Junior Minister Josepha Madigan has apologised for the second time in a week over two separate comments she made referencing pupils with special needs.
Ms Madigan, who is Junior Minister Special Education and Inclusion, sparked outrage yesterday with comments she made in an interview where she was discussing the collapse of efforts for the partial re-opening of schools, to allow for the return of special needs pupils. She compared children with special needs not attending school to the mother and baby homes controversy.
Ms Madigan told RTÉ’s Today with Claire Byrne: “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.”
She came under fire in the Dáil. Later, the Irish National Teachers’ Organisation (INTO) called for an immediate apology for her “insensitive comment”. The INTO described the remark as ”unhelpful, unnecessary and grossly offensive to our members”.
Responding to criticism in the Dáil, Ms Madigan said her comment was meant “as nothing more” than speaking about vulnerable people in society.
But in a later statement, issued by the Education Department, she went further: “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.”
Also in the Dáil yesterday, the minister reiterated an apology she made last week, over other comments relating to pupils with special needs.
Last Thursday in the Dáil, while discussing plans for school re-opening, she was criticised for referring to children without special needs as “normal”.
While she apologised for that later that day, yesterday she asked that the Dáil record also be altered, and withdrew the remark.
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 to 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.”