Dáil Éireann - Volume 436 - 02 December, 1993
Adjournment Debate. - Education Facilities for Handicapped Children.
Éamon Ó Cuív Éamon Ó Cuív
Éamon Ó Cuív: Ba mhaith liom buí ochas a glacadh leis an Aire as ucht teacht  isteach agus éisteacht liom tráthnóna.
At present ten children from the western region are attending Baldoyle school for the physically and mentally handicapped. These physically handicapped children, who suffer varying degrees of physical handicap, have to face the trauma of travelling long distances every week. I am asking the Minister to provide the necessary facilities for the education of these children in their own area. Some of these children have to travel a round trip of 360 miles every week to and from Baldoyle. This journey would be a problem for a normal healthy child but for a severely handicapped child confined to a wheelchair who cannot go to the toilet it is a severe strain. It is a totally unfair burden on one of the weakest sections of our society.
Some of these intelligent children cannot speak, walk or go to the toilet. This means that their lines of communication are limited and they cannot fully show how stressed they are. The provision of educational facilities for these children within a reasonable distance of their homes is very important. I ask the Minister to provide a regional centre in Galway for the education of these children. When these children are so far away from home they feel isolated and can suffer stress. It is impossible for the parents of these children to visit them on a regular basis. I do not see any justification for letting this situation continue.
I understand that there is no requirement for special equipment in such schools. Most of these children have lived at home and one of them even attended the local primary school with tremendous help from the teachers and the local community. Apart from an initial outlay of capital, I do not see how costs could be a barrier to the provision of a regional centre in Galway. Furthermore, it would seem to be cost inefficient in the long term to provide transport to bring children  long distances when similar services could be provided nearer home.
I would argue that normal cost considerations do not apply when one is dealing with the severely physically handicapped. Obviously money is in short supply, but the money required has to be balanced against the service which will be provided. It cannot be considered acceptable in this day and age for handicapped people to have to travel to the other side of the country to receive their basic right to education. This would certainly not be acceptable in the case of people who are not physically handicapped, and I cannot understand why it should be acceptable in the case of people who are physically handicapped. I ask the Minister to make provision for the education of these children in centres which are a reasonable distance from their homes. I recognise that children with a more severe handicap would have to be grouped in a regional centre. Nevertheless such children should not be expected to travel more than 50-60 miles to be educated.
I understand that Baldoyle special school, which has provided a tremendous service, is no longer accepting students from outside the Dublin catchment area. The long term outlook for these children is very bad.
Another issue which arises in this connection is the provision of accommodation for these children after school. I realise that is another issue but I believe this matter deserves the attention of the Minister and the various Departments involved.
Arís ba mhaith liom buíochas a ghlacaidh leis an Aire as ucht teacht isteach chun éisteacht leis an gcás seo. Bheadh súil agam go mbreathnódh sí chomh luath agus is féidir, in ainneon cuinsí airgid, mar tá fíor gá le rud éigin práinneach a dhéanamh sna chásanna seo.
Minister for Education (Ms Bhreathnach) Niamh Bhreathnach
Minister for Education (Ms Bhreathnach): Over the past 30 years in particular  my Department has responded to the special education needs of children with disabilities by providing an extensive network of special schools and special classes in ordinary schools. As one might expect, facilities have tended to be concentrated in the larger centres of population where, generally speaking, the greatest level of need exists.
More recently the benefits of making provision for children with disabilities in ordinary classrooms in their local schools have been highlighted. Indeed, this approach has been endorsed in the recently published report of the special education review committee. In general, this must be seen as a progressive approach and my Department seeks to respond positively by allocating additional specialist teachers to assist ordinary class teachers in meeting the needs of these pupils.
Among the factors that need to be considered in deciding on the location and type of special educational provision are the number of children involved and the nature and degree of their disabilities. In the case of physically handicapped children from the western region, a dedicated special school was established at Merlin Park Hospial, Galway, in 1955. This school catered for children who were long term hospital in-patients, suffering from such diseases as polio and tuberculosis. Resources for the operation of the school continued to be provided by my Department and the Western Health Board for as long as the need existed. However, by June 1991 there were only three pupils remaining in the school and none of these was an in-patient.
In the circumstances my Department and the health board concluded that a special school located in a hospital was no longer a suitable environment in which to educate these children on a long term basis. Accordingly, arrangements were made to close the school in June 1991 and to establish a special class at Scoil Chaitríona senior national school, Renmore, Galway, from the following  September. The latest figures available to my Department suggest that there are six pupils in this class and I can assure the Deputy that my Department will continue to provide support for these pupils in Scoil Chaitríona for as long as the need continues.
Regrettably, there will always be cases of special educational need where placement in a special school will be necessary. In many of these cases there may be additional disabilities accompanying the primary one. As well as teachers, such children may require the support of medical, therapy and care personnel on a continuous basis. Because the number of these children in each region is relatively small, it would be unrealistic to expect that this level of support could be provided on a local basis in each case.
I am not aware that the level of need in the western region at the present time is such as to require the provision of additional facilities for children with a physical disability. However, I would be prepared to consider any detailed proposals in this regard which the Deputy may wish to submit.
Dáil Éireann 436 Adjournment Debate. Education Facilities for Handicapped Children.