Tuesday 20 March 2018

O'Keeffe threatened to sue me, claims FG senator

Michael Brennan Political Correspondent

EDUCATION Minister Batt O'Keeffe has been accused of threatening to "personally sue" a Fine Gael senator for criticising his special needs cutbacks.

The claim was made in the Seanad yesterday by Galway-based Senator Fidelma Healy Eames, who said she had been confronted by Mr O'Keeefe in the corridors of Leinster House last year.

"On December 9, he threatened to sue me personally if I continued to make remarks on special needs cuts. Is this normal and appropriate behaviour from a senior minister towards a member of this House? I feel it is intimidation," she said.

But a spokesman for Mr O'Keeffe last night said her claims about what Mr O'Keeffe had said to her were "utter nonsense".


Ms Healy Eames and Mr O'Keeffe have clashed previously about the issue of special needs cutbacks. The Government is planning to withdraw up to 1,200 of the 10,000 special needs assistants (SNAs) and has already abolished 120 special needs classes.

Ms Healy-Eames said that Mr O'Keeffe had previously said he would "go public" on her if she said that all children with special needs could not be taught in mainstream classes without adequate resources being provided.

"I feel he is trying to silence me on the issue of special needs," she said.

The Seanad heard that Ms Healy Eames was going to lodge a complaint against Mr O'Keeffe to the Committee on Procedure and Privilege, which oversees standards in Leinster House.

The spokesman for Mr O'Keeffe said last night the only charge he had made against her was in the Seanad, where he said she was making a "political football" of children with special needs.

Ms Healy-Eames had claimed that children with special needs would not be able to survive without the SNAs to help them -- both in the classroom and the playground. "If they do not have an SNA to help them understand the rules, children dump them and throw them out of the game because that is the way children are," she said.

But Mr O'Keeffe said that no child who needed a special needs assistant would lose one.

He said his policy was to cut special needs assistants where the child involved had left the school or had developed enough to be able to manage independently.

The National Council for Special Education is carrying out a review into the number of SNAs in schools.

Irish Independent

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