Posted May 30th, 2012
Long wait for new building promised to only non-fee paying Church of Ireland school serving North Wicklow must end.
Fine Gael Wicklow TD, Simon Harris, has asked the Minister for Education, Ruairi Quinn, to review the decision to delay funding for a new school building for Newpark school in Blackrock until 2015.
Speaking in the Dáil, Deputy Harris said, “Newpark school was built to cater for 400 students in 1972. It now has 830 students, which while a real sign of its success in the community and the high regard in which it is held, has resulted in very serious concerns about the facilities available to students and the health and safety of the existing buildings.”
“I have long been an advocate for the right of parents to send their children to a school which reflects their own ethos, be it one of the many excellent rural schools around Wicklow, or Newpark, the only non-fee paying Church of Ireland secondary school serving students from North Wicklow.”
“I have called on the Minister for Education to engage with the school, which has already been granted planning permission, to ensure that this work goes ahead at the earliest possible opportunity. I will continue to pursue this matter, and to liaise with parents, teachers and students from Newpark.”
Posted May 29th, 2012
TD brings e-book VAT campaign to European Parliament
Fine Gael Wicklow TD, Simon Harris has said an anomaly in VAT laws is penalising schools and students who choose to embrace new electronic textbooks.
Deputy Harris said, “Every parent knows the cost of school materials, uniforms and books each September can be a crippling expense. We have seen very positive initiative from schools to reduce these costs, such as book rental schemes and changes to uniform policies, however there is still more to be done.”
“More and more schools are embracing e-books rather than traditional textbooks. This has a number of advantages; ensuring students are comfortable with technology, reducing the weight of bags and backpacks and should also result in lower costs for parents. However while traditional textbooks are exempt from VAT, e-textbooks are not, and this means any potential saving for parents is wiped out.”
“I raised this matter with the Minister for Finance, Michael Noonan TD, and was informed this is the result of and EU VAT directive. I have now written directly to the Fine Gael MEPs asking them to raise this matter in the European Parliament. I will continue to work with them with a view to seeing this anomaly resolved.”
Posted May 28th, 2012
€150,000 allocated to the ISPCC for set-up and initial operation of the 116000 Missing Children’s Hotline in Ireland.
Fine Gael Wicklow TD, Simon Harris, has praised the allocation of €150,000 by the EU Daphne Programme to the ISPCC for the set-up and initial operation of the 116000 Missing Children’s Hotline in Ireland.
Welcoming the allocation of funding, Deputy Harris said, “In 2007 the EU created a designated number, 116000, as a single point of contact to assist with missing child investigations. Ireland has lagged behind in establishing a working hotline and I raised this matter in the Dáil with the Minister for Children, Frances Fitzgerald, in June of last year.
“I am pleased the Minister has championed this issue, and welcome the allocation of funding by the Daphne Programme to help support this important work. The Minister has advised that work will continue over the coming months to get the hotline, which will be operated by the ISPCC, up and running.”
“I will continue to follow this matter closely, and to ensure that Ireland follows best practice when it comes to protecting missing children.”
Posted May 25th, 2012
New census data shows rapid increase in pre-school age group and over 65s in Wicklow
Fine Gael Wicklow TD, Simon Harris, has said the latest census data, published this week, shows smart planning will be needed to ensure Wicklow’s changing population will be able to access the services and supports they need.
Deputy Harris said, “The latest statistics published by the Central Statistics Office showed a 19.8% increase in the population of those under 4, and of those over 65. The population of primary school children, aged between 5 and 12, increased by 14%.”
“It is imperative that we act to ensure adequate services are in place to meet the needs of these groups, and I am pleased the Department of Education is already planning for the increased number of students expected at Primary and Secondary schools across Wicklow. This forward planning needs to be mirrored across all Government departments.”
“I am aware that some parts of the county have experienced particularly rapid growth and will be working in the Dáil to ensure the needs of these communities are catered for as a matter of priority.”
Posted May 11th, 2012
The ‘myth’ everything is alright with the system has been dispelled, says Wicklow TD
Fine Gael Wicklow TD, Simon Harris, has welcomed the Government’s commitment to holding an urgent review of Domiciliary Care Allowance, a payment made in respect of children with special needs.
Speaking in the Dáil, Deputy Harris said, “There is no doubt in my mind we need an urgent review of the domiciliary care scheme and how it operates. The delays are unacceptable, the inconsistencies in decisions are unfair and the system of reviewing cases can, at times, be cold, illogical and ill-timed.”
“I welcome the fact the Government has now undertaken to carry out this urgent review. This in itself has moved the matter on because it dispelled the myth that everything is alright with the scheme, and shifted the debate in a very positive direction.”
“It is vital that any such review has a way for parents and carers to input their experiences, because so much of what goes on in the life of a child with special needs happens behind closed doors. Parents are the experts, and it is vital that their voices, and through them, the voices of their children, are heard during this review.”
Posted May 10th, 2012
Speech on Domiciliary Care Allowance – 9 May 2012
I thank Deputy Catherine Murphy and Members of the Technical Group for tabling the motion and affording us the opportunity to debate the issue of the domiciliary care allowance in the House. More important, it provides parents with an opportunity to tell their stories in the AV room of Leinster House and through the media. Some of them are in the Visitors’ Gallery.
I particularly want to acknowledge the parents who are here tonight from all around the country. No parent of a child with special needs is a natural protester; they simply do not have the time to be a protester and raising a child with special needs does not lend itself to finding that time. Therefore the fact that they are here in the Visitors’ Gallery tonight says more than any of us ever can about how much this issue means to them and how determined they are that their voices are heard but more important, perhaps, the voices of their children. I thank those parents in the Visitors’ Gallery and I acknowledge that although they are here in large numbers, it is probably a small representation of the concerns of many families throughout the country.
Collectively, parents of children with special needs are owed an apology by this institution, by my party, by other parties, by people of no party, because even in the years of plenty, even in the years when the Celtic tiger roared, many of the issues and the challenges that families of children with special needs are facing now, they were facing then. Admittedly, while the recession has posed additional challenges, this idea that everything was rosy in the years of economic well-being, is a myth and this says much about how this institution, these Houses of Parliament, treated people and children with disabilities and their families. As a Member of this institution, I want to record my regret and my apology that this has happened.
There is no doubt in my mind that we need an urgent review of the domiciliary care allowance scheme and how it operates. The delays are unacceptable, the inconsistencies in decisions are unfair and the system of reviewing cases can, at times, be cold, illogical and ill-timed. I welcome the fact that the Government has now undertaken to carry out this urgent review. This in itself has moved the matter on because it has dispelled the myth that everything is all right with the scheme and that has been the response we have been getting from this Government and from previous Governments in response to parliamentary questions and Topical Issue matters in this House that everything is fine with the system. Last night, the Minister shifted that position in a very welcome direction by conceding that all is not well and that there is a need for an urgent review and this is to be welcomed. As my colleague, Deputy Regina Doherty said, it is vital that any such review has a way for parents and carers to input into that review. It cannot simply be some form of technocratic, bureaucratic, Civil Service review, with all due respect to all of those individuals under those terms. It has to involve parents because so much of what goes on in the life of a child with special needs happens behind closed doors. Parents are the experts.
I wish to address an issue with which I am very familiar and with which I have worked closely with others, the issue of autism. The current system is not addressing the needs of children on the autistic spectrum in an adequate manner. It is almost impossible for parents to explain to the Department the needs of their child. It is almost impossible for parents to be able to put across the needs of their child in the current application system. This needs to be addressed. In addition, autism does not go away; there is no cure. Parents, teachers and families can work with children with autism. Progress can be made, coping skills can be developed. I have seen it in my own relatives. However, the autism is still there, it does not go away. If one goes into the home of any child with autism, in addition to the many gifts that child has and the joy and the love he or she brings to the family, the challenges remain. The pressures on families remain and all too often, the support systems are not there. We need people in the Department, regardless of political affiliations, to understand this.
While I appreciate that cases need to be reviewed – as do many parents – this needs to be done in a much more structured manner. Parents need to be given ample time and I agree wholeheartedly with Deputy Murphy’s motion in this regard. The reviews need to take place at a sensible time in the child’s life. It is not right to put the family through the stress of a review at a pivotal moment in that child’s life, for example, at the transition from one school to another. There need to be compassion and common sense needs to be evident throughout the Department.
I received an e-mail from a constituent family today who told me they were informed in November 2010 that an oral hearing would take place at a date yet undecided. In summer 2011, they were given the date for that oral hearing. They went to the oral hearing not knowing what to expect.
This review cannot be open-ended, it has to be meaningful and it has to involve parents and there has to be an implementation. On a final point, it is totally unacceptable that any Department sends out a letter with the anonymous signature, “DCA Section”. The very least families of children with disabilities deserve is that if a civil servant sends out a letter on behalf of a Department, that letter is signed by a named person and that somebody is accountable for that file. There are people behind these decisions and we need to know them.
I welcome the review but we must deliver on it and I thank Deputy Murphy for the opportunity.
Posted May 9th, 2012
Europe Day celebration at St Laurence’s NS, Delgany attended by Minister for Europe and Simon Harris TD.
Fine Gael Wicklow TD, Simon Harris, was joined this morning (Wednesday) by the Minister of State for European Affairs, Lucinda Creighton, at St Laurence’s NS in Delgany to mark ‘Europe Day’.
Deputy Harris said, “I was delighted to be invited back to my alma matter to take part in their annual Europe Day celebration, which recognises the cultural diversity of Europe, and the unity we share. It was wonderful to see the school doing so well, and leading the way I encouraging students to engage with Europe.”
“One thing that had changed since I was in school was the number of students taking part in the Comenius Programme, which lets students from across Europe come to Ireland on a study exchange.”
“It was inspiring to see students from St Laurence’s engage so thoroughly with the idea of Europe and I commend the Principal of the school, its staff and parents for making this celebration possible.”
Posted May 3rd, 2012
Bray Lakers should be seen as a model for development of sports and social clubs for people with intellectual disabilities.
Wicklow Fine Gael TD, Simon Harris, welcomed volunteers from Bray Lakers to the Dáil to brief Oireachtas members on the services they provide for children and adults with intellectual disabilities.
Deputy Harris said, “Many of us based in Wicklow are already familiar with the excellent work being done every day by Bray Lakers and the impact this has on the lives of its 400 members and its families. I was delighted to host Bray Lakers in the Dáil to share their experiences as a centre of excellence, in hopes this model can be rolled out across the country.”
“While their current facilities are far from adequate, Bray Laker’s achievements since their establishment in 1989 are exemplary. One day I hope to see facilities based on this model available to all people with intellectual disabilities, wherever they live. Sadly, this is not the case at present.”
“In the meantime, I will be working with Bray Lakers to support their ambitious fundraising campaign for a new home, which will see them based in a purpose-built centre for the first time.”
“To support Bray Lakers and the important work they can contact Ann King on 01 202 2694 or log onto their website, www.braylakers.ie where you can ‘Buy-a-Brick’ for just €5.”
Posted April 26th, 2012
Oireachtas Cross Party Group on Mental Health launches Spotlight report on mental health education.
Fine Gael Wicklow TD, Simon Harris, has said that schools can play a significant part in educating young people about caring for their mental health.
Speaking at the Oireachtas Cross Party Group on Mental Health report launch, Deputy Harris, a Co Convenor of the group said, “Our education system needs to give students to tools they need to excel in all aspects of their life. Knowing how to care for their mental health is a skill that will stand to them throughout their careers as students, in the workplace and with their families.”
“The research shows that mental health promotion is most effective when it takes place early in a person’s life. For maximum impact, mental health promotion must be reflected across every element of the school’s approach and this will require buy-in from parents, teachers and students.”
“Teaching children how talk about mental health issues before they become serious problems is one of the most important skills we can give them. I will be working hard with my colleagues on the Cross Party Group on Mental Health to continue to advocate for better mental health education in our schools, and a better understanding of mental health issues overall.”
Posted March 1st, 2012
Fine Gael TD for Wicklow, Simon Harris, has today (Thursday) welcomed the publication of the National Review of Autism Services, describing it as an important body of work which highlights many of the challenges and shortcomings of the current structures in meeting the needs of people with Autistic Spectrum Disorder.
“Families living with autism have watched as many reports are published, then subsequently shelved. The dust gathers on them and nothing changes. It is vital that this is not the case with the National Review of Autism Services. The report is frank and honest in its review of the current and previous structures available within the health services for people with autism, and makes important recommendations on a way forward.
“This review of services highlights a number of key areas in which our health service has and continues to fail people with autism. It states that ‘geographically, current services can vary from robust, comprehensive and integrative to isolated, patch and ineffective’. This provides in writing what many of us have stated for a long time; there is a huge geographic imbalance in services and an absolute lack of consistency in service provision across this country.
“I welcome the recommendation in the review that the current model is no longer appropriate or sustainable in providing equity of access and intervention. The Government needs to take that finding on board and act upon it. Additionally, the review recommends the need for the system to embrace new methods of assessment as they emerge, and urges the system not to remain so prescriptive when it comes to assessments. This will, no doubt, be welcomed by many parents of autistic children who have found the current models of assessment rigid at best.
“The review also places an emphasis on ensuring that individuals with a disability have access to the same services as the general population but, crucially, in addition to this, that they also receive the support and intervention needed to address their individual needs. This is the very point I made at the time of the Budget debate regarding disability payments. The State needs to recognise that, yes, people with disabilities should be treated equally as full citizens of this State, but that it is not an excuse or a cover for failing to provide them with the additional support they need to reach their full potential, live their life as they wish, and have the dignity that is theirs as a matter of right.
“This report looks at the area of health which is, of course, just one aspect relating to a person with autism. Nonetheless, it provides a roadmap for moving forward with autism services in this country and learning from the failings to date of this State over many, many years. I look forward to this report being acted upon and will be relentless in my efforts within Fine Gael, and within the Dáil, for its funding to be addressed and the positive suggestions implemented.”