Simon Harris launched same student accommodation plan three times, Labour Youth claims

Resignation of Josepha Madigan both welcomed and condemned by delegates in education debate on special needs

Incoming Fine Gael leader Simon Harris has been sharply criticised for three alleged press launches of the same plan to build third-level student accommodation.

Labour Youth representative Mike O’Connor claimed at the party’s national conference that he and other students protested outside a press conference by the Minister at DCU earlier this year, which he claimed was the third launch of the same college accommodation construction initiative.

Mr O’Connor said 1,254 beds were promised but Government funding is available for only 521 beds.

Mr Harris had delivered on only one thing as minister “his ascent to the office of taoiseach”, he said. Calling for the construction of student accommodation to be fully publicly funded and owned, Mr O’Connor added: “I would say to Minister Harris we didn’t need a third press conference telling us to build student accommodation. We needed you to actually build it.”


Former minister for special education Josepha Madigan faced most criticism from angry delegates over cuts to the summer programme for pupils with special needs, and failures in the provision of services for thousands of children.

The programme offers a summer schedule of education and events for children with special needs. Teacher and Carrigaline, Co Cork local election candidate John O’Regan told the conferences that funding for the programme had effectively been halved in the past two years.

“This week as the Coalition on chaos had the coronation of the next taoiseach, the new summer programme fund was released” and while it looked good, in reality there was a cut in real terms, he said.

He said that in 2022 schools had €240 to €360 per week to arrange trips, organise visitors, book activities and resources to support children during the summer. But this year they will have €120 to €180 to do the same, despite inflation pressures.

“How is this justifiable? Why target the most vulnerable pupils in our schools?” He said it was all to save “a pittance. The most shameful part of this sorry tale, the next day the minister for special education resigns, confirming she’s not running in the general election, and sails into the sunset. The families of children with additional needs are abandoned.”

Senator Annie Hoey hit out at €120 million of public money being put into private education when “it could easily have funded summer programmes that have been savagely cut”.

John Walshe, representative for the Castleknock area highlighted the crisis in supports for pupils with special needs, and he excoriated Ms Madigan for an “almost complete lack of specialised and specific services” including occupational and speech and language services.

Parents cannot get places for their children in secondary schools and in his area there are at least 13 children who have no place in schools for September “at a time of record exchequer funding”.

He welcomed Ms Madigan’s resignation. “She’s the most useless and incompetent minister in Government and the worst minister dealing with special education in many years.”

He added that “the system of supports for children special needs is fundamentally broken”.

But one delegate, a mother of two children with ASD (Autism Spectrum Disorder), sensory and other complex needs, condemned Ms Madigan for standing down.

She said the State is not meeting those needs and “we have a minister abandoning ship and I condemn her for it. She has told parents to their faces that special educational needs would be addressed and she has done nothing. And in the knowledge of her own failures she has walked away.

“That is an indictment of this Government ... clearly saying it does not care for vulnerable children in our society. They don’t actually need very much. They just need the Government to care enough to provide what is their right.”

Marie O'Halloran

Marie O'Halloran

Marie O'Halloran is Parliamentary Correspondent of The Irish Times