Together, there are two major concerns - section 2 and the concept of "alongside" when wording such as "in the same class as" might be tighter. We could ask the Minister to look at that concept. I am a barrister and if I was a judge I would see "alongside" as meaning "side by side", which would entail "in the classroom", subject to the provisos in paragraphs (a) and (b) with which I do not believe the representatives have any difficulty, namely, (a) that it must be in the best interests of the child, and (b) the effective provision of education for children with whom the child is to be educated. Section 2 makes sense to me but I am not a specialist in this area. If it does not make sense I would like to know why.

The groups other main concern is section 14 and the concept of a review of the child's progress at age 18 and why this is happening when other children do not have a similar review. I would like specialist advice on whether a review is appropriate or important. Is the distinction between these groups of children legitimate? Section 14 seems to be drafted for the child's benefit. I also read the Explanatory Memorandum to the Bill and there is a constitutional imperative for the education of children but not for the education of non-children, as I understand the law. That could be connected with section 14. I look forward to the response from ACT.

I welcome the representatives of all the groups. The Forum for People with Disabilities' points on the issue of the medical model versus the social model are well made. We will take its specific proposals into consideration. This issue brings us back to the question of how the assessments are conducted. They should be focused on the individual needs of the student as opposed to making the student fit into the systems that exist. We need to take that on board as well, and that connects with the question of the designated school raised by All Children Together. I share the concern about what seems to be happening in directing children into particular schools rather than making it a priority to facilitate, if possible, their inclusion in their local schools. We need to amend the Bill in that regard.

Many groups have raised the issue of resources. The PWDI in particular raised that issue and what should be done about section 12 which limits the rights of people with disabilities on the basis of the resources available. The Children's Rights Alliance laid strong emphasis on that too. I would be interested in FPD's views on the extent to which we should completely remove the reference to resources, or whether some limit should be imposed. The Constitution enshrines a right to education but we need to remove the environmental impediments for a person with a disability. To do that we will have to expend significant resources. Do the groups have views on how we can strengthen the Bill in that regard?

The issue raised by the ICPA was particularly important in terms of intervention for children with disabilities and the fact that at the moment no one is responsible for pre-school education. It is not included in this Bill as a responsibility of the Department of Education and Science. The funding comes from various sources, some from the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform, some from the Department of Health and Children, and other places. When cutbacks are introduced they tend to affect a sector that is not in any box so the community employment cuts affect these groups as do the other cuts. I would be interested in views on how we can strengthen the legislation for the pre-school sector which probably needs to be strengthened across the board, not only in this Bill.

PWDI said that the definition in the Equal Status Act 2000 and Employment Equality Act 1998 should be used here; others have suggested the definition in the Education Act 1998 and some have suggested their own definitions. The dyslexia group in particular, and other organisations, are afraid they will be excluded because of the definition in the Bill. If any of the groups has a view on the definition in this Bill we would be interested in hearing that. We have had other submissions on this issue and we must decide on one. The groups are welcome to come back to us on that at a later stage.

I am conscious that we have exceeded the timescale advised to our guests and that has implications for staff and some of the members so we will try to deal with the responses as quickly as possible. It will be impossible for the witnesses to answer the wide range of questions put in the time available but what would be most helpful to the committee would be answers that indicate how best amendments might be made. Many of the long submissions do suggest specific amendments and we have had a chance to look at them and we will have a further opportunity to do so. We have about 20 minutes left for responses.

Many of the questions go to the heart of the education system and education for people with disabilities: when does it begin, when does it finish, who is included, who has a disability, who does not have a disability, are rights present if the resources may or may not be present? We need to look at the beginning of the education process. Section 2 says that a principal may start the process of an assessment and an educational plan and so on but what happens if a child is assessed at the age of one or two? Will that education assessment be carried forward and can it become the basis for the education plan right through the system? This is unclear. We need to be sure that it does.

Many members have raised the question of the position of people with disabilities whose chronological age is 18 but whose developmental age is not. It is very important to say that people with disabilities whose developmental age is not 18 are covered. The Sinnott case found that the State does not have to provide an education for people over the age of 18 but it does not say it cannot. We say this Bill should ensure that it does. The third level sector is not included in the Bill but we need to ensure that it is included. This refers to further education and adult education. We need to ensure that people with disabilities can also get in there.

In our submission we referred to the need for funding to follow the student and not the school. In certain cases students will be more suited to spending some time in a specialist school and some time in a mainstream school so maybe there should be dual enrolment and the funding should follow the student. We want to ensure that the advocate at every stage in this process can initiate an assessment, a plan, a review or whatever is required. The Bill seems to say that the school or the health board does it in each case. There is only one reference to access to the court and that is available to the Department of Health and Children. We want to ensure that the parent or the advocate has access to the court not as a first resort but as a last resort.

Our original document covers many more points than we have been able to cover in a short time today. It looks at the social side of the person's life and as a postscript, on 3 December 2003, the European Directive on Employment will come into force in Ireland and throughout Europe. Where does education fits into that? It is key.

Ms Mary Walsh

I am a teacher in a VEC school in a disadvantaged area and the mother of an autistic child of 22. The health boards carry out ordinary developmental assessments of children which may reveal gross abnormalities and that child will be in the service before the age of four. When my child was young the playschool services would not deal with him and if there had not been an alternative available he would have had nothing. The special education schools take in children from the age of three and have a plan for them so it is not as if certain children are completely without services. At the moment much of the money being spent on special education comes from the Department of Health and Children. The Department of Education and Science appears to be asked to spend a great deal of money now but if it does spend this will be an interdepartmental issue. Although many items appear to cost a great deal, not providing proper services is also costing money.

Children with a mild learning difficulty are often overlooked and they are the children who will come under section 3 of this Bill because their developmental problems have not been spotted until they reach school. That section must be strengthened to ensure that group of students is taken care of at that stage. If the proper supports are put in place those children will benefit greatly and will fall out of the disability sector because the kind of problems they have, such as dyslexia, dyspraxia and so on, can be addressed. At the moment they are not being addressed. I see 12 or 13 year old children coming into second level school who have a reading age of eight or nine. We can address them at that level at our school because we have built up the expertise to turn that around and yet it has not happened for eight years. Many students become very alienated over that time and will, if their needs are not properly addressed, end up in our prison system and become a drain on resources for the rest of their lives.

The cut-off point of 18 years creates an artificial division and it arises because services were available up to the age of 18 from the Department of Health and Children anyway. By making that a cut-off point the Bill is retaining the status quo. I do not see why children with disabilities should be differentiated from other children who are entitled to third level education. Why should not the disabled children's education continue? It is well known that children who have a disability and have learned things with great difficulty will lose that facility if their education is not continued as this maintains their numeracy and literacy levels. They need back-up as they get older, no matter what services they have.

Thank you. I imagine you will want to send us suggested amendments. Please feel free to do so.

Ms Gunning

I would like to address the question of pressure on parents and the education system as an early intervention for young children. We heard about how good things are in Finland and in other countries. Formal education starts at age seven in those countries but they have very good early childhood care and education provision. In many cases the State provides that and children nowadays are seen as unique, competent, complex human beings. We no longer use the measure of the universal child against which a group of five year olds was expected to reach a certain standard or a group of seven year olds was expected to perform particular tasks. The system that operates in those countries, and that we would like to see operating here, recognises the uniqueness of each child. It acknowledges that each child has strengths, no matter what his or her capabilities and we must build on them.

We would love to see such a system being resourced in Ireland. Part of that would be the type of training Mary Roche mentioned that people receive to work in this sector. We are capacity building that area because those who work with young children have traditionally been educated through the National Council for Vocational Award system which has now become the Further Education Technical Awards Council and would mainly have trained through a level two programme, which is the one year post-leaving certificate course. IPPA has become involved in delivering that accredited training and has identified the need to develop modules addressing special needs which are in much greater demand.

I take Ms Roches point about playgroups not having capacity or in the past having more fears due to lack of resources and support to help children. Today, the parents and the people who run the services want to integrate children. They need support and help and they are demanding the training. The sector did not have a level three to enable people to climb the ladder until we lobbied and were able to develop that for the awarding body.

Maria Montessori developed her methods through working with children who in those days lived in "asylums" in Rome. She laid particular emphasis on special equipment whereas we emphasise all children having access to a wide range of equipment and materials and children having choice.

Ms Carmel Brennan

In mainstream schools children are tested at an early stage with the focus on literacy whereas the child with a learning disability is immediately exposed. In early childhood we try not to create that situation; the emphasis is on more training in that area. Our schools can change too and we promote a play based model because play allows all children to operate at their own level and to move into different levels, to be anybody they want to be. Children need to stay in play situations for a longer period or else the schools need to adapt to incorporate a more flexible approach or a different understanding of what education is, and move away from the literacy and numeracy model.

The social model to which Deputy Crowe referred does not view the child as a problem because he or she does not fit in but tries to establish why the system prevents the child from fitting in. This does not come across in this Bill. We all stand to learn from integration, not just the child with disabilities but also the community. The only way we can learn this is through practising it. Deputy O'Sullivan spoke of suggesting amendments. This is a piece of work we need to sit down and do now. We would very much like to make some suggestions.

Now I call on the Children's Rights Alliance and we will hear from Ms Maria Corbett and Mr. Raymond Dooley.

I will speak on the issue of resource provision and the language in the Bill. One Deputy asked whether we think sections should be deleted entirely and how it should be handled. We have to make sure that we do not forget the context of the legislation that is being put forward. The context is years of neglect and inequitable treatment of children with disabilities. There has to be a recognition that despite the constitutional and UN convention obligations, there simply has not been in practice the delivery of the educational services on a equal basis.

We all know that this was largely because of decisions made not to allocate sufficient resources to meet the required level of service. This Bill proposes to correct that. It proposes to do it on the basis of equality and the recognition of the rights of the child. It will put in place very elaborate structures that are based on a real assessment of the genuine needs of the individual child made in the context of the objective of treating children equally. I do not see why in that process it makes sense to interject the opinion of a financial officer as to whether resources should be made available. That factor should not come into play at that point.

This Bill should be amended, enacted and funds should be allocated at a level that is required to meet the individual education plans provision. Then, perhaps after several years, a review can be taken. If the Oireachtas decides that the country is spending too much money providing equitable educational services for children with disabilities, it can choose to pass another law or make an amendment to the law. However, at this stage, it would be entirely premature and would create a high likelihood that the problems that exist today will be replicated in the future when the issue of disability moves out of the spotlight and off the top of the agenda to become an out of sight and out of mind phenomenon.

Under this Bill, the health boards can simply say, without reason, that they will not provide that service as part of the educational plan if they choose not to because they might not have resources available or the Minister for Finance, after allegedly taking due account of the constitutional obligations or the principles from them, may decide that resources will not be available and to withhold his consent. It is not appropriate to embed that kind of decision making process within the terms of this legislation. Let the Oireachtas make its decisions about the allocation of resources in the whole but not in a way that would deny the full 100% of provision of services required to give a child the equal opportunity to receive an education and to develop his or her full potential.

Now I call on All Children Together and we will hear from Ms Margaret Carroll and Ms Deirdre Hennigan.

Ms Carroll

I agree with everything Mr. Dooley has said with regard to resources. I would like to see resources not constrained. At the moment children with special needs are second class citizens; I would like to see them treated as first class and equal citizens. The more resources that are put in at an early stage, the fewer resources will be needed at a later stage. It would be a pay-off to put in at an early stage as many resources as the educational plans and the assessments state that the child needs. It will be of benefit to the child, to the community and to everybody.

Deputy Mulcahy referred to section 2 of the Bill. We have serious concerns about that whole section. I believe the term "alongside" means "together with", which could be in the same building; it does not necessarily mean "side by side" in the same classroom. As a parent that is the way I would read it. I am not a legal expert. I have huge concerns about section 2(b). Who decides that? It will make it very easy for a school or a teacher who does not want a child with a disability in their class to have them removed.

Is Ms Carroll against the principle of subsection (b)?

Ms Carroll

I am against the principle of subsection (b). Of course, all of the children have equal rights. However, according to the interpretation there, our children would have fewer rights than children without disabilities. I am not a legal expert, but our group read that and felt very strongly. We were thinking of children whose behaviour might be considered disruptive. This needs to be looked at to protect children with disabilities.

A number of counterviews have been expressed on this issue. The committee will reach a balanced view on this.

I am glad it has been highlighted as it is an important issue.

Ms Carroll

It is an important issue. I would also like to see more parental involvement in this Bill. In the reviews of plans, parents should also be involved and get copies of every assessment on their child.

Mr. Kearns

Ten years ago when we started pushing for equality, not only did people think I had cerebral palsy but that I had two heads. It is nice to know this topic is up there for discussion. This is quite exciting. A Deputy asked about the goals and objectives beyond 2001. We would like to see a reflection of the 1998 Education Act and the provision for the disabled child and student. We would like to see a process that would reflect access to economic, social and cultural activities. We are quite keen on the parent provision and the disabled child having a provision of access.

The other issue which was raised and it was one of the recommendations we made was what we call disability equality training for all disabled students, their parents, their peers and their teachers. With the disability equality training, we do not look at the impairment of disabilities; we look at the social values for disabled people. Disabled people want it to be recognised that it is not their fault if they cannot do something. This can help bring down barriers to people who have impairments. If that was evident in the class among all their peers, it would be quite a progressive step.

This is the last point I wish to make. The position of a person born with a disability is quite different to that of a person who acquires a disability. A person who acquires a disability is aware of what he has lost. If a person gets a spinal or head injury, he would have gone through the formal education system and would know what he has lost. However, many people who are born with disabilities are not conscious of that because they have always been treated in a special way.

In terms of the Bill itself, the idea of a lifelong objective for disabled people and the vision that they can be culturally and socially active in society is very important.

Thank you very much, Mr. Kearns. That is an important point. I have personal experience in my own family of a child who was badly injured and acquired disabilities. It is an area where there is enormous difficulty arising from exactly what Mr. Kearns said.

I thank Mr. Kearns and all our guests for giving us the benefit of their expertise and experience. We look forward to hearing more from some of you with regard to proposed amendments. We will certainly do our best to ensure that the Bill meets the need of the people whom you represent.

For the benefit of the committee, we have a proposal from the working group that we meet next on Thursday, 9 October 2003, at the normal time to consider how we proceed on this issue and consider some issues with regard to our work programme which will mainly be in private session.

The joint committee adjourned at 1.30 p.m. until 11.30 a.m. on Thursday, 9 October 2003.