Equality Commission criticises special education centres proposals

"Those people who have disabilities have rights alongside everybody else."
Equality Commission criticises special education centres proposals

Olivia Kelleher

The Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission (IHREC) has criticised plans by the Government to build special education centres for some children with autism, claiming the move is fundamentally at odds with the word and spirit of the UN Convention on the rights of people with disabilities.

Sinead Gibney, chief commissioner of the IHREC, told Morning Ireland on RTÉ Radio 1 that they have a role as a monitor for the implementation of the convention on the rights of people with disabilities.

Ms Gibney said the decision to open special education centres goes against the very clear spirit and letter of the convention.

“First and foremost as a country we have tried, and the disability community has worked very hard, to shift thinking from a very outdated medical and patriarchal model of disability towards a rights placed one where people have rights to education, to work, to anything else.

"Those people who have disabilities have rights alongside everybody else. And that is really kind of problematic when we look at this. Because when we talk about education what that right looks like is a right to an inclusive education.

In my local school for example if I am a child with a disability and that is why this proposal, and I appreciate it is a proposal, really goes back to what we have seen in the past. It is a very segregated model of education where children are othered and removed from mainstream schooling.”

Ms Gibney says even if such centres are temporary measures they have to fit with the guidelines and obligations on the Conventions of the Rights of People with Disabilities. (CRPD)

“I would have concerns that the energy and efforts and resources of this temporary fix should instead be going to address the mechanisms which are currently preventing the Government from doing that.

Legislation

"We know and we heard discussion around the Section 37 A mechanism which can allow the Minister to compel schools to open these classes. Why not put your efforts there in making that legislation better fit for purpose and something that can be activated within the time frame?”

Ms Gibney added that the Department of Education should be focusing their efforts on introducing emergency legislation to compel school to open class.

“And whatever the emergency or stop gap proposals are they should still be compliant with our vision for an inclusive education for all children.

"You have seen a very strong reaction from the disability community, from ourselves from other advocates. I think that will continue.

"What we will be looking at is our own powers as an organisation. We would immediately spring in to action and liaise with the Department in that way. We will be discussing this issue at Commission level.

The legal powers in particular is an area I would look at because I really do believe there are rights violations here. Our first port of call is to work with Government. But beyond that we will look at our legal powers.”

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