Judge describes Traveller truancy as ‘child neglect’

Gerard Fitzgibbon

Reporter:

Gerard Fitzgibbon

Stuart Moloney, education welfare officer
A JUDGE has likened the ongoing truancy of a number of Traveller children from West Limerick to “child neglect”.

A JUDGE has likened the ongoing truancy of a number of Traveller children from West Limerick to “child neglect”.

Judge Mary Larkin said that there seems to be “a different rule of law for one section of the country” during court proceedings against six Traveller parents over the long-term absenteeism of their children.

At Newcastle West Court this Tuesday two of the parents were fined €600 each, two more were warned that they face a suspended sentence if their child does not stay in school, and a warrant was issued for the arrest of two more who failed to appear in court. None of the parents can be named, in order to protect the identity of their children.

Solicitor Kevin Sherry, prosecuting on behalf of the National Education Welfare Board, asked the judge to finalise the prosecution against the first couple, due to the “chronic levels of absenteeism “ of their 15-year-old son. Mr Sherry said that the boy, a second year student at Desmond College, Newcastle West, has missed 46% of days in the current school year. The offence carries a maximum penalty of a fine of €634.87 and/or one month in prison.

Solicitor John Lynch, defending, said that the parents are “doing their very best” to get their son in school, but he is “a difficult young lad to deal with”. Mr Lynch said that the boy had attended school this week, and requested that the case be adjourned as “hopefully his attendance might improve”.

Judge Mary Larkin fined each parent €600, giving them six months in which to pay. Mr Lynch said that the parents have “very limited income” and will find it difficult to pay. The judge responded “I know, but the choice is that or three weeks in jail”.

In the prosecution against the second parents, who were described in court as transient people who bring their 12-year-old daughter with them on their travels around Europe, Judge Larkin likened their failure to educate their daughter to “child neglect”.

During a previous court date, the judge demanded that the absent parents provide evidence of teaching arrangements that the Rathkeale couple make for the girl when they are out of the country.

Solicitor Michael O’Donnell, defending, said that while informal arrangements were recently made for the girl in Scotland, the parents “travel so much, it’s very hard to put a structure in place”.

The judge voiced her exasperation at the parents’ attitude. “I can’t understand why you would want a child to receive no education”.

Mr O’Donnell spoke of the “distinct uniqueness” of the Travelling community. However the judge asked if there was “a different rule of law for one section of the country”. “It may be necessary to refer it to the health board and seek a supervision order”, she warned.

The court heard that the family have recently returned to the country, and the girl has spent the last two days in school. The case was adjourned until May 23 to monitor the girl’s ongoing attendance. The judge warned the parents that unless the girl stays in school, they will face a one-month suspended prison sentence.

Meanwhile, a warrant was issued for the arrest of two parents who failed to appear in court over the truancy of their son. Stuart Moloney, education welfare officer with the board, said that he has had “no contact” with the couple since they received a court summons in February.