Newcastle West courthouse
A RATHKEALE mother sentenced last January to one month in jail for failing to send two of her children to school, had the jail term lifted, on appeal, at Newcastle West appeals court last week.
But Judge Brian O’Callaghan affirmed the fine of €500 imposed at the district court.
A similar sentence of one month’s imprisonment and a €500 fine was also imposed in the district court on the children’s father but he withdrew his appeal last Wednesday and his conviction and sentence remain.
When the case came before the district court last January, the court heard that the couple’s 15-year-old daughter was not going to school at all while a 13-year-old son had only attended on four days out of the previous 73 school days.
In the case of the son, there had been no explanation from the parents, who had not answered calls nor had they come to meetings set up by Tusla, an education and welfare officer explained. In the case of the daughter, no indication was given of home-schooling or education elsewhere.
“This is probably one of the worst cases we have dealt with,” the officer said at that time. The parents had been uncooperative and it had taken a number of bench warrants to get them to court, she said.
Outlining the grounds of the appeal at Newcastle West Circuit Court last week, solicitor Derry O’Donovan of Túsla, the Child and Family Agency, said there was a child at home who was the subject of concern and under those circumstances, asked that the jail sentence be lifted on the mother.
However, he added, the fine should remain. He did not want the word to get around that people could just appeal and get off.
“This is the third conviction against this family,” Mr O’Donovan said.
Pleading for his client, solicitor Michael O’Donnell said it was a “slightly dysfunctional environment” and explained that some members of the family had special needs and needed a parent at home.
Judge O’Callaghan said that Tusla and the court “treat any breach by any parent of this Act in more than a serious way”.
“It is a child’s future that is at stake,” he said.
“No matter where you come from, the child’s interests must be given priority over the interests of any parent who can look after themselves.
“It is only in the special circumstances of this case that the court is willing to agree,” he said, allowing the prison sentence to be lifted. “The fine will remain in place.”