Protest in opposition to Special Needs cuts

June 29, 2010

A public rally was held in Newry city centre on Friday to protest against cuts to summer scheme provision for special needs children. 

Families, community workers, trade union officials and politicians gathered in Newry city centre on Friday to protest at cuts to summer scheme provision for special needs children in the area.

The rally was organised by  the trade union nipsa to raise the issue publicly and appeal for support to oppose the cuts currently being implemented by the Southern Education and Library Board (SELB).

SDLP MLA Dominic Bradley says there is ‘palpable anger’ among parents of special needs children, teachers and trade unions about the manner in which these cuts have been initiated without warning.  He accused the Chief Executive of the SELB, Mr Tony Murphy, of delivering a ‘woefully inadequate’ response to those voicing opposition to the plans.

In response to a query from Mr Bradley, Mr Murphy said funding of Special School Summer Schemes has always been ‘discretionary’ and was ‘not statutory provision’.  Citing the need to make savings, the decision was made to reduce the schemes and withdraw the associated transport, Mr Murphy said.

Mr Bradley is incensed at this response.

“Whether this service is discretionary or not, it does not take away from the fact that it is a front-line service in the eyes of the parents whose children benefit from it,” Mr Bradley said.

“The Chief Executive has admitted that it has been custom and practice for the Board to fund the schemes which, in itself, establishes them as an integral part of the special education service.  “Special needs summer schemes is an area which we must protect and ensure its continuance,” he said, adding that he has already written to Education Minister Caitriona Ruane regarding the matter.

Vulnerable cannot carry can

Speaking after attending the protest, Ulster Unionist MLA Danny Kennedy said “the vulnerable cannot carry the can for an economy in trouble” and called on the Education Minister to “look again at her budgetary priorities”.

“This is an issue that deserves serious scrutiny, both in terms of the immediate impact and also the long-term implications for special needs children and their families,” Mr Kennedy said.

“I am concerned that one of the first services to feel the squeeze is one which caters for children – and their families – who rely so heavily on services of this kind,” he added.

Council delegation to meet SELB over Rathore cuts

Councillor Charlie Casey has confirmed that a meeting to discuss the decision by the SELB to reduce support for the Summer Scheme at Rathore Special Needs School in Newry has been arranged for tomorrow (Tuesday).

Mr Casey will be one of a number of councillors who will meet with the Chief Executive of the SELB, Mr. Tony Murphy.

Councillor Casey said the cuts to the scheme have led to much anger and distress, not only within the school, but throughout the community.

Mr Casey said that everyone at Rathore had worked extremely hard to put structures in place for the summer scheme, with the school holding a fundraising day and other such initiatives.

His colleague Councillor Pat McGinn said that whilst it was recognised that a summer scheme was not a statutory obligation of the SELB, it is important that the Board is reminded that society’s most vulnerable people will be affected by these cuts.

“I intend asking the Chief Executive Mr. Murphy if there is not a possibility of reducing bureaucracy and streamlining delivery of administration in education, instead of cutting schemes that are of benefit to the people who need it the most,” Mr McGinn said.