Department of Education & Skills, Marlborough Street, Dublin D01 RC96 01-8892199

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.”

Public bathing area planned for Dun Laoghaire after years of procrastination

Fine Gael Dun Laoghaire Deputy, Mary Mitchell O’Connor, today (Wednesday) said the public bathing area for Dun Laoghaire, which was approved last Monday by the Dun Laoghaire Rathdown County Council (DLRCOCO), will provide a wonderful public amenity for the people of the area and for swimmers right across the county.

“At last plans are in train, after years of procrastination, for the revival of an open air public baths in Dun Laoghaire, but at a reasonable cost. The baths will be based on the famous Badeschiff Baths in Berlin and will provide a place to relax, swim and, on the better days, to lie in the sun.

“The creation of an urban beach is nothing new, with cities across Europe having adopted the idea years ago. Dun Laoghaire’s urban beach will be modelled on the Berlin facility and is sure to be welcomed by experienced and learner swimmers of all ages right across Dublin, as well as by the people of Dun Laoghaire.

“The 40 Foot in Dun Laoghaire is an extremely popular place with swimmers, who will now be given an alternative option of bathing in a 30 meter by 10 meter steel, open-air pool which will be serviced by fresh, filtered seawater which will be heated to 26 degrees centigrade. The facility will also be environmentally friendly with all energy provided through green technologies.

“The project, which is being developed by DLRCOCO and the Dun Laoghaire Harbour Company, will be another significant string to Dun Laoghaire’s bow. In 2011, the East Pier recorded a staggering 1.3 million visitors, passing out Dublin Zoo as a family or tourist destination. This new amenity, which will include a beach café, a sun lounging area and changing rooms will no doubt act as an even bigger draw for the area.

“It is envisaged that the facility will be open from April to September, with the possibility of being used during the winter months down the line. It is estimated that the cost of developing the urban beach and outdoor pool will be in the region of €3 million, which would deliver an excellent, community-centred and cost-effective amenity for the people of Dun Laoghaire and beyond.”

Unacceptable that clinics at the centre of the PIP scandal will not play ball

Alternative service for those seeking resolution now being sought.

Fine Gael Dun Laoghaire Deputy, Mary Mitchell O’Connor, has said confirmation that the three clinics at the centre of the PIP breast implant scandal have been less than forthcoming in providing professional and appropriate care to patients concerned about their implants is extremely disappointing and will do nothing to enhance the reputation of the cosmetic surgery industry.

“While it is very disheartening that the clinics at the centre of the PIP scandal have proven to be less than cooperative in dealing with the fall-out from this scandal, it is at least good news for the women involved that the Chief Medical Officer, Dr Tony Holohan, remains focused on finding a solution to this sorry saga. The National Treatment Purchase Fund (NTPF) is now being examined as the best alternative means of addressing the medical needs of PIP implants patients. This, however, is not good news for the taxpayer as it means that the cost is to be borne by the State.

“The unwillingness of the clinics to take responsibility in this way, further underlines the need for enhanced regulation of this sector. The Minister for Health, James Reilly TD, has committed to ensuring that standards are enforced and that public and private healthcare providers are regulated through the Licensing of Health Facilities Bill. Legislation to force clinical practitioners to have adequate clinical indemnity insurance is also expected by the end of the year.

“The Office of the Chief Medical Officer (CMO), in conjunction with the Irish Association of Plastic Surgeons (IAPS) has compiled guidelines for those who may be considering surgical cosmetic procedures, following a request from Minister Reilly for better information to be made available to prospective patients.

“The challenge now is to assist the women for whom this debacle must seem endless. Ensuring that a similar situation never occurs again must also be a priority. The clinics who have refused to play ball in adequately dealing with this issue have, in my opinion, disgraced themselves. They have done no favours for the industry they represent as a result of their actions.”

Encouraging children to play will benefit physical and mental health

National Play Day 2012 offers a reminder of the advantages of real play.

Fine Gael Dun Laoghaire Deputy, Mary Mitchell O ’Connor, has called on parents to explore the joys and benefits of unstructured play with their children today (Sunday), National Play Day 2012.
“Making mud pies, climbing trees and exploring the natural environment are excellent ways of getting children moving, getting their brains working and getting their creativity going.
“These days, children are living increasingly sedentary lives, sitting in front of video and games consoles for hours on end, getting fatter as they spend their playtime indoors. The benefit of playing outdoors presents unrivalled opportunities for fun and physical activity.
“At times we are all inclined to be a little too protective of our children. Children seem to spend so much time indoors compared to just a decade or two ago, when they would have been outside playing tag or hide-and-seek. If pressurised parents don’t have the time to accompany their children outdoors, too often they don’t get to go outside at all.
“Children’s mental health is also greatly improved by this sort of playtime as they fill their lungs full of fresh air and their minds full of what will be unforgettable childhood memories. Proper playtime also helps to combat childhood obesity, helps to build friendships and to develop the person as a whole. It is during activities such as this that leadership qualities are also developed as children engage in team activities.
“The theme of this year’s National Play Day is ‘Experiment with Play’ and I am calling on all parents to take time out today to play the games with their children that they once played and to get involved in the activities that are being hosted by Local Authorities around the country to mark this important and fun-filled day.”

Mary Mitchell O’Connor welcomes progress on redeployment of SNAs

Fine Gael Dun Laoghaire TD, Mary Mitchell O’Connor, has today (Saturday) welcomed a recommendation from the Labour Court that a redeployment system should be introduced for Special Needs Assistants (SNAs) who find themselves out of work.
The Labour Court has recommended that a panel should be set up for SNAs who are made redundant, and those on the panel would then be given first offering of any vacancies that arise. At present, SNAs are not included in the Croke Park Agreement and therefore cannot avail of the redeployment options open to other public servants.
“As a former school principal I understand the plight faced by SNAs who are made redundant, and who can find it very difficult to secure new work. I warmly welcome the recommendations from the Labour Court for a panel to be set up for recently unemployed SNAs, which should make finding a new job much easier.
“SNAs provide an invaluable support in schools across the country, which is hugely important to parents and their children who benefit from the care provided. Many SNAs have invested heavily to get their qualifications, but can find themselves out of work when the pupils they care for move on. This proposed change would greatly enhance the job security of SNAs; something that is lacking at present.
“It’s important to add that the Government is committed to retaining SNA numbers this year, despite our difficult economic circumstances. We understand and value their contribution to our educational system.
“The exact details of the scheme now need to be worked out between the Department of Education and Skills, the trade unions involved and the management bodies. I hope they can come to a satisfactory conclusion in time for the new school year in September.

Let’s get the conversation started on World Elder Abuse Awareness Day

Organisations around the world are raising awareness, we must encourage older people to speak out.

Speaking on the eve of World Elder Abuse Awareness Day which takes place tomorrow (Friday), Fine Gael Dun Laoghaire Deputy, Mary Mitchell O’Connor, commended the HSE, the International Network for the Prevention of Elder Abuse (INPEA), UCD and all of the organisations involved in working to shed light on the abuse and mistreatment of older people.

“Tomorrow marks World Elder Abuse Awareness Day. What better day to initiate the conversation about the mistreatment of older people?

“This is a subject that is very close to my heart and since coming to the Dáil I have been trying to do my bit to highlight the issue. I have hosted a briefing on elder abuse which was addressed by Age Action and will continue to use my position to talk about this harrowing subject.

“In 2010, the first Irish prevalence study on elder abuse was carried out by The National Centre for the Protection of Older People in UCD. Since then the work has been continuing, with a report entitled ‘Older People’s Experiences of Mistreatment and Abuse’ launched today by the Director of the National Centre for the Protection of Older People at UCD, Professor Gerard Fealy. This report tackles the issue head-on, taking account of the acts of abuse perpetrated on older people and their experience of same.

“Often, older people see themselves as a burden on and an inconvenience for those charged with their care, with the result that mental, verbal, physical and financial abuse is tolerated. The HSE has embarked on a campaign to highlight that elder abuse in all forms is unacceptable. Supports are in place to deal with this issue; it’s up to us to convey this fact to older people.

“2012 is the European Year of Positive Ageing and Inter-generational Solidarity. Let’s make tomorrow the day we open up the conversation about elder abuse and make this year the one we shine the global spotlight on older people to ensure that they are living abuse free lives and enjoying their latter years in the exact way they should.”