New SNA rules could mean a medical card type situation in schools
In a week in which we learned that the HSE has been seeking information as to whether some children still have Down Syndrome, FF Spokesperson on Special Needs, Colm Keaveney is warning that a situation along the lines of what has happened with discretionary medical cards, could be about to develop for children with special needs in our schools.
“A new circular on SNA that the Department of Education recently published seems to be putting in place huge bureaucratic barriers to access special needs support. Schools will be buried in paperwork trying to ensure that children with needs get support.”
“For example, the allocation of a Special Needs Assistant will be subject to an annual review. They will also be time bound to 3 years subject to these annual reviews. So parents and schools will be subject to constant reviews and re-applications and appeals processes.”
“The circular also says that in order to get SNA support ‘the care needs outlined 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 is clear from this that the bar is going to be set very high to get SNA
“Schools will also be required to put in place a Personal Pupil Plan outlining the pupil’s special care needs and showing how the SNA will be deployed to assist the pupil. The circular does not offer any real definition of what should be in a Personal Pupil Plan.”
“And at post-primary level it seems that it will be well nigh impossible to access any SNA support. The Department says that ‘only students with chronic and serious care needs’ should need SNA support and that ‘continued and ongoing access to SNA support is generally not desirable for post-primary students’. The tone of this statement is deeply unsympathetic.” 
“All of this must set alarm bells ringing for the care of children with special needs in our schools. We have already seen how the application of bureaucracy and red tape has wreaked havoc with discretionary medical cards. We have to avoid the same thing happening in our schools.”

Fianna Fáil Finance Spokesperson Michael McGrath has said that instead of lashing out at those who are highlighting the issue, the Minister for Finance Michael Noonan could today allay the fears of low and middle income families with medical cards by ruling out any hike in the Universal Social Charge (USC).

Deputy McGrath was speaking following today’s reporting in the media of a response he received from Minister Noonan to a Dáil question on the issue.

Deputy McGrath said, “The Finance Act 2011 provided that medical card holders with income of not greater than €60,000 per annum would pay the USC at a maximum rate of 4% until 31 December 2014. For this concession to continue, it would need to be included in Budget 2015. The estimated full year cost of the concession for medical card holders is €102m.

“At the same time, the higher 10% rate of USC for self-employed persons earning over €100,000 is similarly due to expire at 31 December 2014 and would need to be provided for in Budget 2015 to avoid a major tax cut for this income group. Retaining the higher USC rate on these persons would save the exchequer €123m per annum.

“Therefore, if the Minister agrees with me that a €123m tax cut for persons earning over €100,000 in Budget 2015 is unjustifiable, he could today rule out any increase in the USC for medical card holders. Those holding medical cards have been disproportionately hit with a raft of flat rate taxes and charges introduced by this Government including the Local Property Tax, prescription charges and the impending water charges.

“A pensioner couple with a single earner on €40,000 a year, and who hold a medical card, stand to lose out by over €700 per annum if the Government does not deal with the issue in the Budget. It is all a question of what priorities this overnment has. The Government has talking up income tax cuts in the next Budget for the past few weeks but now can’t even say that medical card holders will be spared a USC hike in October’s Budget.”