Parents and legislators need to be vigilant to ensure children are protected from cyber stalkers

Fine Gael Dun Laoghaire TD, Mary Mitchell O’Connor, has today (Wednesday) said that legislators and parents need to be more vigilant against the threat posed to children by cyber stalkers. Deputy Mitchell O’Connor was speaking in the Dáil during the Second Stage debate on the National Vetting Bureau (Children and Vulnerable Persons) Bill 2012.

“This Bill is further evidence that this Government values our young and vulnerable and it is an immense pity that it took the abuse of countless children to get us to this point. The publication of the wording of the Children’s Referendum today underlines the Government’s determined effort to better safeguard our children.

“Two particular aspects of the National Vetting Bureau Bill will make considerable differences to the way people working with children are hired. Firstly, it allows for ‘specified information’ to be taken into account. Furthermore, ‘soft information’ which would include details on a person gathered during a Garda inquiry, but where there was no conviction, can also be taken into account. The second crucial element of the Bill is the fact that it will enforce criminal sanctions on those who do not properly use the new vetting system.

“Concerns have been aired regarding the possible consequences of this new vetting legislation, with the suggestion that internet grooming and cyber stalking may increase as a result. This undoubtedly poses challenges for both legislators and parents; we all need to be more vigilant to ensure children are protected from this terrible threat. As legislators, we need to do our utmost to protect our youth from the harmful effects of not just internet grooming, but also from sites that promote harmful behaviour.

“Step by step, this Government is addressing the gaping holes in our child protection system. The National Vetting Bureau Bill is a crucial part of that process. We must now consider the next steps and ensure we are proactive about emerging threats to our children.”

Mitchell O’Connor welcomes announcement of date for Children’s Referendum

Fine Gael Dun Laoghaire TD, Mary Mitchell O’Connor, has today (Tuesday) welcomed the announcement from An Taoiseach, Enda Kenny, in the Dáil this afternoon that the Children’s Referendum is to be held on Saturday, November 10th. Deputy Mitchell O’Connor also commended the Minister for Children, Frances Fitzgerald, for the large volume of work she has been carrying out on the Referendum to date.

“I am delighted to get confirmation from the Taoiseach that the Children’s Referendum is to be held on November 10
th. It is a positive and a progressive move for the Government to hold the Referendum on a Saturday; a move that I have been advocating in recent months.

“This Children’s Referendum is long overdue. In many ways it is hard to believe that we have gone so long without enshrining children ’s rights in the Constitution. Passing the Referendum will have a profound impact on the way children are treated in this country; by the State, by our legal profession and by all who work with children. It will ensure we all take a child-centred approach, by making children the focus of every decision that is taken about their welfare.

“We now have a sufficient period of time to fully debate the issues surrounding the Children’s Referendum. I would encourage politicians of all persuasions and members of the public to read the wording when it is published in the coming days. This is a very important step for this country, and I will be strongly encouraging all of my constituents to endorse it.”

Mitchell O’Connor questions fairness of HPAT test for aspiring medical students

Fine Gael Dun Laoghaire Deputy, Mary Mitchell O’Connor, has today (Sunday) questioned the fairness of the HPAT (health professionals’ admission test), saying it has become a revenue generator for online coaching courses and is further skewing the points system, rather than serving as an effective selection tool.

“I have serious doubts about the HPAT system, and I am very concerned that the test has simply become a revenue generator for expensive online coaching courses. I would echo the view of the Institute of Guidance Counsellors, that the exam is adding yet another financial barrier to students hoping to embark on a career in medicine.

“The HPAT exam was introduced in 2009, under the premise of being a test that would identify students that are best suited to medicine; who in effect have the right personality and manner for the job. In the intervening three years, expensive coaching courses offering ‘HPAT prep’ have sprung up online, adding yet another financial hurdle to successfully gaining entry to a medical course.

“We now have a situation where a student who has achieved the maximum 625 points in the Leaving Cert cannot use those points to their full capacity due to the way the system is calculated. The minimum requirement for entry to some medical courses is an Honours C3 in Chemistry, Biology and Physics. So a student who gets these results and scores well in the HPAT may get into medicine, while the student who got all A1s and didn’t score well in the HPAT is left disappointed. How is this fair?

“There are a number of anomalies in the HPAT system. I have requested information about the exam from the Department of Education, but I was turned down because the Department does not administer the test. In the second part of the HPAT exam, which focuses on empathy questions, girls are outscoring boys. Does this necessarily mean women make better doctors? Furthermore, foreign students do not have to sit the HPAT exam, even though they will most likely be working in our hospital system. Why shouldn’t they be subject to the same entrance criteria?

“Surely it is the responsibility of our third level institutions to ensure medical students leave college with the requisite skills and professional manner to work as doctors. As a former school principal, I know the incredible effort young ambitious people put into their Leaving Cert exam. In my view, those who have scored the maximum amount of points have proved they have the commitment and work ethic to be a doctor.

“The HPAT exam was supposed to open up access to medical courses, but I am concerned it is having the opposite effect. Recent reports suggest more than 50% of HPAT candidates take coaching courses, putting them in a superior position to those who cannot afford it. As a result the HPAT exam means the playing field for getting into medicine is more unequal than ever. I think it is time we reviewed the system, and consider who it is really benefitting. ”

Cabinteely Tidy Towns declared overall winner in Tidy Districts Competition 2012

At a Tidy Districts Awards ceremony held for over 100 members of 42 local groups across the county, Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown County Council announced that Cabinteely Tidy Towns is the overall winner of the Tidy Districts Competition 2012.

Cabinteely Tidy Towns are no strangers to the competition winning best smaller urban centre for the last three years! Commenting on the award, the judging panel said that the group had shown great teamwork for the upkeep and maintenance of the village and surrounding area by working closely with the County Council, local schools, businesses and fellow residents associations.

This is the 20th Tidy Districts Awards with over 100 people from 42 different groups represented. Eighteen residential category prizes have been awarded to groups throughout the County (see attached list). Residents Associations and Tidy Towns Groups and schools between them received award money to the “tidy” sum of €8,600.

‘We are very proud of all the estates and tidy towns groups who entered this years competition, said An Cathaoirleach Cllr. Tom Joyce, speaking at the awards ceremony. ‘The standard increases every year and even with these tough times, it is very impressive to see groups of individuals who still make time to add value to their local communities by taking responsibility for their local environment.‘

“The Tidy Districts Competition gives the Council the opportunity to reward the hard working residents associations and tidy towns groups in the County. These groups take an active interest in and responsibility for their own local environments. Building this type of partnership with the Council increases the sustainability of the progress achieved and results in long term environmental improvement in the estates, towns or villages.” says Kate Hynes, Environmental Awareness Officer, Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown County Council.

  • Overall Winner Tidy Districts 2012 – Cabinteely Tidy Towns
  • Best Small Town (1st) – Cabinteely Tidy Towns

Mitchell O’Connor welcomes plans for new tourist office in Dun Laoghaire

Fine Gael Dun Laoghaire Deputy, Mary Mitchell O’Connor, has today (Friday) welcomed confirmation that a new tourist office is to be installed in the town’s County Hall. It’s hoped the new office will be opened next spring.

“I am delighted to receive confirmation that Dun Laoghaire Rathdown County Council is planning to refurbish a section of the County Hall to use as a tourist office. The move is part of an initiative which has seen Fáilte Ireland working with local councils, community groups and businesses across the country to provide tourist information services. Already, 30% of the existing Tourist Information Offices nationwide have been taken over by local groups, with the help of Fáilte Ireland.

“The provision of the new office will be a great boost to the local community in Dun Laoghaire, particularly after the Trojan efforts to keep the Joyce Martello Tower this summer. The challenges facing the Tower were met with an incredible response by local volunteers who rallied together to ensure the museum could remain open.

“The altruistic spirit displayed by these volunteers is something Dun Laoghaire can really be proud of, and I have no doubt that this same spirit will play a role in the successful operation of the new tourist office. There is a deep sense of local pride in Dun Laoghaire and a strong recognition that it’s not only a great place to live, but a great place to visit.

“The provision of a tourist office will help to provide visitors with useful information about the area, and it will add to the overall offering of the town. As well as a beautiful setting, great restaurants and cafes and historical attractions like the Joyce Tower, Dun Laoghaire will now be able to provide visitors with advice and information on how to spend their time locally.

“Dun Laoghaire Rathdown County Council is currently preparing tender documents for the new facility, and it’s hoped the tourist office can be opened by spring 2013.”

Mortgage advice initiative will help find solutions for distressed mortgage holders

Fine Gael Dun Laoghaire Deputy, Mary Mitchell O’ Connor, has welcomed the announcement by the Minister for Social Protection, Joan Burton TD, that free, independent professional financial advice will be provided to borrowers in mortgage distress. The initiative, which is being funded by the banks and other lending institutions, will involve the provision of advice to distressed mortgage holders by accountants from independent accountancy institutes.

“I welcome this initiative and believe that it will be of assistance to mortgage holders in Dun Laoghaire/Rathdown who are facing difficulty meeting their repayments. People are under real stress in their efforts to balance their financial situation and meet their mortgage repayments. This initiative will help these people to find solutions to their repayment issues.

“I very much welcome that the cost of this initiative is being fully funded by the banks. It sends out a message that they are committed to resolving situations where people have mortgage repayment issues. Ten million euro has been made available by the banks for this initiative, with each mortgage holder being able to avail of services amounting to ■250.

“Borrowers will be able to select an accountant from the panel of participating accountants which will be available on a county by county basis on the Citizens Information Board website Approximately 1,000 accountants are expected to join the panel which will be available by mid-September.

“The Government is acutely aware of the difficulties that many households are facing in meeting their mortgage repayments and addressing these difficulties is at the forefront of Government’s agenda.

“This initiative is one of a range of services which are available to people in difficulty. The Citizens Information Board (CIB) website,, offers detailed information and initial advice to distressed mortgage holders. The Mortgage Arrears Information Helpline provides general mortgage arrears information and guidance to mortgage holders who are in arrears or foresee difficulty making their repayments. The helpline number is 0761 07 4050.

“There are no quick fixes to the mortgage debt problem and I am aware that each distressed mortgage holder faces their own individual set of circumstances. The important thing is that people engage with their lender. ”

Marking scheme for Project Maths does not reflect ability of brighter students

Fine Gael Dun Laoghaire Deputy, Mary Mitchell O’Connor, has today (Wednesday) said that the marking scheme for Project Maths does not reflect the ability of brighter students and leaves many questions unanswered about why so many marks were awarded for some sections and so few for others.

“Despite the fact that this year saw a dramatic fall in the number of students failing Leaving Certificate maths and record numbers taking the higher level paper, the marking scheme which was adopted has left many in doubt about its suitability and whether or not it is doing a disservice to our students.

“The marking scheme for this year’s Leaving Certificate honours paper saw the easiest section of some questions being awarded as much as ¾ of the total marks, with the more difficult sections receiving a very small amount of the possible total.

“For example, question eight, which dealt with the robotic arm, saw 55 out of a possible 75 marks being attributed to part A of the question, which is generally considered to be less difficult than sections B and C, both of which received just 5 marks each. Section D of the same question was awarded 10 out of 75 marks. I have been informed by a corrector of this paper that the marking system for this question was changed drastically because the results were so dismal.

“Where question three of the same paper (Leaving Cert Honours Paper 2) was concerned, 15 out of 25 marks were awarded in one part for ‘any reasonable first step’, with the more difficult parts being given a ‘mid-partial credit’ of just 5 extra marks. In some cases, 10 marks out of a possible 25 were awarded for ‘any work of merit’.

“The marking scheme being used does not reflect the true ability of the students being examined and certainly does not give the brighter maths students a chance to shine. A decline in the numbers failing maths should be seen as a good thing. However, if we are masking weaknesses in the system with favourable marking schemes which reward all students, not just the good ones, we are not getting to the root of our children’s struggle with maths.

“The State Examination Commission’s policy is to issue a Chief Examiner’s report following the first examination of a new syllabus, which for Project Maths is not due to take place until 2014. I have noted also that the last Chief Examiner’s maths report for the Junior Certificate was carried out in 2006. For the Leaving Certificate it was 2005. In my view, this is unacceptable.

“We need to ensure that the changes being made to the maths syllabus are serving our children in the best way possible. We need transparency around why marks were awarded in the way they were and why the children who were able to complete only the simplest part of the question were so handsomely rewarded.”

Schools need to implement cyber-bullying policies

Fine Gael Dun Laoghaire TD, Mary Mitchell O’Connor, has today (Monday) called for schools to implement cyber-bullying policies to deal with students who are tormenting others online. Deputy Mitchell O’Connor was speaking after a new campaign was launched to increase awareness about the issue.

“Cyber-bullying is a growing problem with an ever increasing number of young schoolchildren having access to the internet through their mobile phones. The 24-hour nature of social networking sites like Facebook means that children can be persecuted by their bullies on a constant basis. It is incumbent on both parents and schools to take a proactive approach in tackling this very damaging problem.

“First and foremost, schools need to look at implementing cyber-bullying policies. Students cannot be allowed to bully one another online or elsewhere. However, at present, this is a very difficult situation for schools to address. They face a legal grey area about what action can be taken against students found to be cyber-bullying outside of school time.

“While the law protects adults against various types of discrimination and abuse at the workplace under a variety of labour laws, the same cannot be said for school children. New legislation may be necessary to fully address this problem; we cannot allow our children to be bullied on online forums with no repercussions for their persecutors.

“Many parents may be completely unaware that their child is being bullied; according to the campaign group Bully4u, children won’t tell their parents they are being bullied for fear that their mobile phones and internet access will be taken from them. I would urge parents to check their children’s personal pages on social networking sites; you need to be clued in to what your children are doing online if you want to spot any problems.

“We can only expect this problem to increase in the coming years, as more and more young people switch to smart phones and tablets as their main sources of communication. Huge numbers of our primary school children have mobiles with internet access; we need to ensure the safeguards are in place to adequately protect them from bullies and predators in the online world.”

€153,000 funding will help prevent flooding in Monkstown and Stradbrook

Fine Gael TD for Dún Laoghaire, Mary Mitchell O’Connor, has today (Friday) welcomed the announcement by Minister for Public Service Reform and the Office of Public Works, Brian Hayes TD, that €153,000 has been allocated to Dun Laoghaire Rathdown County Council for the Stradbrook stream in Monkstown.

“I am delighted that the Minister has made this funding available which will help prevent flooding in Monkstown and Stradbrook.

“The money will be used to install culverts in two locations and replace screens. Drainage pipes will be installed which will allow water to flow under roads, trails, paths or similar obstructions and in turn will prevent flooding in the area.

“I am glad that despite the current economic constraints, this Government is supporting flood alleviation measures. Only last November we were given a frightening reminder of how devastating flooding can be. This announcement will be warmly welcomed by residents in the area, especially those living close to the Stradbrook stream.”

Mitchell O’Connor welcomes Tall Ship to Dun Laoghaire

Fine Gael Dun Laoghaire Deputy, Mary Mitchell O’Connor, has today (Saturday) welcomed the arrival of the Tall Ship to Dun Laoghaire harbour, which is due to take place this afternoon.
“The atmosphere in Dun Laoghaire this afternoon is electric and the mood has been heightened by the unexpected arrival of the Tall Ship into the harbour.
“The Ship was bound for Dublin Port, which, at the last minute, was unable to accommodate her, so instead arrangements were made to bring her into Dun Laoghaire. Local residents are delighted to welcome her and the excitement on seeing this spectacular ship pulling into the harbour is palpable.
“There is already a ukulele festival on in the town and with the sun shining and a fireworks display planned for tonight after 9pm, the festival spirit is in full swing.
“I am delighted that arrangements have been made to accommodate the Tall Ship at Dun Laoghaire and encourage everyone to come out and give her the welcome she deserves on her arrival.”