Sinn Féin spokesperson on Education, Donnchadh Ó Laoghaire TD, has expressed concern following correspondence received from the Minister for Education Norma Foley.
The correspondence passes the buck for the unethical collection of information on children with special educational needs, a decade-long practice, on to the Fine Gael Minister of State Josepha Madigan.
Teachta Ó Laoghaire said:
“I wrote to Minister for Education, Norma Foley, as soon as I heard about the alarming practices of her Department in aiding the Department of Health to gather secret dossiers on children with special educational needs and their families.
“This information was used as a tactic in litigation against these families attempting to secure special educational needs services.
“I asked the Minister to come before the public, to make a full statement on the role of the Department of Education, including when she and previous Ministers for Education became aware of these practices, and to immediately establish an independent investigation.
“I have this morning received a reply from the Minister’s office, referring this matter to Minister of State Josepha Madigan to respond to.
“I cannot see how the Minister of State for Special Education is to solely respond to these serious allegations given that we know that this unethical practice has been ongoing for over a decade, while the role of Minister of State for Special Education was only founded in July of last year.
“This seems to be the Fianna Fáil Minister attempting to fob this onto her Fine Gael colleague. This is clearly a political decision.
“How can a newly-founded office of Minister for State be expected to answer questions on a practice that has been ongoing for over a decade, while the current Minister for Education and indeed all former Ministers for Education take no responsibility?
“It beggars belief and cannot be allowed to happen. It is too serious a matter. This practice started before Minister Foley’s time; I accept that. But as the senior minister, she has to take responsibility for what is happening and has happened in her Department, react to it and take action.
“Minister Foley must appear before the public, she must explain her Department’s role in this long-standing practice, she must outline when she became aware of this and indeed whether former Ministers for Education were similarly aware.
“We have heard a lot in recent months about children with special educational needs being the number one priority. These families weren’t treated as a priority. On the contrary, they seem to have been treated as opponents to be undermined.
“Families of children with special educational needs will be extremely concerned by the contents of last night’s RTÉ Investigates report. They have a right to know the extent of the Department of Education’s involvement straight from the Minister for Education, the head of the Department.”