More than 100 people gathered at Letterkenny’s Market Square yesterday evening to show their support for children who require a special needs assistant at school.
The demonstration in Letterkenny, and similar protests around the country, were organised in response to last week’s announcement that SNAs would be cut by 10 per cent in the coming year because of an increase in demand. Ruairi Quinn, TD, minister for education, announced earlier this week that the decision was being reversed, but campaigners said they still wanted to hold the public actions on Wednesday to keep a focus on the issue.
“There is no guarantee they will not be sneaked in again in another form,” said the mother of a child with special needs who spoke at the Letterkenny protest. She said her daughter had a full-time SNA until three years ago; now she shares the assistant with another student.
“I would love it if television cameras could come into the classroom and see what it’s like in there,” she said, to applause from the crowd gathered. She said the class includes a broad mix of abilities, each requiring the teacher’s attention.
“Special needs means special needs - people who need care and attention, and our minister is not doing that,” she said.
“My son is not a faceless statistic,” said Kate McCafferty, one of the organisers of the Letterkenny action. “He is a 14-year-old boy who deserves to be educated.”
Letterkenny Mayor, Cllr. Dessie Larkin, pledged the town council’s support. He referred to the 1916 Proclamation, and its promise to cherish all the children of the nation equally. “One place where that can be done is education,” he said, calling cuts to supports to children with special needs “deplorable”.
Members of the Let Me Be Me campaign also addressed the crowd. They had come to County House earlier this week to ask councillors to sign their Threshold of Decency statement, which calls for the protection of Donegal’s specialist special-needs preschools and a broader programme to develop the services.
Children with specialist special needs are citizens of this state, said Ashling Nibbs, whose son attends the specialist preschool at Ballaghderg, Letterkenny. “They are entitled to education,” she said.
Ashling said it was time for Donegal politicians to stand up and be counted on the issue. “It’s time for us to stand up and be a voice for our children,” she said. She urged people at the protest to keep up the pressure on elected representatives.
The campaign’s statement “outlines a set of core values we would like to support and calls for core actions,” said Avril McMonagle, manager of the Donegal County Childcare Committee. She said they will follow up with the politicians who have signed the statement on their actions to advance the campaign.