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Josepha Madigan apologises “fully” for comparing children with special needs not attending school to mother and baby homes

The Minister has come under fire by other politicians and social media users for the comparison

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Josepha Madigan, Minister of State with responsibility for Special Education and Inclusion. Photo: Frank McGrath

Josepha Madigan, Minister of State with responsibility for Special Education and Inclusion. Photo: Frank McGrath

Josepha Madigan, Minister of State with responsibility for Special Education and Inclusion. Photo: Frank McGrath

Junior Minister Josepha Madigan says she apologises "fully” for comparing children with special needs not attending school to the Mother and Baby Homes controversy.

Ms Madigan, who is Minister of State for Special Education and Inclusion, said she “in no way intended offence towards anyone who works with children with special needs”.

Earlier, the minster sparked outrage with comments she made in an interview with RTÉ’s Claire Byrne while discussing the collapse of efforts to re-open schools partially to allow special needs pupils to return.

She said: “We've spent the last week talking about Mother and Baby Homes, where our most vulnerable were left to their own devices in less than satisfactory conditions and we're now allowing further anxiety and upset to be placed on the shoulders of parents whose children desperately need to go back to school."

Ms Madigan came under fire in the Dáil while the Irish National Teachers Organisation (INTO) called for an immediate apology for her “insensitive comment”.

The union said the comment was ”unhelpful, unnecessary and grossly offensive to our members”.

Later, in a statement, issued by the Department of Education, Ms Madigan said: “This morning, I made comments on how important it is that our children with special educational needs return to in-person learning.

"As part of these comments, I reflected on how vulnerable people have been entirely let down in the past, and I made a reference to Mother and Baby Homes. I sought to clarify these comments in the Dáil today.

“I in no way intended offence towards anyone who works with children with special educational needs. I am, as are all involved in supporting these children, passionate about vindicating their rights and in reaching for an analogy I chose poorly.

“I apologise fully”.

It is the second time in a week that Ms Madigan has had to apologise for remarks relating to children with special needs. Last week, she was criticised for referring to children without special needs as “normal”, in the Dáil.

Initially, she apologised for that last Thursday and today she asked that the Dáil record be altered.

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She told the Dáil: “The word was not appropriate. And I did not use it intentionally. This is not what I meant to say, and while I publicly apologised last Thursday, I wish to re-state it, to say on the floor the Dáil that I would like to withdraw the remark, and to re-emphasise my commitment as always, to supporting children with special educational needs and their families, particularly at this difficult time.”

Many people took to social media to voice their outrage of the comment made by Ms Madigan this morning.

Education spokesperson and Labour TD Aodhán Ó Ríordáin called on the Taoiseach to intervene, saying the situation has “spiraled completely out of control”.

Taking to Twitter today, Mr Ó Ríordáin wrote: “Minister was allowed move on from a comment last week when describing non-SEN students as ‘normal’. Taoiseach needs to intervene before more damage is done.”

Ms Madigan was told in the Dáil that both she and Education Minister Norma Foley are now “part of the problem” over the botched reopening of special needs education.

They both have “lost control of the situation” and their public comments have proved deeply unhelpful and now put wider school reopenings at risk, the Dáil was told.

Mr Ó Riordáin said that “quite clearly ministers Foley and Madigan have lost control of the situation”.

An announcement was made on schools reopening on January 6 with no consultation with teachers, he noted.

Last Thursday another announcement was made about the reopening of special schools and classes, with again no agreement, he said, followed last Friday evening by a letter sent to every special school in the country.

“Even last night we had an extremely ill-advised communication from the Department, with quotes from both ministers in it, pointing fingers all over the place,” he said, after the unions involved recommended their members not cooperate.

“We have comments from Minister Foley this morning, suggesting the comments made by one of the union leaders was disingenuous,” he said.

“We also had Minister Madigan making a comparison between this situation and the Mother and Baby Homes — while last week she made a comment about non-SNA students being ‘normal.’”

He claimed that “the entire reopening of schools is now in jeopardy, because of the bad faith have been shown by ministers into public comments.”

Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald told the Dáil the Government had tried to bounce stakeholders into a resumption of special education because the Minister made a big promise without the ability to deliver it.

She said special education was up and running in Northern Ireland and right across Europe, but had not been managed here.

The Irish National Teachers Organisation (INTO) called on the minister to make an immediate apology for her “insensitive comment”.

The union said the comments were ”unhelpful, unnecessary and grossly offensive to our members. “

The INTO said it was “determined to continue working towards a safe reopening of schools and ensure pupils with special needs education return to in-school teaching and learning as soon as possible.”

Minister Madigan’s office has been contacted for comment.


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