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Special Needs Assistants Demand Respect on May Day


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Braving the lashings of rain, the #RespectForSNAs campaign took to the streets of the capital in protest of antiquated entry requirements for their profession.

The minimum qualification to become an SNA is three Ds in the Junior Cert, according to the Department of Education, a requirement which was established in 1979.

Fórsa, a trade union 12,000 SNAs strong, have been calling on TDs and senators to review the 43-year-old standard for almost a year now.

Noreen O'Mahony, Chairperson of Fórsa's Education Division, said schools won't hire SNAs who only have three junior cert passes nowadays, rendering the requirements unrepresentative of how qualified the workforce is.

"We work with students at senior level, who get their leaving cert and beyond - we think there's a lack of respect from the Department of Education for not reviewing the entry level requirements," O'Mahony said.

"We'd like to see them raised, but not for people who are already SNAs, we don't want people to worry about that. We're only looking for them to be raised for entrants."

Fórsa's #RespectForSNAs campaign aims to raise awareness of the role SNAs fill in schools and how valuable they are in educating the nation.

Andy Pike, National Secretary of Fórsa, said they've never gotten proper recognition.

"For many years they've been a bit of a Cinderella service. Recently, people are becoming aware that SNAs are integral to ensuring that students with various different additional care needs can complete their schooling, and without them that wouldn't be possible," Pike said.

"In any profession, you want proper respect and recognition, and if you achieve that, other things may then follow. The first step towards professionalising the work of SNAs is to look at the qualifications you need to get the job."

Some SNAs felt alienated from their jobs when it was suggested that some should work in nursing homes during the Covid-19 pandemic.

Linda O'Sullivan, Campaign Spokesperson for Dublin, said that was the straw which broke the camel's back.

"Over the last two years of lockdown, we've seen examples of the historic discrespect and disregard that the Department has for SNAs," O'Sullivan said at today's march.

"For so long in schools, non-teaching staff were seen as less, and raising the required qualifications would show that being an SNA is a profession, and it's time that the Government recognised that."

Approximately 250 people of different professions, unions and political ideologies turned out in Dublin today to fight for the rights they believe they deserve - SNAs were at the forefront, one of the loudest voices among the crowd.


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