Social issues keenly debated
BY LAURA FRIEL
Abolish selection at eleven
``We must insist that all children, regardless of class or ability are nurtured, cherished and educated equally,'' said Daisy Mules from Derry speaking in support of the abolition of the 11 plus examination in the Six Counties. As a teacher, Daisy told delegates, she passionately believes it is immoral for a state to tell 70% of its children that they are failures and then expect teachers and parents to persuade these demoralised children that they are as valued as the other 30%. The motion was endorsed.
``Everyone is telling young people that the only way to get a decent start in life is to get an education,'' said Cathy Mackle from Coalisland, ``but that is getting increasingly impossible. I am currently a third level student. With the introduction of tuition fees and the abolition of student grants, it is a reality that young people today entering university will have the prospect of leaving university with approximately £15,000 debt.''
She called on Sinn Féin to lobby the British Labour Party to abolish tuition fees and not only to reintroduce maintenance grants but to do so in line with inflation. ``We are reverting back to the time when only the rich got educated,'' said Cathy. ``Knowledge can empower our people so I'm asking this Ard Fheis to support motion 111.'' The motion was endorsed.
Speaking from her experience as a teacher for 26 years, Daisy Mules asked delegates to oppose a motion calling for all children which special needs to be integrated into mainstream schools ``regardless of how special their needs are.'' Daisy argued it should be a matter of choice.
``As a teacher I am not against children with special needs being integrated into mainstream schooling, but for this to happen schools need to be properly resourced,'' she said. Parents alongside professional educationalists and others need to agree what type of school is the best place for their child.
A child with special needs placed in a mainstream school may not receive the individual attention in a class of 40 children that she might received in a class of ten in a special school. ``Some parents do not want their child to be placed in mainstream education and this motion would not allow that choice,'' said Daisy. The motion was defeated.
There are 100,000 people on the housing waiting list in the 26 Counties, 10,000 are on the housing waiting list in Dublin and the Dublin local authorities are no longer taking single people on their lists, Dublin's Daithí Doolan told the Ard Fheis. The homeless rate in Dublin has increased by 60% in recent years. 500 people are sleeping rough on the streets.
``And all these statistics, my friends, are human beings, people like us with loved ones, wishes and fears for the future,'' said Daithí. ``And what has been the response of the local authorities and what has been the response of the Dublin government? Absolutely nothing.'' The authorities have ignored the plight of the homeless and left them to the mercy of the private developer and private landlord.
``We have had victories, particularly in the south inner city, and I'm proud that Sinn Fein has stood shoulder to shoulder with these communities and I commend those communities for their resistance and strength.'' The Ard Fheis endorsed the demand for a decisive house building programme.
Belfast's Sue Ramsey highlighted discrimination in health provision west of the Bann. `` Sinn Féin's vision for health and social services is that everyone is entitled to equal access to a quality service. Health and well being is the cornerstone of our lives.''
Four hospitals west of the Bann are under threat of closure. This would result in no more hospital care outside `the golden six', she said. ``Five of these six hospitals are on the east coast, three are situated in Greater Belfast and two within 20 minutes of Belfast. The present policy would deprive people west of the Bann of proper facilities,'' said Sue.
Joe Harper from South Down said: ``As the rural communities in Dungannon, Cookstown, Omagh, Down and Enniskillen can testify, there is not an ounce of fairness and equality in the Health department's attitude to these communities. These plans are morally and socially wrong. Equal access to medical care is a right.''
Brian McCaffrey from Fermanagh said the British government was pursuing a health policy in which `big is beautiful', a policy which was threatening Erne Hospital with closure. ``Recent research carried out by the University of York has seriously criticised this approach,'' said Brian.
Sinn Féin should advocate an established pay structure across the health boards for all home helps across, said Cionnaith Ó Súilleabháin (Clonakilty). ``Home helps are the unsung heroes of the health service in the 26 Counties. We salute and acknowledge the great work home helps, the vast majority of them women, provide to their communities. They have gone far too long without this acknowledgement.
``In the southern health board region it is only a few years ago when they were being paid a mere 70 pence an hour, which is a disgraceful amount of money. Through their own campaigning and with the support of their trade union they have now got that increased to £3.50 an hour but we need a national wage across the health board regions because there is a discrepancy. It depends on what health region you are in, what wages you get.''