Dáil Éireann - Volume 643 - 11 December, 2007

Written Answers. - Special Educational Needs.

Deputy Kathleen Lynch asked the Minister for Education and Science the number of legal cases her Department is involved in with parents of children with special needs who have initiated legal proceedings against the State; the estimated legal cost of these actions; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [34408/07]

Deputy Kathleen Lynch asked the Minister for Education and Science the legal costs and compensation paid per year over the past five years in legal proceedings involving children with special needs who have taken legal actions against the State; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [34409/07]

[1187]   Deputy Mary Hanafin: I propose to take Questions Nos. 795 and 796 together.

There are 75 cases involving children with special educational needs currently ongoing in which my Department is a named party. The Deputy will be aware of my position on the issues of litigation in special educational needs and can be assured that neither I nor my Department take lightly any decision to defend cases concerning children with special educational needs. Cases are generally only litigated where no potential settlement is acceptable to both sides and the Government’s authority to decide issues of policy is in question. The State has an obligation under the Constitution to provide for primary education. In the context of children with special educational needs, that education must be appropriate to their requirements. The State decides on an appropriate form of provision, having regard to the advice available to it from relevant experts in the National Educational Psychological Service, the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment, the Inspectorate and independent experts. The Department is not complacent in dealing with these cases and attempts, wherever possible, to reduce the potential for litigation and the levels of legal costs where they arise.

I would like to emphasise that legal costs incurred by the State in defending those cases which are brought to court, are not met directly by my Department. In accordance with financial procedures in cases involving damages or compensation against the State, costs are generally charged to the Chief State Solicitor’s Office Vote as sanctioned by the Attorney General. With reference to the costs incurred by my Department which are payment of legal costs of solicitors acting on behalf of children with special educational needs the costs for the last five years are as follows:

2003 — €3,766,276.53

2004 — €5,160,555.16

2005 — €1,211,529.68

2006 — €620,880.43

To date 2007 — €421,176.97

Ex-gratia payments made in the settlement of these cases were as follows:

2003 — €662,830.42

2004 — €421,692.11

2005 — €101,655.16

2006 — €152,333.34

To date — 2007 €53,882.00

Finally I wish to assure the Deputy that I am most anxious that all children receive an education appropriate to their needs and I will continue to prioritise the issue of special educational needs and, in co-operation with the National Council [1188] for Special Education and the education partners ensure that children with special educational needs are adequately resourced to enable them to meet their potential.