Saturday 25 October 2014

We're standing up for our principles, says jailed mum

Sam Griffin and Claire McCormack

Published 04/09/2014 | 02:30

A MOTHER imprisoned for non-payment of a fine for refusing to register her children for home-schooling has branded the laws governing the practice as "flawed".

Gardai arrested mother-of-six Monica O'Connor (47) at her home in Tullow, Co Carlow at 7.20am yesterday in front of her children and husband Eddie O'Neill. She was taken to Dochas women's unit in Mountjoy Prison in Dublin and was processed as an inmate.

She was held in a cell for around three hours before being granted temporary release.

The arrest by gardai had been arranged after the family refused to pay fines issued by a court "on principle".

Ms O'Connor, along with her husband, was fined €2,000 by Carlow District Court in June of last year for not sending a number of their children to schools on and since November 2012.

Refused

The couple were summonsed last year after they refused to be assessed by the former National Education Welfare Board - which is now Tusla - a required step for anyone who wants to home-school.

The couple say they have no problem with registering two of their children for home education, but say it is their right to educate their children at home and that they should not have to be continually "monitored and scrutinised".

Ms O'Connor told the Irish Independent last night that she did not regret her actions. "It wasn't a pleasant experience and I wouldn't wish it on anybody," she said.

"But my six-year-old son Eamonn was talking about it last night and he said 'jail is for people who do bad things and mammy you didn't do anything bad. But the people who are making you go to prison are breaking the constitution'.

"That's what he said. I was shocked to hear it come out his mouth, but it encapsulates the whole thing.

"What we are hoping for is that our kids learn to stand up for their principles. That's the example we're trying to set," she said. She added her family had pointed out flaws with the legislation when it was being drafted.

"We were asking the officials who came up with the law to take truancy and home education out of the same bill. They should never have been put in the same act. Education and welfare are two separate things."

Four warrants were issued for the arrest of the couple, who were due to spend ten days in prison each for failing to register two of their children - Oran (14) and Elva (11) - for home-schooling.

Mr O'Neill is due to be jailed some time in the next six months for his failure to pay the fines.

The couple have three older children who were home-schooled, as well as their youngest son Eamonn, who has not been registered with any school. They have also fostered 22 other children over a period.

In a statement, Tusla said home-schooled children had to be registered and parents who do not do so were "liable to be prosecuted".

Education Minister Jan O'Sullivan she was "very concerned at this particular case", but added it was a matter for Tusla, which is not under her department.

She added: "Home-schooling is necessary in some situations and there are situations where it is an appropriate response, but obviously the vast majority of children will be educated in schools."

Irish Independent

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