Action Plan on Bullying is a significant step forward in rooting out harassment

Stamp out bullying and cyberbullyingStamp out bullying and cyberbullyingEradicating bullying is the responsibility of parents, schools and communities.

Welcoming the publication this afternoon (Tuesday) of the Action Plan on Bullying, Fine Gael Dun Laoghaire Deputy and former school principal, Mary Mitchell O’Connor, said that while guidelines for combatting bullying in schools are extremely welcome, the responsibility to stamp out this harmful practice lies with all of us.

“The publication today, by the Minister for Education, Ruairí Quinn TD, and the Minister for Children, Frances Fitzgerald TD, of the Action Plan on Bullying marks the first significant step in getting to grips with bullying once and for all.

“This Action Plan on Bullying is the first of its kind in Ireland and points the way forward for our schools in combatting the abusive and threatening behaviour which some of our children are being exposed to, some on a daily basis. The fact that €500,000 in funding has already been identified and ring-fenced to action the Plan means that we can get the wheels in motion to deal with this damaging issue without delay.

“Last May, the two Ministers convened an Anti-Bullying Forum in the Department of Education – the first time such an event had taken place. Arising from that forum, Minister Quinn established an anti-bullying working group, tasked with producing an Action Plan on Bullying, with a particular focus on actions to combat bullying in our schools. As part of the Budget in December, Minister Quinn also secured €500,000 in funding to support the actions identified – the first time the Department of Education has had a ring-fenced budget for tackling issues related to bullying.

“The development of a new national anti-bullying procedure for all schools, incorporating an anti-bullying policy template and a system for recording incidents in schools will ensure that formal structures are in place to catalogue what is going on so that schools can get a better handle on bullying.

“The Plan also highlights the need for a more coordinated approach to be taken to bullying which takes account of what is happening in homes and the wider community. There is a pressing need to change the culture of how we interact with each other in terms of the respect we show one another. Parents not only need to open up the conversation with their children about bullying and remain vigilant to the signs, we also need to act as role models in the home and our localities.

“If we are serious about eradicating bullying we all need to work together. Ministers Quinn and Fitzgerald, and the Anti-Bullying Forum and Working Group, are to be commended for their work in compiling this report, which I hope will mark a sea-change in how we dealing with the bullying of our children.”

CoderDojo launches in IADT Dun Laoghaire

Coder Dojo Dun Laoghaire was launched on Wednesday 23 January, in IADT Dun Laoghaire, with Mary Mitchell O’Connor, TD, in attendance.

Coder Dojo is a free, non-profit, computer club for school kids which was founded by Cork computer whizz kid James Whelton and entrepreneur Bill Liao.  It has taken the world by storm and is now operating in approximately 24 countries, with over 10,000 kids attending weekly.

Coder Dojo sessions provide an opportunity for young people to learn how to code apps, programs, games, build robots, develop websites and more, with the help of mentors who donate their time free of charge.

Annie Doona, President of IADT, said ‘We are absolutely delighted to be hosting Coder Dojo at IADT as it reflects so closely what this Institute is all about. We strive to nurture a powerful combination of creativity and technological capability within our students, and hope to see some Coder Dojo participants joining us on our degree programmes in the next few years.’

Local TD Mary Mitchell O’Connor commented that “Coder Dojo provides a wonderful outlet for the talent of our young people – no doubt it will result in many future entrepreneurs and jobs. I have great faith in the potential of our future generation.”

Organiser Sandra Maguire said “I first heard about Coder Dojo in February 2012 when I heard James Whelton, then aged only 19, mesmerising a couple of hundred business people with his story. There was no Coder Dojo in the Dun Laoghaire area and I kept hoping one would be started up. Eventually I decided to start one myself, and went to IADT, where I had studied Cyberpsychology a couple of years before. The support of IADT and Mary Mitchell O’Connor has been invaluable in getting the project ready to launch.  With the help of our generous mentors and volunteers, I believe we are going to make an exciting impact on the lives of many children.”

Whilst the weekly two hour sessions are free, places need to be pre-booked.

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Women must take the steps to prevent cervical cancer before it starts

Fine Gael Dun Laoghaire Deputy, Mary Mitchell O’Connor, has today (Wednesday) called on women to take responsibility for their own health by ensuring that they get regular smear tests to prevent the spread of cervical cancer.

Deputy Mitchell O’Connor made this call during ‘European Cervical Cancer Prevention Week’ which runs from January 20th to January 26th

“European Cervical Cancer Prevention Week represents a golden opportunity to highlight the pressing need for women to take control of their own physical health in attempting to eradicate the spread of cervical cancer. The importance of getting regular smear tests cannot be overstated as one of the biggest risk factors for developing this cancer is not having regular checks.

“Women need to be educated about the symptoms and causes of the disease and of the best way to prevent it. Regular checks can help detect the early onset of cell changes, which could lead to cancer formation down the line, putting the power in women’s hands to stop this disease before it starts. Awareness-raising events are being held right across Europe in a bid to inform women about how best to maintain their health.

“This week in Ireland, the Irish Family Planning Association will partner with CervicalCheck to encourage women aged between 25 and 60 to avail of a free smear from a GP practice or family planning clinic of their choice. It simply couldn’t be easier. A test every couple of years, quite simply, could save your sister, your mother, your daughter or your partner’s life. Yet despite this, some women, especially older women, continue to ignore the issue and do not avail of free checks.

“Early detection is key to increasing survival rates and well organised programmes such as CervialCheck have been proven to reduce the mortality rate of cervical cancer. Each year in Ireland approximately 300 women are newly diagnosed with cervical cancer and more than 90 women lose their lives. I would urge every woman, this week, to take the time to book an appointment if they are not already in the system, and every man to urge the women in their lives to take control of their physical health.”

Mary Mitchell O’Connor speaks in the Dail on the Public Health (Tobacco) Amendment Bill 2013

I listened carefully to what the Deputy had to say and while his arguments are highly amusing, they are false. He has dismissed World Health Organization reports and everything else. He has run out through the door of the Chamber and did not listen my criticism. I fundamentally disagree with what he said and it would wrong of us to let that erroneous message be sent. He stated the Bill was an attack on smokers; it is not, rather it is an attack on the cigarette and tobacco industry. I understand it is difficult to give up smoking and ask the Deputy to try hard to do so because it can be done. I smoked cigarettes for 20 years and was successful in stopping. It is as if the Deputy is involved in fantasy politics. He dismissed the arguments made by the Minister for Health who is a qualified medical doctor and also those brought forward by Senator John Crown, a renowned oncologist, as if this was some kind of game. I thought it was April Fool’s Day and that he was pulling all of our legs. The argument made by the Deputy is totally wrong. He may not realise it, but 5,200 people die every year as a result of smoking. This accounts for 19% of all deaths. The Deputy may be able to laugh it off, but there are people who will die in this country as a result of smoking cigarettes. In my former profession I was a school principal, something I share with the Deputy. It is very irresponsible that, as educationists, we put out the message to children that smoking is okay; it is not.

There are also costs associated with smoking. In 2008 it was claimed that smoking was responsible for 36,000 hospital admissions, at a staggering cost of €280 million. People have to take time off work; they suffer from lung disease, strokes and cancers, all of which impacts on the cost of smoking. Let us be clear about this: as taxpayers, we have to foot the bill and cough up €280 million required through extra taxes. Nothing annoys and upsets me more than seeing a child or a pregnant woman smoking.

The Irish Heart Foundation reports that 12% of school age children are smokers. It claims that children from lower socioeconomic classes are likely to smoke. It also points to research indicating that smoking is largely a childhood phenomenon, with 78% of smokers reporting that they started to smoke before the age of 18 years. More than half started before the age of 15 years. IHF research in 2011 indicated that 21% of women in Ireland had smoked during pregnancy and that it had a negative impact on the foetus. These statistics give cause for real concern and they are factual. I, therefore, ask Deputy Finian McGrath to check his statistics.

One method the Government has used to reduce the level of smoking is the setting of minimum retail prices for cigarettes. However, this approach has been deemed contrary to EU law. Minimum pricing will no longer be an option for the Government in controlling cigarette sales. However, it will still be capable of controlling the price of cigarettes through taxes and levies. As a preventive measure, price control is important. I will not dismiss what the World Bank and the World Health Organization argue, namely, that price is a key factor in reducing the number who smoke. Young people are particularly more sensitive to price rises. It is found that, on average, they will reduce their level of consumption three or four times more than adults.

In 2002 the New York city tobacco control programme put in place by Mayor Bloomberg included the raising of tobacco tax. In the ten years before the programme was implemented there was no decrease in smoking rates. After the control programme was introduced, the rate of smoking among teenagers decreased from 17.6% in 2007 to 8.5% in 2011. Irish figures also show that a price increase resulted in a decrease in the level of consumption. Figures further show that new smokers, especially children, become addicted when the price remains constant. These figures reinforce the argument in favour of the Government maintaining and raising the price of tobacco. The World Health Organization states, “Increasing the price of tobacco through higher taxes is the single most effective way to encourage tobacco users to quit and to prevent children from starting to smoke”.

The Irish Heart Foundation also suggests the implementation of a price cap regulation which would set a minimum price tobacco companies could charge for their product based on an assessment of the genuine costs each firm faced. A price cap could have a number of benefits: it could address the excessive profits of tobacco companies, increase Government revenue by transferring excess industry profits to the Government and deliver many public health benefits. However, it is likely that such a move would also be struck down by the European Union for infringing EU law. The Irish Heart Foundation also recommends extending smoke-free zones to protect children. The Minister for Health is making great strides to achieve this and I congratulate him on that promotion.

I am also delighted many county councils have banned smoking in playgrounds. Smoking must be denormalised for children who should not associate smoking with something Mammy does in the car on the way home from school, with something Daddy does in the playground or with something Granny does while waiting outside the school grounds. Second-hand smoke is a significant cause of death and disease. For the benefit of Deputy Finian McGrath, I repeat that it is a significant cause of death and disease. Children, pregnant women and unborn babies are particularly susceptible in this regard.

When tobacco price increases are mentioned, an argument usually is made about tobacco smuggling. We heard it made here earlier.

Minister for Education announces free access for students to online encyclopaedias

The Minister for Education and Skills, Ruairí Quinn T.D., has today announced free home access to the online edition of Encyclopaedia Britannica for all school-going children.

For the past three years, primary and post-primary schools have had access to the resource, and today’s roll-out is an expansion of this service.

Britannica Online School Edition is a unique and comprehensive resource designed for all levels of learning.

It has four age-specific learning areas which contain various engaging teaching and learning materials, all designed to build confidence and inspire continuous discovery.

Announcing the new development, Minister Quinn said, “I am committed to providing digital content to students that enhances their learning through the use of technology.  Our children and young people will now have access to Britannica Online in their own homes and this means that whatever their ability, they can learn at their own pace.

“Access is available to Britannica remotely via the website and will encourage students to continue the process of learning at home.”

Britannica Online has more than 129,000 articles with over 46,000 graphics, 4,000 videos, plus audio clips, interactive games and quizzes.  It is updated with new material daily.

With an average of 160,000 visits per month, provides a central resource to teachers, pupils and parents, offering access to a growing repository of advice and information.

Today’s announcement comes as the roll-out of high-speed broadband to second level schools continues, with a further 200 schools expected to be connected by September of 2013.

A public procurement process in summer 2012 resulted in a contract with Encyclopaedia Britannica for the provision of online digital reference content services.


Mitchell O ’Connor calls for all-Party action on threat of social media

Fine Gael Dun Laoghaire TD and former headmistress, Mary Mitchell O’Connor, has today (Sunday) called for an all-Party approach to tackle the destructive potential of social media. Deputy Mitchell O’Connor added that the week children return to school is an opportune time to discuss the devastating impact cyber bullying is having on our children and teenagers.
“It is impossible to quantify how many deaths have been caused or contributed to in this country by the negative elements of social media. The unconstrained venom being directed at individuals on Twitter, FaceBook and YouTube is undoubtedly doing untold damage.
“There are fresh reports this weekend of the sort of abuse young people are being subjected to online. A video of a Dublin teenager in an argument with a group of young men has been viewed more than a quarter of a million times, despite the fact that the first publisher, YouTube, took it down as soon as their monitors noticed that unacceptable messages were being posted about it.
“The move by YouTube to take down the video did not stop it going viral on various other sites. It’s too easy to take a critical view of the behaviour shown in the video. Most adults recognise that they did things in their teenage years that they’d never do again. The difference, of course, is in the past, every teenage mistake was not recorded on a smartphone. It’s shocking to that now every mistake can be immortalised online.
“A further cause for concern is new software which allows pornographic material to be sent to and viewed by a young person, before disappearing from their device’s screen and hard drive within minutes. The nature of this damaging software makes it impossible to track or trace.
“It’s time politicians, school authorities and parents did everything in their power to limit the risk being posed to our children and teenagers. Clearly, the current lack of regulation of social media is dangerous to people of all ages. But the threat it poses to the mental health of vulnerable young people is of particular concern to me as a former headmistress. I would urge the Ministers for Communication, for Children and for Education to consider what initiatives could be implemented to deal with this threat.”

Beach Bye Laws – Seapoint – Killiney

In order to make the beach area safe and pleasant for everybody, Dún Laoghaire Rathdown County Council has in place a number of restrictions relating to litter, dogs, jet-skis and noise.

Following a period of extensive public consultation, Dún Laoghaire Rathdown County Council at its meeting on the 8th October 2012 adopted new Beach Bye Laws.

The new bye laws amend the existing regulations on the control of dogs on beaches. They are less restrictive on dog owners and recognize the needs of all beach users by achieving a balance between dog owners, the general public and swimmers.

Dogs will be allowed off leash outside of the designated bathing/lifeguard control areas all year at Seapoint and Killiney beaches and at certain times at Sandycove beach.

Under the current bye laws dogs are not allowed off leash at any time on any beach in the County.

The new bye laws will come into effect on the 1st January 2013.

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