James vs. The Courts

For my final news reporting assignment this semester, I was forced to go to the courts. It was not fun. It was difficult, dull and slightly upsetting. I watched a man be handed a fine he said would be impossible to pay, he was given ten months to do so. Poor guy. I was supposed to go after a ‘bigger’ story in court five of the Dublin Criminal Courts, but the judge was too quiet to hear, so I gave up and went upstairs. I got a fairly innocuous little case, but the overall context is quite interesting. I was told to be balanced, accurate and not opinionated, so hopefully I at least managed that. I don’t think court reporting is something I’ll look forward to doing again.

Father Fined After Daughter Misses School

James Keating

“Her chances in life could have been improved”

A member of the travelling community was fined €350 today in the Dublin Criminal Courts as a result of his daughter not attending a year of school.

The man, a resident of Swords, was fined after his daughter failed to attend her first year of secondary school in 2009/10. Her attendance had already been a concern after she missed 59 of 183 days in sixth class and a similar number in fifth class.

The court heard that the girl, now fifteen, did not attend school for cultural reasons. She failed to appear at school despite repeated attempts by the National Education Welfare Board (NEWB) to organise meetings with her family.

Judge Heneghan, who oversaw today’s proceedings, said “This is a sad case as her opportunity for education has been curbed”.

A final school attendance order was issued by the NEWB in November 2009, but the girl failed to attend for the remainder of her first year of secondary school. The final order was issued after ten letters to the girl’s family.

Her father claimed that attending second level education would cause problems for his daughter. He said that she could be bullied and might come into contact with drugs in secondary school.

The family were invited to meet with both the NEWB and school authorities to discuss the matter, but failed to attend. The girl will not be legally required to attend school after she turns sixteen in six months.

Judge Heneghan took this into consideration when handing out the €350 fine. She pointed out that she did not know how exactly missing out on secondary school would affect the girl, but acknowledged that “Her chances in life could have been improved”.

The law states that children must attend school between the ages of six and sixteen. The NEWB was set up under the Education Act 2000 and tasked with ensuring children between those ages either attend school regularly or are given a quality education elsewhere.

If a child misses more than 20 days the school can contact the NEWB. The NEWB can then send an Educational Welfare Officer to meet the child’s family and try to help the child attend school again.

The NEWB say that legal action is their last option and only undertaken in exceptional circumstances. It is only used if the child’s family fail to co-operate with the Board in helping their child attend school.

Pavee Point Traveller’s Centre, who work for traveller’s human rights, report that the majority of traveller children drop out of mainstream education during the Junior Cycle.

The organisation spoke out earlier this year about cuts to traveller’s education and a 2010 equality tribunal case showed that “travellers continue to experience challenges in accessing schools”.

Discrimination remains a problem for travellers. At the launch of the DVD “Pavee Parents Post-Primary Concerns” youth worker Bridgy Collins said “Irish people assume travellers don’t experience racism. However I can testify that it is alive and well in Ireland in 2011”.

The maximum punishment which can be given to parents for their children’s non-attendance of school is a fine of €634.87 and/or imprisonment for a month and €253.95 for each subsequent day that the parent fails to send the child to school.


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