I welcome the Minister of State, Deputy Niall Collins. I speak on behalf of concerned and frustrated parents who have contacted me over the last months. They have struggled to access the assistive technology that their occupational therapists have absolutely, unequivocally confirmed was needed for their children. I have no doubt that that is reflected around the country.
Assistive technology is not a luxury. It is a necessity for those who need it. Ireland prides itself on having a world-class education system that is inclusive, free at the point of use, open to everyone and supportive of everyone. As the Fianna Fáil spokesperson on education in the Seanad, I am proud that our party introduced free education. Education is still something that our party is passionate about.
I have always been a passionate advocate for inclusive education. I fundamentally believe that all children should be able to receive a high quality education within their own communities and areas. If we truly want an education system that works and caters for all, then we need to ensure that we advocate for all. In the modern world, a child's access to educational supports such as assistive technology is vital. We cannot allow bureaucracy to hinder it.
I have been in contact with the Minister of State, Deputy Madigan, and her office for some time about a child who is local to me. Roadblocks to accessing assistive technology have been put in his way. This child has had two professional assessment reports from an occupational therapist and an educational psychologist, both of which supported and confirmed his need to be supplied with assistive technology. The Department is now, for some reason, requesting a third evaluation. It will take time and more money. The child's parents have already paid for one, with the school paying for the first evaluation. The family and the school have already paid privately for assessments to this point. There is a clear need, based on these reports, for additional supports. This is completely unfair and unacceptable. I requested that the Minister's office intervene, which has not happened.
I spoke to the principal of this child's school, who is most concerned for the child. The principal also feels that it is essential that appropriate supports be put in place well before this child faces into second level. The child is not engaging in classes. He says he feels stupid. He is being bullied by his peers. This is down to a lack of adequate supports, which have been clearly identified in the assessments to date. Something must be done to ensure that every child is supported and afforded the quality education to which they are entitled.
I was contacted by another parent who was given the run-around by the Department when she sought to access assistive technology. She first applied when her daughter was diagnosed with dyspraxia hypermobility in 2018. She was in sixth class then and was told to reapply to have this set up for first year. She was then told to reapply the following year and nothing happened. In the second year, they applied again and were told by the Department that the grant had been posted to the school. No cheque ever arrived. They chased this all last year. Recently, they had to apply again for a third time. Their daughter was approved by the Department but nothing happened. When the parent contacted me, I again tried to advocate on her behalf with the office of the Minister of State, Deputy Madigan, but did not get anything. It was only when I got a colleague in the Dáil to table a parliamentary question that the Department finally moved on this.
This is totally unacceptable. Is there an issue with the administration of assistive technology within the Department? Have appropriate resources been assigned to ensure that children who need services can access them? Will the Department conduct a review of the process to ensure that children are not left behind without vital educational supports?