Benefits of bedtime stories should be signalled to parents on World Book Day

Speaking on the eve of World book Day, Fine Gael Dun Laoghaire Deputy and Chair of the FG Committee on Education, Mary Mitchell O’Connor, said the benefits of reading a bedtime story with a child should be flagged with parents in the interest of encouraging reading for enjoyment by children at an early age.

“The foundations of good literacy are established in childhood but all too often good reading habits are not encouraged at an early stage, to the detriment of our children in later life. World Book Day takes place tomorrow, the main aim of which is to encourage children to explore the pleasures of books by providing children with school packs and book tokens.

“A 2009 report entitled ‘Growing up in Ireland – The Lives of 9 year olds’ found that boys reported a lower incidence of reading for fun than girls, with 25% of boys reporting reading for fun every day compared to 36% of girls. Eight percent of boys reported never reading for fun, compared to just three percent of girls. The responsibility for the education of our children does not lie just with our schools. Parents have a critical role to play in encouraging children to read from an early age. The benefits of reading at home will help children to realise their full potential and will stand to them throughout the course of their lives.

“Reading to children stimulates their development and gives them a head start when they reach school. Sharing a bedtime story with a child also promotes their motor skills, through learning to turn the pages, and enhances memory. It also improves emotional and social development.

“Reading allowed is a period of shared attention and emotion between a parent and a child which reinforces reading as a pleasurable activity. I am lucky enough to have fond memories of my mother reading to me as a child; listening to her read Enid Blyton books allowed and getting lost in the fabulous illustrations.

“At the end of the day knowledge is power and to unlock this power good literacy skills are essential. The foundations of good literacy are established in childhood, a point which should be hammered home to parents while their children enjoy World Book Day tomorrow.”

Dun Laoghaire Rathdown to get 10% of NAMA allocation for social housing

2,000 housing units to be made available by NAMA with Dun Laoghaire/ Rathdown to receive 4th highest allocation

Fine Gael Dun Laoghaire Deputy, Mary Mitchell O’Connor, today (Tuesday) welcomed the announcement by the National Asset Management Agency that it will make more than 2,000 houses and apartments available for social housing needs.

Deputy Mitchell O’Connor said this was a welcome move and one that she pushed the Minister for the Environment, Phil Hogan, to explore in the hope of alleviating the press on families in Dun Laoghaire and Rathdown.

“There is a pressing need for increased social housing provision, not only in Dun Laoghaire and Rathdown but right across the country. Figures indicate that the number of households seeking social housing reached record levels last year, with no reprieve in the rise expected any time soon. Coupled with this is the fact that the Government does not have the money to buy or build any more local authority housing.

“Aside from its commercial remit, NAMA has a social objective which aims to contribute to a better society and sustainable communities. Last December, the Agency committed to making 2,000 housing units available in 2012 to people on social housing lists through leasing agreements with Local Authorities and volunteer housing associations. I am delighted there appears to be progress in this area with reports that a list is being drawn up of suitable units.

“In the past I have highlighted the need for more social housing in the Dun Laoghaire/ Rathdown and have discussed this issue with the Minister. I have been pressing for NAMA to explore what suitable property it had on its books for family accommodation.

“I am delighted that Dun Laoghaire/ Rathdown looks set to benefit from this allocation with 210 units or 10% of the overall allocation being made available to the constituency. This should go some way to making a dent in the housing list in the area and to addressing the needs of local families.”

Debate on restricting access to eating disorder websites needed

The proliferation of eating disorder websites that promote anorexia and bulimia have a detrimental impact on our children who are struggling with negative body images according to Fine Gael Dun Laoghaire Deputy, Mary Mitchell O’Connor, who today (Friday) called for a debate on the possibility of restricting or eliminating access to such sites.

Deputy Mitchell O’Connor was speaking following a briefing this week on eating disorders by Bodywhys in Leinster House which coincided with Eating Disorder Awareness Week.

“Websites which promote anorexia, bulimia and aspirations to be thin in general, prey on and exploit the vulnerabilities of people whose ability to reason logically is impaired when it comes to their bodies.

“A 2009 study in the European Eating Disorder Review found that 12.6% of Belgian girls and 5.9% of boys, aged 13 to 17, had accessed pro-anorexia and bulimic websites. Official figures on the prevalence of eating disorders and the number of people accessing sites in Ireland are undocumented, with the result that many cases go unreported and untreated and a true picture of the problem is largely unknown.

“These websites contain shocking images of thin people who are termed ‘thinspirations’. Promotion of a ‘Bracelet Project’ also occurs via the sites which encourages anorexic girls to wear a blue beaded bracelet around the right wrist and bulimic suffers to wear red beaded bracelet around the left wrist to help identify other followers and foster a sense of community.

“Lists of commandments, describe as ‘The Thin Commandments ’ can also be found which instruct suffers that being thin is more important than being healthy, that the individual can never be too thin and that being thin and not eating are signs of true willpower and success.

“America, France and the UK have made efforts towards blocking access to these websites but have been unsuccessful to date. I believe it is important that Ireland also investigate ways to protect our young and vulnerable people and to learn from actions taken by other countries. We need to open up the debate and examine the best way forward in tackling this horrendous issue.”

Continued focus on a multi-lingual workforce will ensure Ireland remains attractive

Fine Gael Dun Laoghaire Deputy, Mary Mitchell O’Connor, today (Wednesday) said that if Ireland is to remain attractive to multi-national companies, we must ensure that our workforce is equipped with the skills required and that means encouraging a multi-lingual workforce.

Deputy Mitchell O’Connor was speaking following a meeting today of the Oireachtas Committee on Jobs, Social Protection & Education, which was attended by Enterprise Ireland & IDA, during which languages were identified as a key tool for moving Ireland forward.

“A multi-lingual workforce is an essential component to attracting new business into Ireland. We have a highly skilled and linguistically proficient workforce in Ireland that is a big draw for foreign mulit-nationals. Only yesterday our strength in this area was rewarded by PayPal’s decision to locate 1,000 new jobs in Ireland as their operations will deal with customers in 14 languages.

“Our linguistic excellence is also evident in the growth of our localisation sector, which focuses on adapting products, such as mobile phones, to other environments or countries, culturally and linguistically. This sector employs about 15,000 people and is worth an estimated €680 million annually to Ireland with the bulk of some of the world’s largest software and web companies, such as Amazon, Apple, Facebook, IBM, LinkedIn and Microsoft conducting the majority of their multilingual customer support here.

“Our IT industry has also grown dramatically in recent years with the Director of Geo Operations for Google in Europe, David Martin, referring to Dublin as ‘rapidly becoming the multilingual internet capital of Europe’. Economist Ronan Lyons further stated that Ireland was ‘probably the hottest place for digital content outside of Silicon Valley’ due to its huge growth in linguistics and localisation.

“Our growth in expertise in this area is due in part to the provision of Government funding for the Centre for Next Generation Localisation; a major research centre working towards advancing computer adaptability to different languages and cultures. The recently launched Action Plan for Jobs also placed a focus on fostering sectors identified as having significant future growth potential such as financial services, cloud computing and the digital sector.

“Our talents and skills in this area have to be nurtured and that means ensuring that our workforce remains multi-lingual. I will be investigating ways the State and our education centres can work together to maintain and develop our expertise.”

Promoting positive self-esteem is crucial to tackling eating disorders

Speaking on the eve of National Eating Disorder Awareness Week, which kicks off tomorrow (Monday), Fine Gael Dun Laoghaire Deputy, Mary Mitchell O’Connor, said that promoting positive self-esteem and body image in young women and men is key to getting to grips with bulimia, anorexia and other eating disorders.
“Airbrushed images of models whose Body Mass Index is clearly in the anorexic range, adorn the pages of our magazines. This has a detrimental impact on everyone, including those who are comfortable with their body shape and image.
“Twenty years ago the average fashion model weighed 8% less than the average American woman; today she weighs 23% less. Despite the fact that positive moves have been made in the modelling industry with the rise in the number of plus size models, more needs to be done to safeguard against the promotion of such unattainable body size and weight and the impact it is having on our children.
“Organisations such as Bodywise, which carries out extensive and effective advocacy work in this area, reported in excess of 3,000 calls last year. However, official figures on the prevalence of eating disorders are largely undocumented, with a significant number of cases going unreported and therefore untreated each year. This leads to a dearth of knowledge on the numbers suffering with anorexia, bulimia, and binge eating. Only those unfortunate enough to require hospitalisation are recorded.

“Figures presented in the Third Annual Child & Adolescent Mental Health Services Report demonstrate that the number of people being admitted for treatment is significant. It is incumbent upon us all to address this issue, ensuring that positive self-esteem and body image is encouraged in our children and young people and that we get to grips once and for all with bulimia, anorexia and all eating disorders.”

NAMA should make housing available for victims of domestic abuse

Speaking following the launch of a domestic violence awareness campaign by Sonas Housing and Meath Women’s Refuge to highlight the impact of verbal abuse, Fine Gael Dun Laoghaire Deputy, Mary Mitchell O’Connor, called on NAMA to make housing available to victims of domestic abuse to enable them to leave their abuser.

“On the eve of Valentine’s Day, when the focus is very much on love and functioning relationships, it is fitting that a campaign to highlight the effects of verbal abuse is launched. Domestic violence comes in many guises and it is essential that we lift the lid on this issue and let women, and men, in abusive relationships know that they are not alone in their attempts to face down abuse.

“For many who find themselves in this situation, building up the courage to leave is frequently off-set by the reality of having no place else to go. At present in Dun Laoghaire, if you are in social housing and a domestically abusive relationship which you are forced to leave, the victim is the one forced to seek alternative shelter.

“Aside from its commercial remit, NAMA has a social objective that aims to contribute to a better society and sustainable communities. With this in mind, I believe the Agency should ear-mark a number of housing units for use by victims of domestic violence who wish to break away from their situation to begin an independent life free from abuse.

“Last December NAMA agreed that 2,000 housing units would be made available in 2012 to people on social housing lists through leasing agreements with Local Authorities and volunteer housing associations. NAMA has also committed to giving first option to public bodies on the purchase of property which may be suitable for their purposes. I believe that provision should be made to address the needs of those in exploitative relationships to enable them to get away from their abuser and begin a more positive life in a safe and harm free environment.

NABCo Housing Project in Loughlinstown points the way for the future of social housing

Fine Gael TD for Dún Laoghaire, Mary Mitchell O’Connor, has today (Friday) welcomed the launch of a new housing development undertaken by NABCo Co-operative housing at Loughlinstown, Dun Laoghaire. Deputy Mitchell O’Connor attended today’s opening of the 49 units of family accommodation by Minister for Housing and Planning, Jan O’Sullivan T.D.

“This social housing development is an excellent example of how housing for poor and vulnerable people should work. One of the residents I spoke to was delighted with his new home and I can see why. Residents have been consulted on important factors such as the décor. This is important because it helps guarantee buy in from the residents. The design is simple and practical. The homes are located so that they receive maximum sunlight.

“This project provides an excellent blueprint for future such developments. The Department of Environment, Community and Local Government supported the development through Dun Laoghaire Rathdown County Council, who administer the Department’s Capital Funding Scheme.

“NABCo is an excellent organisation and should be praised for its continued commitment tothe provision of good quality accommodation to more disadvantaged members of society. This development in Loughlinstown is testament tothe benefits of a partnership approach between local councils and voluntary agencies in the area of social services.”

Unlocking pensions before retirement age could help boost economy

Speaking today (Thursday) during Topical Issues Debates, Fine Gael Dun Laoghaire Deputy, Mary Mitchell O’Connor, has said that a provision to allow people to unlock their pensions before retirement age could give a boost to domestic economic activity.

The Deputy has submitted a Parliamentary Question to the Minister for Finance, Michael Noonan, asking for him to make a statement on the matter.

“By allowing people to access their pensions early, it could offer a much needed shot in the arm for the local economy. Providing for early pension liquidity could act as supplementary measure to those contained in Budget 2012.

“Making pensions accessible before maturity would provide essential funds that could be used to stimulate economic activity. The Government is already working assiduously to use scarce resources to maximum effect and to reduce our costs while allowing for growth. Yesterday in the Finance Bill, provision was made to take 330,000 people out of the tax net by exempting them from the Universal Social Charge. Provision was also made to assist those in negative equity by increasing mortgage interest relief to 30% for first-time buyers who bought their homes during the peak period of 2004-2008.

“For those at the other end of the scale, who may be coming close to retirement age but are not quite there yet, altering the pension system to allow them to unlock and use part of their savings now, would enable them to spend their money today to stimulate economy growth tomorrow.

“I am meeting IBEC and the Irish Brokers Association, both of whom are in favour of such a move, early next week to progress the proposal. I look forward to a positive outcome and to the Minister’s forthcoming response.”

Religion has a fundamental place in our school

Faith-based option must be protected.

Fine Gael Dun Laoghaire Deputy, Mary Mitchell O’Connor, has today (Wednesday) said that religion has a place in our education system and that parents should continue to have the option of sending their children to faith-based schools.

“Contrary to some arguments that are being put forward at the moment, I fundamentally disagree that religion has no place in our schools in a modern democracy.

“Education is about much more than just imparting knowledge or preparing students for exams or future employment. Our schools have a central role to play in the moral, social and spiritual development of our children.

“A narrow focus on academic skills, with little more on offer, speaks to our children in the coldest and most basic way. Schools should teach our children to have a sense of community and a sense of belonging; religious education provides just that.

“The ethos of Catholic, Church of Ireland, Jewish or Muslim based faiths, far from having a negative impact, are holistic and ensure the harmonious development of the whole person. The pastoral care given by teachers adds to that.

“A Council for Research and Development report entitled ‘Factors Determining School Choice’, found that 70% of parents considered the daily prayer and the celebration of religious festivals and events as important factors when considering where to send children to school. Most parents also believed that a plurality of faiths and practices in the classroom enhanced their child’s education.

“It is my firm belief that religious education, regardless of faith, should continue to be provided in our schools. Any notion that Boards of Management in Catholic or Church of Ireland schools are undemocratic should be dismissed out of hand, as patrons only appoint two nominees on the board of eight members. The remaining vacancies are recruited at parish level and appointees do not receive out of pocket expenses, unlike VEC Committee board members, showing a deep sense of commitment to the running of our schools.

“Religion has a fundamental role to play in the education of our children. Any notion that this role should be diminished would, in my view, be to the detriment of our students and their future education.