Growing Up In Ireland survey reveals worrying child obesity rates

Fine Gael Dun Laoghaire Deputy, Mary Mitchell O’Connor, has today (Tuesday) said the results of the Growing Up In Ireland survey, which measures, among other things, the level of obesity among Irish children, are worrying and indicate the amount of work that has to be done in educating parents and addressing this critical health issue.

The Growing Up in Ireland survey examines the factors contributing to and undermining the well-being of Irish five year olds with a view to formatting policy and services that best suits our children’s needs. The results are the first of their kind for this age group.

“Findings from the Growing Up In Ireland survey show that one in five children are overweight or obese, and that this figure increases to one in four for those aged three. These are exceptionally worrying statistics which are storing up chronic health problems for our children later in life.

“I recently attended a conference which focused on the nutrition a child receives in the first 1,000 days of his/her life; from conception to two years old. The impact of the decisions we make in terms of what we feed our children and the encouragement we give them to lead more active lives lays the foundations for the their future health.

“Conditions such as heart disease, diabetes, stroke, high blood pressure and certain cancers are all linked to obesity and being overweight and we can greatly reduce a child’s chance of suffering from ill health if we take their nutrition seriously and give it the attention it deserves.

“Safefood recently launched a campaign aimed at educating parents to make certain lifestyle changes associated with portion sizes for children, the amount of sugary drinks we give them and the amount of screen time they are allowed. It is so unfair to give our children such a poor start in life simply by giving them the wrong foods.

“As the principal of a National School, I saw first-hand how important good nutrition was in giving children the best possible opportunity to develop and concentrate. And the children who had a good breakfast before coming to school were easily identifiable from those who did not.

“The results of this survey, which has been commissioned by the Minister for Children, Frances Fitzgerald TD, give us a magnificent insight into the areas that need most attention, allowing us to chart the best way forward for our children. It is evident from the results published today that childhood obesity must be prioritised to ensure that we are not storing up problems for the future.”

98% of survey respondents report feeling dangerously overcrowded on the DART

Active and honest engagement with survey exceptionally helpful in outlining concerns to Irish Rail

Fine Gael Dun Laoghaire Deputy, Mary Mitchell O’Connor, has today (Thursday) welcomed the active and honest engagement by Dun Laoghaire DART users with her online survey, which was launched last month and which aimed to determine the level of satisfaction, or otherwise, of local users with Irish Rail services.
“The results of my online survey, which was carried out in conjunction with my colleague Simon Harris TD, in response to representations we had been receiving about overcrowding on DART services were very telling. More than 300 people from the Dun Laoghaire catchment area took part in the survey and a staggering 98% of them said that they felt dangerously overcrowded on the DART at some point.
“The level of dissatisfaction coming through was palpable with people stating that using the DART had gone from being a ‘pleasure’ to an ‘ordeal, while others spoke of the ‘dangerous and extremely uncomfortable’ conditions being experienced, especially for older people, due to reduction in the number of carriages in use during peak times.
“Following the launch of my survey I wrote to both the Minister for Transport, Leo Varadkar TD, and the CEO of Irish Rail Mr. David Franks to outline the severity of the situation being experienced by rail users who are very frustrated by the fact that they are increasingly paying more for reduced, unreliable and substandard services.
“Mr. Franks unreservedly apologised for any overcrowding that may have occurred due to technical faults, industrial action and leaf falls, insisting that a policy of reducing carriages at peak times has not, and was never, employed. I have been assured that carriages have been restored to a number of services where capacity issues arose and that irish Rail  has identified a number of areas where policy issued needed to be revised in response to customer feedback.
“Minister Varadkar expressed a desire to ensure that ‘rail users are not expected to pay more for a service that is less’. I will be sending the survey result onto Mr. Franks and Minister Varadkar and will continue to keep the pressure on to ensure the all assurances are met and sustained.”

To View Survey Responces Click Below:

Coherent cross Departmental approach must be adopted in the fight against cyber bullying

Fine Gael Dun Laoghaire Deputy, Mary Mitchell O’Connor, has today (Wednesday) called for a cross Departmental approach to raise awareness among parents, teachers and children of how best to deal with cyber bullying. Deputy Mitchell O’Connor was speaking following responses she received to PQs from the Departments of Communications, Education and Justice about the possibility of banning harmful websites such as as we remember the anniversaries of the deaths of a number of young girls who died by suicide around this time last year.

“There is no doubt that ensuring that the law keeps up with advances in technology remains a challenge; a fact that was relayed to me by the Minister for Justice, Alan Shatter TD, who said that in the fight to protect children and vulnerable persons from damaging content online, we must recognise that the internet’s global reach can make taking action against offending or offensive websites almost impossible.

“There are a number of measures and initiatives in place, such as the Department of Education’s 12 step Action Plan on Bullying; Safer Internet Day 2013, an initiative on cyber bullying targeted specifically at young people which will be repeated in 2014; and the establishment of the Office for Internet Safety, which also aims to build links between all Government Departments and Agencies, while working towards the promotion of internet safety at the highest level.

“However, in many circles, it is believed that raising awareness and increasing vigilance among adults is the way forward in stamping out this harmful practice. Encouraging parents to find out about filtering what their children can access can be of benefit, however, with the increasing number of children who have access to mobile phones this is not a fool-proof approach either.

“The special rapporteur on child protection, Dr Geoffrey Shannon, said yesterday that the time is ripe for robust legislation to combat cyber bullying. Minister Shatter has said that in the instances where it may be necessary to invoke the criminal law in cyberbullying cases, this can only happen when victims come forward to build a case. Dr. Shannon has called for a clear system of legal recourse to be provided for an offence of cyber-bullying and to encourage victims to come forward in a bid to address the issue.

“Cyberbullying is the practice of cowards as its anonymity gives them a shield behind which they can hurl abuse. Sadly, many of our children do not understand this and are severely impacted by the torment inflected at the hands of their abusers.

“I recognise the efforts being made to deal with this issue but we must keep the foot on the pedal in terms of educating our teachers and parents about cyberbullying, raising awareness about the damage it does and continue to support parents in monitoring and guiding their children about how best to deal with cyber bullies.”


Model behaviour from politicians at the 2nd Annual Oireachtas Charity Fashion Show!

The 2nd Annual Oireachtas Charity Fashion Show took place on Tuesday 12th November at The Shelbourne Hotel, Dublin 2. The proceeds of the Oireachtas Charity Fashion Show will go to support Motor Neurone Disease research.

In 2012, when Deputy Nicky McFadden was diagnosed with Motor Neurone Disease, her Oireachtas friend and colleague Minister Jimmy Deenihan asked stylist Marietta Doran to organise a fashion show to raise funds for Motor Neurone Disease research.

Colleagues from all political parties participated in what was a very successful event, with more than €20,000 being raised last year.Politicians again this year exchanged their usual garb of business suits and conservative clothing for some cutting-edge fashions from many of Ireland’s top designers.

Oireachtas members who participated include Simon Coveney, Richard Bruton, Micheál Martin,Denis Naughten, Sean Conlan, Martin Haydon, Anthony Lawlor, Derek Keating, Mary Mitchell O’Connor, Eoghan Murphy, Tom Barry, Arthur Spring, Heather Humphreys, Timmy Dooley, Billy Kelleher, Áine Collins, Sandra McLellen, Michelle Mulherin, Deirdre Clune, Eamon Coghlan, Imelda Henry, Fidelma Healy Eames, Cait Keane, Catherine Noone, Susan O’Keeffe, Hildegarde Naughton, John Crown, Mark Daly, Averil Power, Trevor Ó Clochartaigh, and Jimmy Deenihan.

Politicians were also joined by professional models including former Miss World, Rosanna Davison, Roz Purcell, Suzanne Jackson of So Sue Me Blog, Cristina Aston of Andrea Roche Modelling Agency, Sarah Morrissey, Karen Fitzpatrick, Yumiko Chen, Naomi Cullen and Matthew John of Assets, as well as some special guests from the worlds of sport and TV including GAA All Star Paul Galvin, this year’s All-Ireland Final’s Man of the Match Bernard Brogan, rugby pundit Brent Pope, Robert Hall of RTÉ Racing, weather presenter Nuala Carey, plus a number of surprise models.

Clothing from leading Irish designers  featured, including Jen Kelly Couturier, Master Tailor Louis Copeland, Helen Cody, Sean Byrne, Heidi Higgins, Niamh O’Neill, Claire Garvey, Helen Steele, and Patrick Casey’s stunning collection for Myrtle Ivory Bridal Couture, as well as the creations of award-winning Irish milliners Mark T. Burke, Aoife Hannon and Aoife Kirwan.


Strictly Against Breast Cancer Event

December 7th Breast Cancer Ireland will be putting on their Strictly Against Breast Cancer event. I have offered my dance skills (or lack thereof, I’ll leave you to be the judge!) and will be dancing with the great Professor Arnie Hill.

Some well-known faces will be partnering with survivors and supporters of breast cancer in a glamorous, festive and fun filled night of dancing, dining & entertainment for all, under the critical eye of the judging panel of Norah Casey, Brent Pope, and Louis Copeland to mention a few!

If you are interested in helping Breast Cancer Ireland research a cure please email my office at to arrange a table or individual tickets.

It will be a wonderful night to start off the festive season and I would love to see you all there!

Nutrition during first 1,000 days dictates health for the rest of a child’s life

Fine Gael Dún Laoghaire TD, Mary Mitchell O’ Connor, has highlighted the importance of good nutrition during the first 1,000 days of a child’s life. Deputy Mitchell O’Connor was speaking at a medical symposium in Dublin today titled Nutrition in the First 1,000 Days.

“The nourishment that we give our children for the first 1,000 days of their lives will dictate their health or otherwise for the rest of their lives. Early life nutrition dictates whether or not your baby grows up to:

· be a healthy or unhealthy adult;
· be obese;
· have heart disease;
· have diabetes.

“In encouraging women in this regard, a focus needs to be placed on supporting women to eat well during pregnancy, to breastfeed for as long as possible and to take the appropriate steps for weaning and then for feeding a toddler.

“By the time the baby is born, it has been nourished for almost 300 days. This, combined with combined with the nutrition they will receive for the next 700 days will affect their health for the rest of their lives.

“Breast milk is commonly known as the ‘magic potion for health’ and there is irrefutable evidence that breast-fed babies are less likely to be obese and less likely to develop health problems, such as high cholesterol, diabetes and stroke in their adult lives.

“Yet Ireland still ranks way down the international breast-feeding scale, with fewer than half of new Irish mothers initiating breast-feeding, compared to 80% in the UK and 90% in the Scandinavian countries. As a community, we need to eliminate the stigma surrounding breast-feeding that has existed in Ireland for so long.

“Every year 2,000 people die in Ireland due to obesity related diseases. That is about ten times the average number of people who are killed on our roads. These people don’t need to die because of bad nutrition. The annual cost of obesity is estimated to be a staggering €1.13 billion.

“As a society, we need to focus more on the importance of early life nutrition. As a legislator and member of the Oireachtas Health Committee, I will do everything I can to promote this hugely important message.”


Have your say: Education Committee seeks submissions on SNAs

Submissions invited on the Role of Special Needs Assistants

Mr Aodhán Ó Ríordáin, T.D., on behalf of the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Education and Social Protection, is inviting written submissions from interested individuals or groups in relation to the role of Special Needs Assistants (SNAs) in primary and post-primary schools.

All submissions and communications in relation to this matter are being handled by Deputy Ó Ríordáin; submissions should not be sent to any other member of the Committee.

Submissions should be sent, preferably by electronic means, to Deputy Aodhán Ó Ríordáin at (in which case it is not necessary to also forward a hard copy of the submission).

Where a submission is not being sent by electronic means, it should be sent to Mr Aodhán Ó Ríordáin, T.D., Dáil Éireann, Leinster House, Kildare Street, Dublin 2, to arrive not later than 3.00 p.m. on Friday 22 November 2013. Submissions sent to any other address may not be accepted.

The following guidelines apply in relation to submissions:

  • Submissions should be accompanied by a separate covering letter containing the name and contact details (phone number and postal address and, if available, an email address of the individual or group making the submission.   If the submission is being made on behalf of a group, the position of the person in that group should be indicated.
  • Anonymous submissions cannot be accepted.
  • Submissions should –
    •  be presented as concisely as possible on numbered pages
    •  contain –
      •  a brief introduction, for example, explaining your area of expertise
      • any factual information that you have to offer from which the Committee might be able to draw conclusions, or which could be put to other parties for their reactions
  • Submissions should indicate if the individual or group on whose behalf they are made would be prepared to appear in public session at any Committee meeting.

A more detailed document outlining the guidelines for making a written submission is available by clicking here: Making Submissions and Presentations to Oireachtas Committees

Making a submission is a public process

There is no obligation to accept your document once it has been submitted, or to publish any or all of the submission if it is accepted.  However, the operations of a Parliament are a public process, and any submissions made may be published either as part of a Committee report, or separately, if the Committee decides to do so.

Members of the Committee

Deputy Joanna Tuffy (Chair)
Deputies James Bannon, Ray Butler, Joan Collins, Clare Daly, Brendan Griffin , Jim Daly, Derek Keating, Charlie McConalogue, Nicky McFadden, Jonathan O’Brien, Willie O’Dea, Aodhán Ó Ríordáin, Aengus Ó Snodaigh, Brendan Ryan
Senators Terry Brennan, Jim D’Arcy, Marie Moloney, Mary Moran, Marie-Louise O’Donnell, Averil Power

The deadline for receipt of submissions is 3.00 p.m. on Friday 22 November 2013.

Should you have any queries in relation to this matter, please contact the Clerk to the Committee at the address above, or telephone 01 618 3481.

Mitchell O’Connor urges parents to engage with children about online activity

Fine Gael Dun Laoghaire Deputy, Mary Mitchell O’Connor, has today (Wednesday) called on parents to fully engage with their children about their internet activity in a bid to ensure their safety online.

Deputy Mitchell O’Connor was speaking following the publication of a report by security company, McAfee, which outlined that more than half of the 200 Irish teenagers who were surveyed admitted to wiping their browsing history in order to hide online behaviour from their parents.

“By clearing their internet history in a bid to conceal exactly what they having been doing online, children have no idea of the line of fire they may be putting themselves in. While the world has irrevocably changed in the last 20 years, many children’s belief that they can handle themselves and identify hazardous situations most likely has not.

“But the grim reality is that 20 years ago, when a 14 year old girl was talking to a 15 year old boy she knew that to be the case. Today, a 14 year old girl can assume that she is chatting with a 15 year old boy online, when in fact it is a 60 year old man she is engaged in conversation with.

“The internet has added to our lives in ways we cannot measure. But it is an incredibly dangerous place, especially for our young people, who, irrespective of their maturity, are incapable of identifying the surreptitious and stealthy actions of adults who are intent on engaging them in activities unsuited to their years.

“Our young people are also exceptionally vulnerable when it comes to dealing with the level of aggression and abuse they may come into contact with in chat rooms and via other fora.

“I am urging parents to talk to their children about their on-line behaviour and to impress upon them the need to be open and transparent about their activities. Going online with your child and role playing with them about what they would do in certain situations, if they came across something inappropriate or upsetting, is a good way to communicate with them and to give them the tools to enable them to cope.”


Minister’s move away from rote learning is a positive

More emphasis needs to be placed on numeracy and literacy levels, writes Mary Mitchell O’Connor

THERE’S been a renewed focus over the last week on the Education Minister’s plans to reform the junior cycle and to effectively abolish the Junior Cert exam and replace it with a system of continual assessment for our second-level students. The response to Minister Ruairi Quinn’s plans has been far from universal acceptance.

Change for the sake of change, we are told, is not a good thing. But anything that can move us away from the over-reliance on rote learning at second level and towards a system where adaptability and creativity is encouraged and enhanced has the potential, in my view, to be something very positive.

Our education system, particularly at second level, has become hugely reliant on rote learning in recent decades, leaving us with a situation where the students getting the highest grades are those who can learn huge tracts of text off by heart and reproduce it in an exam situation. The foundations for this approach are laid in the run-up to the Junior Cert and are cemented at Leaving Cert level.

This system has not served us well. Our adult numeracy and literacy rates are very disappointing. An international study published by the OECD and the Central Statistics Office in October ranked Ireland at below average. While there has been marginal improvement in literacy levels when compared with earlier studies, Ireland is placed at just 19th out of 24 countries for numeracy.

Any reform of our education system must place a huge emphasis on improving our numeracy and literacy levels. Mr Quinn has expressed his wish to drive forward implementation of the National Literacy and Numeracy Strategy in our schools. As a fragile economy emerging from a bailout, we need to strive to constantly update our skillset and reform the way we teach core subjects and skills. This needs to start at pre-school level and extend to lifelong learning.

I want to see an education system where children are actively involved in their own learning, where teamwork and collaboration are encouraged and where students are taught skills, rather than just subjects. The new junior cycle has the potential to deliver this kind of education system.

“But where are the resources?” the cynics shout. Resources, and the perceived lack thereof, can act as the single biggest excuse to resisting reform. You can never have enough resources in the education system or in any of our frontline public services. But that’s not a reason to preserve the status quo. The teachers with whom I have worked in the past are creative and dedicated individuals, who want to do their best to improve their students’ educational experience. It is these teachers who will deliver real change.

Education should prepare children for a future of constant change; it must teach them how to be adaptable and creative. This must start at the earliest possible stage. At pre-school level, we have an internationally recognised curriculum framework, Aistear, which puts learning through play and exploration at the heart of education for children under six.

At primary level, parental involvement becomes increasingly important. Some parents who may not have had a good experience of school themselves must be helped to identify how important it is for their children to make the most of their time at school. Children reflect parental behaviour, and so schools must empower parents to empower their children.

Each tier of our education system must be flexible and adaptable. Under the new junior cycle, schools will be able to offer short courses in subjects like Chinese or IT coding, exposing teenage students to all sorts of subjects that might otherwise have seemed beyond their reach.

While an expanded subject choice is often a positive, how we deliver that choice must be closely considered. For example, the number of degree courses available at third level has ballooned in the last decade. In 2000, 44 higher education institutions offered 287 level eight honours degree courses. This year, 45 institutions will offer 919 degree courses.

At the same time, our universities are slipping down the international rankings. In my view, this is proof that we need to get back to basics and concentrate on improving our numeracy and literacy rates before we offer almost 1,000 different degree programmes across the country.

Equally valuable in our education system are apprenticeships and courses offered in our ITs and colleges of further education, which provide options to students who don’t progress to university.

We need to ensure we are giving our young people the right skills to partake in our changing economy. But education is about much more than employability, and if the experience of the last five years or so has taught us anything, it should be that nothing is certain. We must always be ready to change, to adapt.

The aim of our education system should be to prepare young people and students for life and help them reach their full potential, whatever that may be.

Mary Mitchell O’Connor TD is chairperson of the Fine Gael Internal Education Committee and a former school principal

Sunday Independent