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The betrayal of St Anthony’s

De Facto
St Anthonys in Castlebar
What is upsetting for people is that this Government is again taking pot shots at the most vulnerable in society while they still swan around the world on junkets.”

The betrayal of St Anthony’s School



Liamy MacNally

So many people experienced that ‘gunk.’  It was a shock mingled with a sense of guilt at having the feeling.  It was just a sense of hopelessness, of being unsure of what to do or who to turn to for help.  Over time feelings visited the houses of despair, disbelief, depression and anger until a semblance of acceptance dawned.  What started out in fear turned out to be more than just a miracle but an ongoing blessing.  It still required hard work to stay positive.  Regardless, for hundreds of parents of children born with a learning disability, they supported each other and worked together.
That experience is best borne out through people involved with the Western Care Association.  The late Eithne Egan remembered one night back in late 1965:  “One night we were sitting at home and a knock came to the door.  There were two men, Johnny Mee, whom I knew well and this other chap was with him, Tom Fallon.  Johnny asked if Michael Joe was in, he’d like to see him.  I brought them into the study and Michael went in to them and it was Tom Fallon who had the idea.  He was the first, it was his idea…And that’s where it started, in the study…”
Eithne Egan, her late husband Michael Joe Egan, Johnny Mee and Tom Fallon are the founders of the Western Care Association.  A public meeting was called for January 11, 1966 in the Imperial Hotel in Castlebar.  About twenty people were expected.  Closer to 120 turned up with Michael Joe overly concerned that the floor of the upstairs meeting room would not hold the weight of the crowd!  
By the following year a school had been set up in the De La Salle/Family Centre complex in Castlebar before Minister Brian Lenihan opened the new prefab school in the Lawn, on land owned by the Sisters of Mercy.
Michael Flanagan was principal with Hilda Kavanagh as vice-principal and Margaret Brennan was the class teacher.  Three years before the prefab’s ‘end of life’ tenure Michael Joe Egan started writing to politicians lobbying for a new school.  It arrived thirty years after the initial St Anthony’s was built.  The new state-of-the-art school is on Humbert Way.  It has gone from strength to strength with great staff, a board of management chaired by the same Johnny Mee and Western Care now acting as patron, as Department of Education rules require. 
One can only imagine the bombshell that was dropped recently when staff were informed that four Special Needs Assistants (SNAs) were to lose their jobs.  Apart from the direct effect on the staff and their families there is no way of quantifying the effect on those with special needs who are dependent on the SNAs. 
What is upsetting for people is that this Government is again taking pot shots at the most vulnerable in society while they still swan around the world on junkets.  They ensure that they top-up their pensions and enjoy their lavish salaries, perks and expenses.  Is there any sense of reality at all seeping through in Leinster House?  Shouting stop seems to be no good anymore.  Enda Kenny claims that the Government actions will drive people to revolt.  What is needed is someone in Government to realise what is happening.  People’s hopes are being dashed.  Their beliefs are being shattered.  Their dignity is being thrashed.  It cannot continue.  All it is doing is laying a foundation for revolt.  Already the unions are on a work to rule that is slowly strangling the wheels of government from national to local level.  Phones go unanswered, letters are not replied to and meetings are cancelled.  Does nobody realise that?  For the Government to say that they are open for talks while squeezing citizens of any sense of a life-force is cynical in the extreme.
What Government Minister will listen to children with special needs?  The Education Minister has now adopted the three monkeys attitude of ‘see no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil’ by abrogating responsibility for SNAs to the National Council for Special Education (NCSE).  This is the ‘Chopper Harris’ brigade, slashing SNA positions across the state. 
The NCSE website states: “Under the Education for Persons with Special Educational Needs Act 2004 each child assessed with a special educational need should have a personal education plan.  This system is not yet in place but its implementation is being co-ordinated by the National Council for Special Education (NCSE)… However there is currently (2009) no date for the implementation of the assessment of need and individual education plans.”  Another shower of comedians!  They cannot find time to do personal education plans for children with special needs but can find time to implement cuts. 
What next for this country?