“Let the message go out, I’ll keep a tight rein on you,” was Judge Seamus Hughes’ message to members of the Traveller community in Mullingar who fail to send their children to school.
“There are a lot of children who have no respect - through their parents - for education,” he said and later described his approach to truancy as “proactive”.
“They’re entitled to their education, it’s the only thing in this country that’s free,” he said, adding that children “by their attendance will pick up something in school”.
He made the comments at yesterday’s sitting of the District Court as three separate sets of parents appeared before him, prosecuted by the National Educational Welfare Board for not ensuring that their children go to school.
In each of the cases he noted that only the children’s mother was in court. None of the fathers had appeared.
In a new case before him, he told the mother of 11- and 13-year-old girls that her children are entitled to their education.
Referring to their attendance in the new academic year in September he warned “I’ll come down on you like a load of bricks next year”.
The younger had missed 72 days out of 99 and the older 68 days out of 99 before their parents were summonsed to appear before the court.
Since then they have only missed one out of 13 days.
The mother said her younger daughter was simply lazy but the older girl had been bullied and she is working with the principal to sort out the problems there.
She also added that since they were attacked in their car last year, the teenager has been unwilling to go anywhere by car.
“It’s a job to see her go to school crying,” she said, pointing out that the girl comes home from school every day with a headache and goes upstairs to bed.
In two older cases which have been before the court for a number of months, the judge heard that the children’s attendance is progressing well and he congratulated the mothers on their work and told them to keep it up.
However, he expressed his concern that one father was continually out of the jurisdiction when his case was before the court.
Another had a flu yesterday and was with a child who had chickenpox the last day.
The father of the two girls in the new case had been in hospital two days earlier with his back and was at home, his wife said.
“If you can’t get your daughter out of bed, then he might be able to - if he’s out of bed himself,” the judge said.
All three cases were adjourned until September.