Thursday, 31 July 2014

Carlow home educating mother goes to prison today

I am writing this with shaking hands and tears in my eyes. Today Monica O'Connor, a friend and stalwart of the Irish home educating community is going to Mountjoy prison.
I am copying below the press release explaining the ins and outs of her case, but I want to add some personal thoughts about Monica and her family, but first some background to explain the situation.

The road to home education is a bumpy one, much as the road to home birth is. The Irish state, in its bid to oversee the welfare of children, has inadvertently (I hope) impinged on the rights of parents. No longer can a mother of 41 years old choose to birth at home. No longer can a mother with a previous C-section choose to birth at home. The police have been given the authority to enter the house of a labouring woman and forcibly remove her (their terminology) if her labour has exceeded the 12 hour timetable as set out by the HSE (anyone who is familiar with natural labour will know that a labour can stop and start for days). Yes, these are examples of home birth, but the state is using the rights of the child as an excuse to override the rights of the pregnant mother.

It is a similar case with home education. The Irish constitution states that the family is the prime educator of the child, and that the child has the right to be educated at home. That should be where it ends, to home educate or send to school should be a simple choice. But in recent years the state has begun to impose mandatory registration on home educating families. Sign up, what's the problem, you have nothing to hide, you say. True, we have nothing to hide. But it is the way in which the registration process has evolved that some of us take issue with. Some families have an inspector from TUSLA (the Child and Family agency) call in, tick the boxes and walk away. Some inspectors insist on quizzing the children as to their knowledge in certain areas. What should be assessed (according to TUSLA) is the provision of the education at home, the approach, the resources etc, NOT the child's progress in relation to their schooled peers. But some assessors are overstepping the mark, impinging on the privacy of the child and comparing the home education with schooling, which everyone who is familiar with home ed knows are chalk and cheese. As my wise friend Claire Thompson so clearly puts it : "it's not a matter of simply registering. If it were, many of us would have no problem. its the fact that we have to APPLY to register. ie we have to ask their approval to home educate when we don't need approval or permission. The right to home educate is covered by the constitution. The law is wrongly phrased. You cannot ask for permission for something you have a right to do. Acertaining the provision that home ed families are making is a separate issue."

Many families are home educating out of sheer desperation with the current educational system. Maybe their child has extra needs, and the resource (SNA) hours in school were cut, leaving their child floundering in a large group. Maybe their child was bullied and the school did not resolve the issue sufficiently. Maybe their child is extremely introverted and the school environment causes them untold stress with the huge class sizes and the "one size fits all" approach. Maybe their child has ADHD and cannot be expected to sit still for hours on end. Maybe the parents can offer a more personalised education for their child, suiting his/her interests and learning method. Maybe they love to travel and it suits them better to home educate, whatever the reasons it should be nobody's business but the family's.

Most home educating families make many sacrifices to provide the environment for home ed. Usually the parents work part-time or alternate days, so one is always with the children. Some have deliberately put one parents career on hold, taking a large pay cut in order to home educate. Their lifestyle is set up around home-educating, holidays are a rare luxury as money comes way down the line after the children's well-being. Most home educating parents I know have third-level education and are highly intelligent, imparting years of life-experience into their children all day, every day. Many also believe education happens by example, and volunteer in community groups, do charity work and are very involved, active members of their communities. They drive their children long-distances to get involved in Home Education networking groups, and are frugal-living and socially conscious. I am able to generalise because I have met so many and they all fall into the above descriptions.

Monica and her husband Eddie do all this and more. Not only did they raise their own large family, but they opened their hearts and home to less fortunate children over the years and fostered many. They are hilarously funny, open and engaging people. Relaxed and confident about their parenting as they have had years of practice. Over the few years I have known Monica I have been so inspired by how easy she makes it all look, and how much she enjoys her life as a home educating mother. She has been on hand to advise me when I have a problem that needs solving, and she is never too busy for a chat. She is not a militant, political type, she is a mother first and foremost, and I am so shocked and saddened that she will be spending the next 5 or 10 days in prison.

The state could go to any school gate on any day and pick up an unfit parent, one that is addicted to intravenous drugs, whose children go to school hungry, unwashed or otherwise neglected. The state could spend their energy and money getting help for those families, who I see around me every day in Dublin city; children so sad and malnourished, drinking cans of Coke as they walk in the school gates, with eyes already dulled by years of mistreatment. I worked in a disadvantaged school and when I once asked the principal why didn't social services get involved more in the many, many neglectful families, she said "where would they start?". Instead, the state is picking on easy targets, fantastic parents who are taking a stand for families everywhere, Monica O'Connor and Eddie O'Neill. This is an absolute disgrace. How much in taxpayers money will go into Monica's prison time, thousands that could be put elsewhere and actually do some good?

I am so angry about this, I am just disgusted. I urge you all, whether home educators or not, to stand in support of Monica, sign the petition here, write to your TDs, email, ring them, do whatever you can or have time for to help us protect the rights of our families.

Her press release is here:
PRESS RELEASE JULY 2014  Embargo 9am Wednesday 3 September 2014

A Carlow mother of 6 has been imprisoned for not paying a fine relating to the Constitutionally protected right to home educate her children

Monica O’Connor, 47, from Tullow, has 5 sons and a daughter, ranging in age from 6 to 27 years. Her husband Eddie O’Neill, 49, is also threatened with serving a prison sentence.

Article 42 of Bunreacht na hEireann, the Irish Constitution, acknowledges that parents are their children’s primary educators. Section 2 says “parents shall be free to provide this education in their homes..”

The former National Education Welfare Board (NEWB), whose functions were assumed in January by the Child and Family Agency of Tusla, summoned the couple to Carlow District Court, where they were fined €2,000 in June 2013 for “failing to cause” 2 of their children to attend school. The NEWB insisted that home educating families must apply to have their educational provision assessed for each child, in order to avail of their right to home educate. The couple maintain that this is akin to asking permission, which can be refused, so therefore is not a right. The family were sent School Attendance Notices to compel their then 12 year old son, Oran, and 9 year old daughter, Elva, to attend local primary schools.

The children have all learned at home for their primary years. The 2 eldest sat Leaving Certificate exams after 4 and 21/2 years of secondary schooling, respectively. The eldest, Darragh, 27, works in the bar of golf club in Hawaii and has maintained himself since leaving home to study 3 Bar Skills and Hotel courses with Failte Ireland, aged 17. The second son, Oisin, 20,  completed a FETAC 6 in Acting and is auditioning for theatre work. The third, Emmet, 19, is finished the 2nd year of a 4 year Music Degree in Dublin Institute of Technology, gaining entry without a Leaving Cert. He started formal education aged 16, completing a FETAC 5 in Music and gaining entry by audition and entrance exam.

The younger 3 continue learning at home with their parents.

Today Gardai escorted Monica O’Connor to Mountjoy prison for not paying the fine. She could serve 5 days in respect of each of the 2 children.
A 16 minute documentary on youtube “Homegrown Knowledge” features the younger 4 children speaking about how they like to learn at home.

A petition has been started on calling on the Minister for Education, Jan O’Sullivan, to intervene on the family’s behalf.

Further details on facebook page “Home Education Support Fund”.

Monica 086-8366569  Eddie 086-3538849 


  1. Replies
    1. The Mama's hip just writing to say I am disgusted with this country Eddie was my woodwork teacher and class teacher in the cpc in kilcullen whrn I started first year in 2006 and I have to say you could not have met a nicer man and if he is a good a teacher to his kids ad he was to me 8 years ago then they are well educated this country is a joke that family should not have to go through this what so ever if you can let them know im thinking of them

    2. As a home educator I am so shocked that this has happened to this mother. I don't live in Ireland so am unsure of the ins and outs of the system. I know here in England we can decline any and all LA interference (or support as they call it.)

      I am sending this lady support and love tonight. I am in shock at the entire situation. Words are failing me at this point.


    3. I am struggling to understand the intricacies of this situation, as I home educate in England. However, I am shocked and appalled that beurocracy and ignorance can allow such obvious lunacy to take place.
      What kind of logic (or lack of) dictates that a home ed parent should be removed from her family, the family she is home educating(! ) In order to prove a point which has no validity!?!
      Crazy so-called system! Good luck to you, you are clearly strong enough to weather this, though I'm saddened to see you are in this position. Stay strong and remember you are in our thoughts.

  2. Well done...tears in my eyes reading...the injustice is overwhelming! Sharing

    1. Thanks Elizabeth, it is certainly scary what lengths the state will go to.

  3. From article 42.2 of the Constitution:

    "The State shall, however, as guardian of the common good, require in view of actual conditions that the children receive a certain minimum education, moral, intellectual and social. "

    This woman did not have a leg to stand on and should have just registered.

    1. Hello Anonymous, if that is your real name!
      If you read the details of Monica's case you will see she was indeed deemed as providing "a certain minimum education" with respect to the foster children she home educated. She went above and beyond this undefined "certain minimum" as you would have seen had you watched the film Homegrown Knowledge, available free on Youtube as detailed above. The issue is not with registration, she is taking a stand against the way her family was targeted, her children were registered under a local school without her permission, and she was subsequently charged with truancy. Please look into her case before dismissing it, you do not seem to understand the full extent of her situation. And next time, leave a name and a face. I take issue with critical comments from anonymous readers. You can see my identity, why hide yours?

    2. Deemed by whom? If she'd applied, been assessed and become registered (no doubt successfully given what you've said about her character and track record with home schooling) then there would be no case and no fine.

      This is simply civil disobedience, and certainly not in the best interests of her children.

    3. Anonymous - you are an ignorant fool, you fail to even grasp the real issue

    4. I understand that the Mama's Hip's statement that, "Today Gardai escorted Monica O’Connor to Mountjoy prison for not paying the fine" is, as of Sat, Aug 2nd, 2014 - INCORRECT. Apart from that error, serious as it is though understandable as a pre-written piece meant for subsequent distribution, apart from that, I agree entirely with all of the original piece, also with the prior-to-here comments... except Parent Zero's hurtful statement that Anonymous is "an ignorant fool," and I also disagree with Anonymous's comment that Monica "did not have a leg to stand on." Further, Anonymous' comment that Monica's action is "certainly not in the best interests of her children." Who/whom is Anonymous to make such a judgement and statement? This entire matter is, in my opinion, is a farce and a showing-up of how the 'law' is seriously flawed in relation to home-education.

    5. Dear Dan, in regards to the statement "Today Gardai escorted Monica O'Connor to Mountjoy prison for not paying the fine", that formed part of Monica's press release, and I did not see fit to edit it. Thanks for your comment, I hope we will see justice soon x

    6. to "register" something means to impart ownership, therefore giving up your right to choose. why do you think so many government and other bodies want you to register with them for this and that, so they are allowed to tell you what to do.... by not registering you still have your freedom, as impinged upon as it may become.

  4. Clearly the continued success in educating their children in past years is not being taken into consideration. This is clearly a case of some official, exerting his / her powers which are rarely called upon, Of more importance to this official is that his job should seem to be of great importance with certain powers which justify his existence and feeds His / Her ego. Granted that said official has the intelligence necessary . It can be seen by all involved that this conflict is of no use to the STATE, Contravenes its own Statute and is shooting itself in the foot,> I Despair that so called Civil Servants get above themselves and this would fall , in my opinion within this category. Unnecessary. unproductive. damaging to this Family's life and distressing these children to Boot. they should stop this Nonsense. Not so much " A Storm in a Teacup as a Fart in a Colander. Expensively. ! ! !

  5. Again the invention and compliance with rules matters more than what is right. This is the sad norm nowadays and needs to change. It's obvious the family are educating and caring well - should be end of story. And it's obvious so many more children are much worse off - start working on them instead! Wondering how the jobsworths that had the time to persecute them can sleep at night.

  6. This is all about Control and impinging upon the RIGHTS of the individual. Our government, like many other governments across the globe, seek to control and impoverish us. A docile, obedient, financially dependent people are easy to control and manipulate.

    Governments were originally created by the people and authorised to provide security for all individuals within the state. That was mainly their function. But when they got control of the public purse, they gobbled up all that was provided and stuck the hand out for more. They used every trick & deceit to scare, cajole, or threaten their creators (you and me) to extract more and more money.

    Fear is their greatest tool; fear of war, fear of unemployment. fear of disease, fear of anarchy, etc. Through fear and deception they exact more and more money by way of taxation, and they are very creative and finding ways to tax us (like the Troika-inspired water meters, household tax, septic tank tax, etc. etc.).

    Government has now grown into a voracious, bureaucratic monster whose need for more power and money is inexhaustible. I think it's time now for the people of Ireland to cut this monster down to size and put him back in his cage. We are rightfully the masters of government -- not the other way around.

    As in the case blogged above, these villains will ride roughshod over the Constitution and trample upon our rights -- if we let them.

  7. So sad! As an American homeschooler, I too see parental rights being eroded upon little by little. I will be praying for this family!

  8. Keep your head up the children of the future only trust true love and you wont find that in no government RUN school
    I bet the kids are proud of mom

  9. What amazing people. Best of luck, I'm sure there are loads of people behind yee on this! Well wrote up too might I add.

  10. If every commentator here could write to all the TDs in the Dail
    there is the link,
    You can copy and paste all their address in a few clicks of a mouse into your address bar, and away they all is a million more times more effective than a single email...and usually at least a half dozen of them will make enquiries....
    I have used this approach a couple of times with good result...have a history of being one of those know the type, the ones who question and are just down right awkward....

    So anyway, don't get angry, get active, and lets try and get this story more visible in the public eye....

    write to all the TDs in the a mother and one time home schooler I believe this is just the start of know the song

    Home schoolers are usually a gutsy bunch of people, I think it's time we stood together.

  12. Every Irish Child is Registered at Birth ... Is that not good enough ...

    Keep Shinning Monica & Eddie

  13. Oh my god this is terrible how as a nation can we stop this she is obviously doing a fantastic job better than some of the teachers that work in our schools and i know this first hand as my son went through primary level school undetected with adhd all 4 categories because he was bright even though i had weekly meetings with the vice principal and voiced my concerns it fell onto deaf ears and i was left deflated each week because they stated he was just bold and it was not until in 2nd year in secondry school that he was diagnosed and to be honest it came to late for him as the amount of fraustration he has had all his 16yrs of life has now turned into Anger and like many in the same position is in trouble with the law over it. We need to support this woman she is not a criminal just an easy target

  14. It's a tricky one, because homeschooling definitely can be abused. Some parents seem to think their children are appendages of themselves. Public schooling can, in theory, expose children to a wider variety of opinions, beliefs, and cultures. So some State oversight of some sort is definitely a good thing: getting that oversight right is the tricky bit. (Also, Irish schools aren't necessarily the most broadminded institutions themselves, of course.)


  15. Neil Taylor, home educator to 3 wonderful now adults.2 August 2014 at 13:32

    When the state seeks to enforce a new but unpopular policy it often resorts to very effective acts of terrorism to discourage dissent. When in England new truancy patrol powers of detention of children were introduced, some hapless single mother, kept like most in ignorance of the lawful home education alternative to school, was prosecuted and imprisoned twice for her 'failure' to successfully coerce her child to attend what really amounts to a day prison. In Sweden, shortly after they made homeschooling illegal there, they kidnapped a home educated child from his parents on a taxying plane as they made their way as dual nationals, lawfully to India to start a new life there. The healthy young mother was so severely traumatised by this that her heart stopped and she had to be rescuscitated by her husband as their child screamed and vomited as he was taken away. There are similar accounts from Germany of home educated children kidnapped from their beds in the middle of the night to be fostered with strangers with their parents not knowing where they are. When the state commits such barbarous acts, it does so psychopathically, aware of the effect it is having as a deterrent to others. And when it goes for the articulate middle classes, and obviously competent and loving parents, it sends a clear message - 'don't think you would fare any better'.

    So the state acts unlawfully simply breaking constitutional protections, and intimidates everyone into not standing up to it, declaring its illegitimacy. No doubt honest dupes and useful idiots administer these despicable actions, some genuinely believing they are protecting children, although it stretches credibility to contemplate the kind of human being who could imagine that kidnapping children, or imprisoning loving mothers for the crime of caring so well for their children, could somehow fail to deeply scar and traumatise the very children the state pretends it seeks to protect. Some of these actions, and this targetting of this particular family in this way bears the hallmarks of state terrorism to the specific globalised end of banning or subsuming freedom in learning and living into the state institution which is designed to be universal and total(itarian) in its reach. This sort of repression is happening the world over at this time.

    You commit no crime by exercising a constitutionally protected liberty without permission you by definition don't need. Registration is permission and can be witheld, and then it is no longer a right, but a concession in the gift of gvt. The crime is that of the state which declares its unfitness to govern thereby as principle lawbreaker and especially destroys any pretence at being qualified to care for children by such brutality against them. They are the principle child abusers.

    Bon courage Monica O'Connor, prisoner of conscience, and your family, and thank you.

  16. Neil Taylor, home educator to 3 wonderful now adults.2 August 2014 at 13:42

    This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  17. Neil Taylor, home educator to 3 wonderful now adults.2 August 2014 at 13:44

    This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  18. I don't know where to start. ...I'm appalled at this decision. Sharing. ..

  19. Lest we in England forget, just a few short years ago we narrowly escaped legislation that would have required us to apply for permission to home educate, and compelled us to submit our children for interview alone with LA inspectors, regardless of how we or our children felt about it.

    The price of freedom is eternal vigilance.

    This family is very much in my thoughts.

  20. Would sign but it won't accept my signature! :(

  21. I am saddened and disgusted. Petition signed and blog shared. Hope true justice is done for this family. Julie x

  22. Chrissie fom Yorkshire14 August 2014 at 15:08

    By the time I heard of this I trust that Monica is free to return to her family. My thoughts are with her. May she stay strong in her belief that she has taken the path that is right for her and her family. As a UK citizen it is perhaps not my place to comment but it would seem that the Irish authorities are acting against the very wording of the Constitution. It may be only a matter of time before such heavy handed tactics are commonplace in our own "nanny state", this side of the water. I have heard plenty of horror stories already. It seems to be the luck of the draw depending which local authority one lives in. I chose to home educate my youngest son for almost 4 yrs, after a primary school experience which left him alienated, depressed and lacking self-worth. During that time I was able to draw support from a wonderful community of home-edders and we both made many friends. Though I was terrified at the time, I now realise it was the best thing I could have done for him. It has been a learning journey for both of us. Last year, with his confidence restored he made the decision to return to school as a secondary pupil. He has just completed year 7 of the English National Curriculum. We will see how it goes. Each child is an individual and being processed through the state sausage machine is not necessarily in their best interests. Good luck to Monica and Eddie and their wonderful kids. Keep on keeping on! You have friends who support you both sides of the pond!

  23. Here's a little home schooling that all parents need to do for themselves to come to 'learn' understand their 'true' position, with the material to be found part way down the link given, under the subtitled heading -




  24. As a Christian who believes in the `right` to home education, I have to say that rights also carry responsibilities. The state does have a duty to ensure that children are receiving a proper education. What if neglectful parents do not send their children to school and do not educate them at home? It is not a question of rights but of responsibilities. Secondly, as someone with a PhD in education who missed 50% of their primary schooling and had the police visit our home, I know that schooling can bore intelligent students and contribute to poor peer influence. Nevertheless, I would want to a) ensure that homeschooled children are at least at the same level of achievement as their schooled peers, b) see annual tests that show that c) have home-schooling parents attend training courses by christian professional educators . Christians should have superior results due to faithful stewardship of talent development.
    P.S. why bother training teachers if anyone can teach?

    1. Dear Anonymous Christian with a chequered past,
      I don't know whether to laugh or cry. Would you insist my children, following an autonomous learning path, take an annual exam to compare their progress with schooled peers? Would you suggest that I, an atheist, take a training course by a Christian professional educator? What about autonomous learning, letting the child dictate the pace, John Holt? What about MY world view, stadards and morals? Is the only way the Christian way? I agree that rights bring responsibilities, yet my article above was about Monica and Eddies rights being overstepped, which you seem to have ignored/not understood. I have yet to meet a home schooling family who seem irresponsible. I wonder did your PhD provide you with any education outside of the Christian remit? Do you believe Christians are superior in general or just in the area of home education?
      Teachers are trained I expect, to follow a career in education, to control a class of 26+ children, to present an approved curriculum and to uphold an ethos of whatever institution they are representing. None of which apply to me as a home educating mother.
      I really wish you'd attached your name, I'd love to continue the discussion but I find it frustrating when all the challenging comments are anonymous.
      Thanks for your perspective. Niamh

  25. I am astounded at the arrogance of Anonymous who thinks that parents would need courses from "christian professional educators" to continue sharing and teaching their children. I didn't (and still don't) think that all children learn best in a huge group, have the same interests, and learn in the same way.

    I would be interested to know which of their school educated peers you think home educated children should be compared to, the ones with high marks from some exam, or those at the "bottom" of the class. I have never understood why it is OK for children in school to "fail" but home schooled (or unschooled) children are expected to meet a higher standard. Maybe we should remove the right and privilege of schools to teach children whom they are failing.

    I home educated 3 children in England, Canada and whilst travelling, with the belief that children inherently love learning. If they have the ability to communicate (read, write, listen and speak), understand basic math principles, and know how and where to look things up (in the days before Google!), they will outstrip their teacher in their own particular fields of interest and if given the opportunity, they will likely meet other adults who will be glad to share their knowledge and enthusiasm for the subject. I also found that everything we do and experience in daily life teaches us, and the broader the experiences, the better.

    They are all in their 30's now and are happy and doing very well. We still have discussions around the supper table which lead us to questions which we look up.

    I can also attest to the fact that being threatened with the children being taken into care and the parents to prison was a distraction and upsetting but did not make us think the state had our children's best interests at heart or would do a better job of educating them.

    OK, time to get off my soapbox!

    My thoughts and best wishes go out to Monica, Eddie and all the other dedicated parents who are doing their best to raise intelligent, thoughtful and caring children.

    Take care,

    Barbara (in Canada)


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