The Fianna Fáil Leader Micheál Martin has warned that a raft of new bureaucratic rules governing SNAs will lead to widespread cuts to school supports for children with special needs.

Deputy Martin has accused the Government of a covert campaign of ‘medical card style cuts’ to Special Needs Assistants, after the Department of Education issued a circular announcing strict new guidelines that will see children with special needs subjected to constant reviews to keep their SNA supports.

“This is a deeply cynical move aimed at cutting SNA supports under the radar. It’s a terrible reminder of the Government’s approach to discretionary medical cards, which has seen thousands of extremely ill or disabled people lose their medical cards due to new bureaucratic changes and senseless ‘reviews’ of long-term conditions,” said Deputy Martin.

“According to the circular, children in need of a SNAs will now be subjected to annual reviews regardless of their disabilities, and schools will be required to put in place a Personal Pupil Plan outlining the child’s special needs. Tough new standards will apply to ensure that ‘the care needs must be of such significance that they are beyond that which would normally be expected to be provided to a child by the child’s class teacher’. It also seems that it will virtually impossible to get any SNA support at secondary level.

“We have already seen people with terminal illnesses or severe disabilities being forced to ‘prove’ that they still have those conditions in order to keep their medical cards. A child with Down Syndrome should not be subjected to constant reviews to check that they still have that disability. It now looks like the Government’s change in policy on SNAs will lead to the same highly insensitive and bureaucratic approach that will put families through a great ordeal to qualify for SNA supports.

“Tánaiste Éamon Gilmore has described his Government’s repeated reviews of discretionary medical cards as ‘harassment’. I want to know what the Labour Party, which runs the Department of Education, intends to do to stop the same level of harassment of children with special needs within the school system.”