All posts by Mary Mitchell O'Connor

Ministers McHugh and Mitchell O’Connor welcome earlier date for Round One CAO offers

Minister for Education and Skills Joe McHugh T.D. and Minister for Higher Education Mary Mitchell O’Connor T.D. have today (15 February, 2019) welcomed confirmation that Round One offers from the Central Applications Office (CAO) will be issued this year on the earlier date of Thursday, 15 August 2019.

Continue reading Ministers McHugh and Mitchell O’Connor welcome earlier date for Round One CAO offers

Ministers announce call for applications to Higher Education Strategic Infrastructure Fund

Minister for Education and Skills Joe McHugh T.D. and Minister of State for Higher Education Mary Mitchell O’Connor T.D. today announced that a call for applications has issued to higher education institutions in relation to the newly established Higher Education Strategic Infrastructure Fund. The fund is one of a number of measures to deliver on ambitions for Ireland’s higher education sector as outlined in Project Ireland 2040.

Continue reading Ministers announce call for applications to Higher Education Strategic Infrastructure Fund

Mary Mitchell O’Connor welcomes row-back from Facebook on beheading video

Social Network site’s policy on violent content still open to question

Fine Gael Dun Laoghaire Deputy, Mary Mitchell O’Connor, has today (Wednesday) welcomed the decision by Facebook to remove a beheading video from the site and said the company’s willingness to re-examine the issue is proof of the volume of public sentiment against such horrific violence.

Deputy Mitchell O’Connor went on to say that while Facebook has committed to combatting glorified violence, its commitment to ensuring that graphic content is shared responsibly is open to question.

“Following on from a public backlash surrounding the publication of a beheading video on Facebook, the media giant has backed down and conceded that the video ‘improperly and irresponsibly glorifies violence’ and removed it from view. The company has committed to strengthening the enforcement of its policies on graphic content, ensuring that an emphasis is put on the context of the material and whether or not it is being shared with an age appropriate audience and contains a warning about what the material contains.

“While this is to be welcomed, I am still concerned that this is leaving our young people exposed to violent images and that videos and images of a graphic nature can be shared publically on people’s walls for a considerable amount of time before it is reported and removed.

“Our children are being increasingly exposed to violent material, through video games, TV and movies and through social media. I do not think that allowing material of a graphic nature to be shared on Facebook for the purpose of condemning it is acceptable. People can be made aware of what is going on in certain places without having to witness it first-hand. I am calling on Facebook to re-think the issue and to place an outright ban on explicitly violent material once and for all.”

24 October 2013

Fair City storyline helping to lift the lid on domestic violence

Fine Gael Dun Laoghaire Deputy, Mary Mitchell O’Connor, has today (Thursday) said the storyline being carried on popular Irish soap opera, Fair City, which centres around domestic violence in the Bishop family home, while difficult to watch, sends a message to those suffering abuse at the hands of a partner that help is at hand and that any abuse should be reported.

“Fair City has a long history of tackling the issue of domestic violence and abuse. Not only does it deal with the abuse of women but it has also, in the past, tackled the issue of husbands falling victim to abuse at the hands of their wives.

“The storyline which centres on domestic abuse in the Bishop household and depicts a husband beating his wife and daughter will, sadly, strike a chord in many households across the country. SAFE Ireland has said that domestic abuse is the most under-reported, undocumented and unprosecuted crime in the country, with the result that too many women are enduring horrific beatings, many on a regular basis, at the hands of husbands or boyfriends.

“While the support systems that are currently in place in Ireland to assist those who are in need of shelter are far from adequate, a number of reforms are underway to deal with family law cases and the administration of justice. The in-camera rule is being overhauled to allow for greater transparency of family law cases and a referendum is being planned to provide a unified system of Family Courts later next year.

“Services such as the Women’s Aid National Freephone Helpline (1800 341 900) are in place to provide support for those in need and it is vital that we encourage our sisters, mother, aunts and girlfriends who are suffering abuse to come forward and to seek help in a bid to turning their lives around.

“It is estimated that one in five women in Ireland will experience violence and abuse from an intimate partner at some stage in her life, so this is not an issue that is affecting just a small number. Women can fall victim to domestic violence, which may first manifest in subtle forms of intimidation and control, irrespective of class, race or religion. It is up to all of us to get the message out that striking a partner is never ok. I applaud shows such as Fair City for playing its part and addressing this difficult issue, especially for the men and women at the centre of abuse.”


Facebook allows decapitation videos while banning certain breastfeeding images

Social media giant needs to explain rational behind prohibition policy
Fine Gael Dun Laoghaire Deputy, Mary Mitchell O’Connor, has today (Tuesday) called on the social media giant, Facebook, to clarify the thinking behind the company’s strategy where the banning of material to its website is concerned.
Deputy Mitchell O’Connor said the fact that violent and explicit images of decapitations can now be posted and viewed on Facebook, while certain images depicting a mother about to breastfeed her child need to be explained.
“Following on from the lifting of a temporary ban, which was put in place by Facebook in respect of graphic content, images of a violent nature can once again be posted and viewed on the site. The ban, which was put in place earlier this year following complaints from the public about certain images, among them a video of a masked man beheading a woman in Mexico, was said to allow the company a chance to examine its policy in this area.
“While this approach, in itself, is unfathomable, the situation is even more unbelievable, when consideration is given to the fact that, in Facebook’s own words, ‘photos that show a fully exposed breast where the child is not actively engaged in nursing….violate Facebook’s terms’.
“In response to reaction to this new policy from, among others, David Cameron PM, Facebook has said it will consider attaching warnings to content of a violent and graphic nature. The company asserts that the social media network should be a forum where people can post content of this nature so that it can be condemned. It maintains that its approach would be different if the content was being celebrated or the actions being portrayed were being encouraged.
“This is an astronomically naïve view being expressed by a company that really should know better. How on earth does Facebook know the motivation or intentions of the people viewing the material? The prevalence of this sort of content is desensitising people to the horrors of acts of such violence, and this is most noticeable in our young children who are increasingly viewing this material as the rule rather than the exception.
“Facebook is showing increasingly little regard for its younger users, their safety and protection from sinister practices. Just last week, a decision was taken to allow 13-17 year olds to share their posts publically on the internet, raising the risk of their welfare being compromised.
“I am calling on Facebook to explain the thought process which allows for such policies to be adopted and for the ban on beheading videos to be reinstated without delay.”

23 October 2012

Mary Mitchell O’Connor thanks local business community for engagement on Budget 2014

Submissions made at local level were invaluable in feeding into Advisory Group for Small Business.

Fine Gael Dun Laoghaire Deputy, Mary Mitchell O’Connor, has welcomed the engagement made by small and medium business community in Dun Laoghaire in the run up to the framing of Budget 2014.

Deputy Mitchell O’Connor said that the business community making its views known at government level is essential to ensuring that their needs are met. This ensures that the measures that encourage future investment are put in place to allow for the job creation we need.

“I have been working hard for small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) both at constituency and national level since I was elected in 2011 by holding meeting with Government Ministers who can determine, first-hand, what the business community needs most. Earlier this year, I organised an SME conference at Fitzpatrick’s Killiney Castle Hotel called, ‘Listening to Small Business’ which was attended by the Minister for State for Small Business, John Perry TD, who took careful note of the information being relayed to him.

“As recently as last week, I brought a group of local small business representatives into the Department of Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation so that they could make their case to the Advisory Group for Small Businesses. In his post-budget speech, Minister Perry stressed the importance of recommendations from the Advisory Group, which he brought to the attention of Minister Noonan during his Budget deliberations.

“There is no doubt that this Budget is pro-jobs and pro-business; a fact which is reflected in the response to it from business leaders. Among the measures included in yesterday’s announcements are a €500 million jobs stimulus package; 25 new measures to support entrepreneurs and job creation; the retention of the 9% VAT rate on tourism and hospitality; a Building Your Business initiative; a 2 year income tax exemption for long term unemployed who start a business; Capital Gains Tax relief on reinvested proceeds to encourage future investment from businesses; an increase in the VAT cash receipt threshold to €2m; the removal of Employment and Investment Incentive from Higher Earners Restriction; an improvement to R&D Tax Credit and a Training and Mentoring programme for SMEs.

“Minister Bruton estimates that more than 48,000 new jobs will be supported next year through the Department of Enterprise budget. I am delighted that the efforts of all the businesses who engaged at a local, or indeed, national level have paid off. I will continue to work for SMEs to ensure that their concerns continue to be met so that they can grow and prosper and create the jobs we need. “

16 October 2013

Great news in Education as fee-charging school funding and pupil teacher ratios maintained

Fine Gael Dun Laoghaire Deputy, Mary Mitchell O’Connor, has today (Tuesday) welcomed the news that funding for fee-charging schools has been maintained in Budget 2014.

Deputy Mitchell O’Connor, who is the chair of the Fine Gael Internal Committee on Education which has worked extensively on this issue, went on to say that the protection of the pupil teacher ratios for primary schools at 28:1, DEIS schools at 18.25:1, post-primary schools at 19:1 and fee-charging schools at 23:1 is a victory for our children’s future learning.

“The decision to leave funding for fee-charging schools untouched in the Budget was the right one. Apart from the impact reducing funding for this sector would have on the school going population in certain areas, the reality is that a large number of parents with children who are attending fee-charging school are struggling to cope with costs, as a result of job losses and wage reductions in recent years.

“In some areas, such as Dun Laoghaire, there are simply not enough public school places to cater to the number of children in the area. As a result, some parents, who want their children to attend a local school, are left with no other choice than to stump up for a fee-charging education. In border areas, or for many minority faith families, ensuring that children can avail of an education of their choosing, means attending a fee-charging school is one of necessity. The argument that the bill to mitigate against any reduction in the State subvention for these schools would be picked up by the parents of the children attending them, fails to take account of the financial reality facing a huge number of these parents.

“Ensuring that parents have choices when determining what sort of school their children will go to is so important. Whether it is an Educate Together, a single or co-ed school, or a school with a particular religious ethos, it is essential that we continue to provide a range of options that do not unfairly financially penalise parents.

“Each year, as the Government attempts to undo the economic damage inflicted on the economy by Fianna Fáil, the Budget adjustment becomes increasingly challenging. Minister Noonan and Howlin, along with the Taoiseach, Tánaiste and the Cabinet, have crafted a Budget that is fair and equitable, which aims to support job creation in the most effective way possible and allows for our successful exiting of the Troika bailout.

“I am delighted that, despite the fact an adjustment of €2.5 billion has to be taken out of the economy again next year, the Taoiseach and the Minister for Education, Ruairí Quinn TD recognise the contribution fee-charging schools have made to fiscal consolidation in previous years and have maintained funding and the pupil teacher ratio at current levels.”

15 October 2013

Parents should not be penalised for sending children to fee-paying schools

As we head into the budget next week, all eyes are on the possible changes that may be made to allow for an adjustment of somewhere in the region of €2.5 billion.

As a former principal in a State-funded primary school, and as the chairwoman of the internal Fine Gael committee on education, I am fully aware of the importance of quality education, quality teaching and the impact the pupil/teacher ratio has on our children’s learning. A further increase in the pupil teacher ratio in next week’s budget would have a serious impact on our schools.

Some argue against the State contributing towards the education of children whose parents (who have of course paid their income tax) can afford to send their offspring to schools that charge exorbitant fees. However, the reality is much more complex.

In some constituencies, such as the one I represent (Dún Laoghaire), historical educational decisions mean that parents do not have much in the way of choice when it comes to sending their children to free voluntary secondary schools and community or VEC schools.

Due to the fact that many of the schools in and around Dún Laoghaire did not go into the voluntary system in the 1960s, we now have a large number of fee-paying schools and very few State-funded ones, which means that for many parents, sending their children to a fee-paying school is a matter of necessity rather than choice. Because of this historical overhang, and through no fault of their own, many parents of fee-paying students have been forced to stump up for their children’s education in order to send them to a local school.

All parents make choices regarding their children’s education based on a number of factors; whether or not the school is a local one, whether it is a single-sex or a co-ed school or has a particular religious ethos. I strongly believe that parents should have that choice and that they should not be unnecessarily financially penalised for it.
Parents of a minority faith have particularly little choice because most schools of their ethos are fee-charging secondary schools, most are co-educational, have boarding facilities and teach a wide curriculum for a diverse population of pupils. Moreover, these schools are few in number and often small and situated in rural areas such as Cavan, Monaghan, Offaly, Louth and Donegal. Any suggestion that these schools should be penalised for catering for their minority community, irrespective of means and abilities, is totally at odds with the principles and values for which Irish society should stand for.

During the course of the debate about fee-paying schools, a realistic view of our financial circumstances has been lacking. Some suggest that reducing or withdrawing the State subvention to fee-paying schools will save the State money, the slack for which will be taken up by parents. The reality is, however, that if the State ceased or reduced funding to fee-paying schools, many parents who send their children to private schools, and who were once able to afford a fee-paying education but are now struggling, would be forced to take them out of private education and instead send them into the public system. This will increase demand for public school places, which are already seriously limited in some areas, heaping additional costs on the State in the process.

The spotlight being placed by the Department of Education on fee-paying schools will cost jobs, hurt children, and, in many cases, force schools to join the State sector, where they will cost the taxpayer more than they do now.
Many parents in constituencies that do not have a sufficient number of public school places, like Dun Laoghaire, are paying colossal mortgages for modest 3/4 bedroom semi-detached homes. Many of these people have lost their jobs due to the recession or have taken serious cuts in their salaries, making providing for a private, and locally based, education for their children a struggle.

Now is not the time to have an ideological debate that would result in exorbitant additional costs to the State while putting serious pressure on and doing damage to our public school system in the process.

Published in the Irish Times, Friday 11th October 2013