Chief Examiner’s Project Maths report must be published without delay

Weaknesses in the system will not be evident by Wednesday’s results.

Fine Gael Dun Laoghaire Deputy and former school principal, Mary Mitchell O ’Connor, has today (Monday) called for the Chief Examiner’s report on Project Maths, which is with the Department of Education and Skills, to be published without delay so that a full assessment of the effectiveness of the subject can be determined.

“There is a genuine fear that Project Maths will lead to our students being wholly unprepared for what lies ahead at third level, as pupils are not being taught basic mathematical concepts. This will lead to students having to play catch-up when they enter college or university which will have a corresponding negative impact on the reputation of our third level institutions.

“I have been informed by a corrector of the Leaving Certificate honours mathematics paper that in one of the 75 mark questions, based on the robotic arm, the marking system had to be changed drastically to reflect more a favourable outcome as the results were so dismal. This means that Wednesday’s examination results will not give an accurate indication of the weaknesses in the system but instead will show the same number of pupils failing, the same number passing and the same number getting As, Bs and Cs.

“Due to the recent changes in the Leaving Certificate curriculum, the amount of calculus being taught has been severely reduced. Vectors, matrices, sequences and series, differential calculus, integral calculus and equations have also largely been removed. Probability and statistics are now worth 50% of the marks on Paper 2 and for the first time ever, students are not being given a choice in the questions they answer. Furthermore, there are concerns over the adequacy of the training being given to Project Maths teachers which also has severe repercussions on student’s abilities.

“The below-average performance of our pupils, when it comes to mathematics, has to be addressed. We need to get to the root of why our children are not succeeding in this area. Concerns that Project Maths is not the answer but that it will eventually lead to lower standards cannot be ignored as this will impact significantly on students’ preparation for third level courses and will act as an impediment to the future development of Ireland’s knowledge economy.

“I have raised this issue in the Dáil with the Minister for Education, Ruairí Quinn, and will continue to keep in contact with him on the matter, expressing my concerns and those of a growing number of academics.

“I am calling on the Minister to ensure that the Chief Examiner’s report on Project Maths is published as early as possible so that a full and comprehensive assessment of where we are going can be determined, with any necessary changes being made as soon as is practically possible. ”

Mary Mitchell O’Connor calls for NAMA to be open and transparent about property transactions

Fine Gael TD for Dun Laoghaire, Mary Mitchell O’Connor, has today (Monday) called on NAMA to drop the veil of secrecy and be open and transparent with the public about its property portfolio and sales process.

“I believe that NAMA has a habit of keeping details of property sales closely guarded making it difficult for members of the public to view and purchase properties in its portfolio. I am very concerned about this practice and I am calling on NAMA to be more open and transparent about how it puts all of its land and properties up for sale.

“It is crucial that ordinary members of the public have full visibility of NAMA’s property portfolio and that properties are not just being sold to a select group of people. NAMA is obliged to get the maximum price for land and property it has acquired. If these properties and land are being sold behind closed doors, then the taxpayer is being short-changed.

“I am calling on NAMA to publish its entire property portfolio, including all properties that have already been sold, and for how much, as well as what properties and land it currently has for sale. NAMA should also reveal how land and properties are valued and how they subsequently decide on a sale price. This should all be published on NAMA’s website, which at the moment is difficult to navigate, especially when searching for properties for sale.

“I have raised this in the Dáil on two occasions, specifically in relation to Booterstown Marsh in Dublin where two interested parties enquired about the sale of the Marsh from NAMA but were told that the sale had already been agreed, despite no ‘For Sale’ sign ever being erected. After I raised this in the Dáil, a ‘For Sale’ sign was subsequently erected.”

“NAMA needs to step up and answer the many questions people have about how it conducts its business.”

Online porn is playing an unhealthy role in the sexualisation of young people

Fine Gael Dún Laoghaire TD, Mary Mitchell O’ Connor, has said that she believes the increasingly easy access to internet porn could be having an unhealthy effect on young people’s sexual behaviour and their views on sexuality.

“There has been an exponential increase in the availability of porn on the internet in the last number of years. It is frighteningly easy for people to access hard core pornographic images online at no cost. Unfortunately many of our young people are accessing this information.

“The annual report of the CARI Foundation, which provides assistance to children affected by sexual abuse, reports a 57% increase in calls to the organisation’s helpline relating to increased sexual behaviour in children of 12 years and younger.

“I, for one, am not comfortable with how porn is informing young people about how to approach sex, sexuality and sexual relationships. The depiction of sex on many of these websites is misrepresentative and extremely concerning and can include the humiliation of women and the threat of or actual depictions of violence.

“It is very worrying that porn is often depicted in popular culture as being a light hearted matter. For example, it is not uncommon to see young girls wearing clothes depicting the Playboy image. While I accept that Playboy is not hardcore porn, I find it insidious that this type of product should be normalised in the minds of young people.

“Video games are also playing a worrying role in informing young people’s attitudes towards sex. One Japanese video game involves the sexual assault and rape of a female victim. This serves to remind us that while technology is a wonderful thing, it can be dangerous and detrimental and needs to be monitored vigilantly by parents.”

Mary Mitchell O ’Connor welcomes creation of 39 new jobs at Dún Laoghaire college

911 jobs announced nationally at start-up firms with Govt support.

Fine Gael Dún Laoghaire TD, Mary Mitchell O’ Connor, has welcomed the announcement by Minister for Enterprise, Jobs and innovation, Richard Bruton, that 39 new jobs are to be created at the Digital Marketing Institute in Dún Laoghaire. The Digital Marketing Institute is one of 53 new high potential start up companies with a total of 911 jobs were announced today. The jobs have been created as a result of support provided to the companies by the Government through Enterprise Ireland.

“I am delighted to hear that the Digital Marketing Institute, an Irish company based in Dún Laoghaire, will be creating 39 new jobs. The announcement represents an important economic boost to the town of Dún Laoghaire and to the wider area.

“As a local representative, I am delighted to see a Dún Laoghaire based initiative achieving success and providing employment and I am delighted that the Government has played a part in the creation of these jobs. The Digital Marketing Institute received support through Enterprise Ireland’s High Potential Start-Up programme which aims to work with entrepreneurs who have an innovative idea that will create much needed jobs in this country.

“Creating jobs is this Government’s number one priority. As well driving foreign direct investment into the country, we are also placing a huge emphasis on growing the indigenous sector which will match the level of success of big international companies that have set up in Ireland.

“Since coming into office last year, this Government has introduced a wide range of stimulus measures aimed at supporting indigenous companies to succeed in export markets. These include, establishing a new potential exporters division in Enterprise Ireland to support exporters, monitoring support programmes to help companies improve their performance, and new funding mechanisms such as the credit guarantee scheme and the microfinance fund which will provide over ■800 million of new funds for Irish businesses.

“I would like to thank Minister Bruton and Enterprise Ireland for supporting the creation of these jobs in Dún Laoghaire and further afield.”

New housing units will help the most vulnerable in Dun Laoghaire/ Rathdown to live more independently

Fine Gael Dun Laoghaire Deputy, Mary Mitchell O’Connor, has welcomed the announcement by the Minister for Housing, Jan O’Sullivan TD, of new social and voluntary units to be provided in Dun Laoghaire/ Rathdown, which will be used to provide housing for the homeless, the elderly and those living with disabilities. In all, provision has been made for 101 units in the constituency, as part of a wider package of 800 new social and voluntary housing units to be provided nationally.

“Dun Laoghaire/ Rathdown is in line to receive 101 new units as part of a suite of social and voluntary housing that is being provided nationally at a cost of €100 million.

“Under the Capital Assistance Scheme, eight units are to be provided for St. John of God Trust and Túath Housing, providing homes for the elderly, the homeless and those living with disabilities. The total cost of this scheme is €1,577,696.

“Under the Local Authority Social Housing scheme, 93 units are to be built or renovated for use. Eighty of these are managed by Túath at Rochdale, Honeypark. A further 13 units are to be constructed, with conversions of existing bedsits to one bed units at a total combined cost of €6,520,000.

“That the green light has been given for these proposals from local authorities, in spite of our economic situation is fantastic. It is crucial that we continue to meet the needs of the most disadvantaged in society and that those who are capable of living independently are assisted in doing so.

“This announcement comes on a day when the Taoiseach, Tánaiste and Minister of State for Disability, Equality, Mental Health and Older People, Ms Kathleen Lynch TD, launched the National Carers’ Strategy, which will point the way forward for future policies, supports and services in this area.

“These units are set to come on stream between now and 2014. They will be a fantastic addition to the people of Dun Laoghaire/Rathdown, providing homes and facilitating independent living for so many people.”

Separate Family Court would ensure greater privacy and speedier resolution

Statistics on number of adjourned maintenance applications not recorded.

Fine Gael Dun Laoghaire Deputy, Mary Mitchell O’Connor, has welcomed the Government’s approval, in principle, for a referendum to be held on the restructuring of the Courts, which if approved would see the establishment of a new, separate Family Court structure. Following on from representations made to her about delays in family court hearings, Deputy Mitchell O’Connor put a series of Parliamentary Questions to the Minister for Justice, Alan Shatter TD, to determine the extent of the situation.

“I questioned the Minister for Justice in the Dáil last week about the delays being experienced in family court hearings, especially where the backlog in maintenance applications is concerned. There are reports of some families being forced to wait more than a year for their case to be heard.

“The Justice Minister has confirmed to me that no record is kept of the number of maintenance applications that are adjourned but that the Court Service has informed him that urgent applications are dealt with at the next court sitting. The Minister also said it is the intention of the newly appointed President of the District Court to assess all backlogs and waiting times with a view to seeing how cases can be dealt with more quickly.

“As it stands, hearings for contested family law cases in the Circuit Court are taking up to 30 months in Wexford, with a four month wait in Dublin. Waiting times for maintenance and guardianship applications in the District Court are spanning to 17 weeks in Letterkenny and approximately 10 weeks in Dublin. The problem, however, is that in a large number of situations, cases are being adjourned, leaving families in limbo and dragging what can be emotional and stressful proceedings out indefinitely. With no formal record of adjournments being kept, the extent of the problem is unknown.

“Following a number of judicial retirements and promotions to other courts in the last 12 month period, which gave rise to 15 vacancies on the Circuit Court and the District Court, the Minister has told me that all vacancies have now been filled. The Court Service has indicated that it is not aware of a high number of unheard maintenance applications and the Minister has expressed his willingness to make enquiries if evidence to the contrary is presented to him.

“Family court proceedings can be harrowing affairs, which can have an enormous impact not only on the adults involved but on the children at the centre of the case. If a separate family Court was established, I have no doubt that a superior service would be available to families, which would enable them to deal with and resolve their business in a speedier and more private way.”

Mary Mitchell O’Connor raises serious concerns about effectiveness of Project Maths

Fine Gael Dun Laoghaire TD, Mary Mitchell O’Connor, has today (Wednesday) raised serious concerns with the Minister for Education, Ruairí Quinn, about the effectiveness of Project Maths. Deputy Mitchell O’Connor was speaking this afternoon during Topical Issues in the Dáil.

“I have serious concerns about the effectiveness of the Project Maths programme, which has been hailed as the answer to the below average performance of our teenagers in a subject that is so important for a wide range of careers in the IT, engineering and high tech sectors.

“Mathematicians have expressed grave misgivings about the radical changes which have been made to the Leaving Certificate maths paper. Most of the subject’s core elements – including calculus, vectors, matrices, sequences and series and difference equations – have been significantly reduced on the new paper. It’s also the first time pupils have to answer all questions on both papers, with no options.

“Third level institutions are acutely aware of these issues. The Dublin Institute for Advanced Studies placed a recent advert in the Irish Times outlining that it is holding a calculus prep course for prospective students of maths, science, engineering and economics, due to the reduced amount of calculus being taught on the new curriculum.

“Experts from a number of colleges have expressed the view that Project Maths will have a negative impact on maths education. Their criticisms range from the subject matter of the course, to inadequately trained teachers and the fact that the project was introduced with undue haste. These arguments are difficult to dispute. There are also complaints that there was inadequate consultation before Project Maths was introduced, with claims that the Irish Maths Teachers Association was under represented.

“From my own observation of the paper, I would also like to highlight the fact that it poses particular difficulties for dyslexic students; a view expressed by other academics. I accept Minister Quinn’s comments that the introduction of Project Maths was intended to improve our students’ performance in the subject, but I fear it could be having the opposite effect. I also have concerns about the bonus points being awarded to those sitting the Higher Level Paper; achieving a D grade in Higher Level Maths, with the subsequent bonus points awarded, does not necessarily mean a student will be capable of studying engineering.

“The Minister has acknowledged that we have not found the solution to the maths issue, and that we need to continue to improve the way we tackle the problem. I would urge the Minister to take a fresh look at the Project Maths syllabus and seriously consider whether it is best serving our students, and our future graduates.”

Mary Mitchell O’Connor raises delays in family court hearings and maintenance issues with Justice Minister

Legislation to be introduced to ensure greater transparency in family law cases
Speaking on Topical Issue Debates in the Dáil this evening (Wednesday), Fine Gael Dun Laoghaire Deputy, Mary Mitchell O’Connor, raised the issue of the delays being experienced in family court hearings and the negative impact it is having on women and children, with the Minister for Justice, Equality & Defence, Alan Shatter TD.

Deputy Mitchell O’Connor said she had been approached by a number of constituents, leading family solicitors and women’s organisations who claim that there is also a serious backlog in maintenance applications, some of which span to more than a year.

“The picture that is being painted by the people who have been in contact with me is of a system in complete disarray, with many women and children living on the edge. People have told me they are waiting up to a year for dates for emergency maintenance applications, which I find completely unacceptable.

“Reports are that criminal cases are taking precedence over family law cases and that judges of the Circuit Court in Dublin in particular are being regularly seconded away from urgent family law hearings to sit in the criminal courts. Most recently, it was brought to my attention that a judge was taken from the family law Circuit Court at Phoenix House to hear a high profile case involving a millionaire and his personal assistant.

“The situation for those who are faced with family law proceedings is that even when dates are given for family law case hearings, particularly maintenance applications on behalf of women and children, they are repeatedly being adjourned. On 27th June, 175 case were adjourned from the family court. On 6th March, the same applied to 85 cases.

“Minister Shatter said he was not aware of a backlog of family law cases that were awaiting hearing or of a delay in the provision of emergency maintenance funds. He went on to say that procedures are available for interim maintenance orders and that cases that are experiencing delays should be brought to his attention, which I plan to do.

“The Minister is aware that deficiencies exist in relation to family law, especially where children are concerned. He recognises the absence of supports in addressing child welfare issues following relationship break downs and acknowledged that there are no adequate support services available to the Circuit or the High Court in this area. Legislation is being planned to improve family law, including the in-camera rule, to ensure greater transparency of future proceedings while maintaining the privacy of those at the centre of disputes, which should improve the situation for those involved considerably.”

Marino Community Special School will provide certainty for children with Special Educational Needs

Fine Gael Dun Laoghaire Deputy, Mary Mitchell O’Connor, has said the designation of Marino School in Bray as a Community Special School will provide long-term educational certainty for children in the area with Special Educational Needs (SEN).

“The reclassification of Marino School as a Community Special School will open up enrolments to a wider student profile and will offer a broader range of curricular programmes at both Primary and Post Primary level. Before this move, Marino School only catered for students with learning difficulties up until sixth class, leaving them with limited options thereafter as there are only two other classes in the Dun Laoghaire area that cater for students with learning difficulties beyond sixth year.

“This will provide the students who currently attend the school, and those looking to enrol, with the security of knowing that they can continue with their studies at the school for as long as they see fit. It now puts children who have special educational needs in the area on a more equal footing to other children of their age who, following the completion of sixth class, have a range of options of second level schools to attend.

“This news will be welcomed by the parents of the children attending Marino School, as they will be safe in the knowledge that the educational needs of their children, irrespective of what level they wish to attain, will now be met.

“Our children with special educational needs deserve the same opportunities in life as those without. Courses will now be available at primary and secondary level, up to Leaving Certificate, which is facilitated through Links Programmes, and to FETAC level for the first time. I am delighted with this development and wish the students, their parents and the staff all the very best for the future.”

Files being sought under FOI may lack comprehensive and truthful information

Speaking on the Freedom of Information (Amendment) (No.2) Bill 2012 during Private Members Business in the Dáil today (Friday), Fine Gael Dun Laoghaire Deputy, Mary Mitchell O’Connor, said that while she agrees that the number of agencies and organisations under the scope of the FOI legislation should be broadened, she is concerned that many of the files being sought may be lacking comprehensive and truthful information.

“I agree with the proposal to bring bodies such as the Central Bank, NAMA, the NTMA, and VECs under the remit of the Freedom of Information legislation. However, I am concerned that many files being sought may be somewhat lacking when it comes to giving a true and accurate reflection of accounts.

“I am referring specifically to the amount, or lack thereof, of information that was available to the Fine Gael and Labour Parties, when they came to office, about events that led to the bank guarantee on 29th September 2008. That event had a devastating impact on the Irish people, the effects of which the current Government is working assiduously to undo.
“It beggars belief that no written record of what exactly happened on that night is available to the Irish people. It should never happen again that the details of a decision of t such national importance goes unrecorded.

“Where NAMA is concerned, I have reservations, which I have raised in the past, about how the Agency is conducting its business. The perceived lack of transparency of how property is being sold privately is a cause for real concern. There are suspicions that lands owned by the State are being sold to a golden circle, with Joe or Josephine public being unaware that it is on offer, with the result that they are being denied an opportunity to bid for it.

“NAMA is obliged to get the maximum price for the land and property that it has acquired, and which the taxpayer has paid for. If this property/land is being sold behind closed doors then Irish taxpayers and citizens are being short changed. Bringing NAMA under the remit of FOI legislation will brings us a step closer to determining the outline of events in such case.”