Help Cork's forgotten children

Help Cork's forgotten children
St. Gabriel's Special School, Curraheen. Panelling in need of repair on the side of the roof. Picture: Denis Minihane.

CHILDREN at St Gabriel’s special school in Bishopstown have been “neglected” by the State, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has been told.

Special Needs Assistance Liz Gill with pupil Robert Campion in a play area of St. Gabriel's Special School. Picture: Denis Minihane.
Special Needs Assistance Liz Gill with pupil Robert Campion in a play area of St. Gabriel's Special School. Picture: Denis Minihane.

St Gabriel’s, the Cork school where parents have launched a €200,000 crowdfunding campaign to cover the cost of repairs, was the subject of an exchange in the Dáil between the Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin and the Taoiseach during yesterday’s Leader’s Questions.

Forty-three children with severe to profound intellectual disabilities (ID) attend St Gabriel’s, which is currently the only school in Cork that can enrol students with a dual diagnosis of ID and autism.

“These are children who should be our number one priority, but they are being neglected by the Government in their need for a new school building,” Mr Martin said.

“The parents say they feel forgotten. The existing school building has huge issues.

Dampness on a classroom ceiling at st Gabriel's. Picture: Denis Minihane.
Dampness on a classroom ceiling at st Gabriel's. Picture: Denis Minihane.

“The bathroom is not big enough for wheelchairs to fit, there is no hot running water, the roof leaks, there are no dedicated toilets for children with medical needs, there is a lack of infection control and the sensory room is in a windowless outbuilding,” added Mr Martin.

As revealed in the Evening Echo, the school’s Parent’s Association launched a charity GoFundMe campaign to try to cover repair costs.

The board of management has applied to the Department of Education for funding for a new school building, and for interim refurbishments, but have been told that they will have to wait.

Parents have said the situation is urgent and they cannot wait while their children suffer “substandard” conditions.

Playground matting needing to be replaced. Picture: Denis Minihane.
Playground matting needing to be replaced. Picture: Denis Minihane.

Mr Varadkar responded to Mr Martin by saying the government was set to invest €10 billion in education this year.

He said not all projects could be funded simultaneously and that there had to be a pipeline of projects.

“My own constituency, a very rapidly developing area, has had a number of new schools built, including secondary schools and primary schools,” Mr Varadkar said.

“The quality of those buildings is really excellent.”

Playground equipment which is deteriorating. Picture: Denis Minihane.
Playground equipment which is deteriorating. Picture: Denis Minihane.

Sinéad Desmond, chair of St Gabriel’s Parent’s Association, said she and fellow parents were grateful to Mr Martin, the only politician to have raised the school’s plight in the Dáil so far, despite many being made aware of the horrendous conditions our children go to school in’. “He is correct in saying we are forgotten,” Ms Desmond said.

“Boasting of a €10 billion spend by the government on education means nothing to us. This is a human rights matter. Frustration doesn’t begin to explain how we feel as parents. Our children deserve a chance too.”

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