Official indifference and persistent procrastination: an analysis of Sinnott

AuthorShivaun Quinlivan - Mary Keys
PositionB.A. (NUI), LL.B. (NUI), LL.M. (King's College, London), B.L. (King's Inns)
The Supreme Court decision in Sinnott v. Minister for
Education,1 though predictable, resulted in widespread
disappointment among disability groups and families of
people with disabilities. By a majority of six to one, the
Supreme Court decision overturned the High Court, which
had granted the right to primary education on the basis of
need rather than age, and confirmed that the right to primary
education ends at 18 years.
This paper focuses on the case raised by the plaintiff,
Mr. Jamie Sinnott. As a result, it does not address the claim
of the second plaintiff, Mrs. Kathryn Sinnott, in detail. The
paper makes reference to the decision of the High Court and
conducts a comprehensive examination of the Supreme Court
decision. The analysis touches on a number of issues,
including: the introduction of an age limit in primary
education, the definition of education, legislative enactments
in the field of education, the separation of powers and briefly,
socio-economic rights under the Constitution. The paper
questions the use of the judicial system as a means of
asserting the socio-economic right to education in the wake
of this decision. The paper posits that imposition of an age
limitation is inappropriate in relation to profound intellectual
disability. A subsidiary conclusion is that the judiciary have a
163 Judicial Studies Institute Journal [2:2
* B.A. (NUI), LL.B. (NUI), LL.M. (King’s College, London), B.L.
(King’s Inns). Law Lecturer, and member of the Disability Law Policy
and Research Unit, Law Faculty, NUI, Galway; and B.Soc.Sc. (NUI),
Dip. P.S.W. (University of Manchester), LL.B. (NUI), LL.M. (NUI). Law
Lecturer, and member of the Disability Law Policy and Research Unit,
Law Faculty, NUI, Galway.
democratic mandate to enforce the socio-economic right to
The plaintiff is profoundly intellectually disabled and,
at the age of twenty-two, he sued the State for failing to
provide him with his constitutional right to free primary
education under Article 42.4, which states that “The State
shall provide for free primary education …” During the High
Court action, it was noted that the plaintiff had received less
than three years of meaningful education and training in his
life. Barr J. stated that the plaintiff “has suffered grieviously
through the failure of the State to meet its constitutional
obligation to provide him with such services and its
negligence in that regard.”2
Barr J. was critical of the State’s consistent failure to
provide for the plaintiff’s educational needs. He reviewed the
interpretation of the term ‘primary education’ in order to
clarify the extent of the right to education, and relied on the
decision of O’Hanlon J. in O’Donoghue v. Minister for
Health3and (quoting O’Hanlon J.) stated that the purpose of
the constitutional obligation contained in Article 42.4 is:
to provide for free, basic, elementary education
of all children and that this involves giving
each child such advice, instruction and
teaching as will enable him/her to make the
best possible use of his/her inherent and
potential capacities, physical, mental and
moral, however limited these capacities may be
The High Court required the State to respond to a
citizen’s constitutional rights in full, and held that the
obligation to provide for free primary education for the
2002] An Analysis of Sinnott 164
3 [1996] 2 I.R. 20. See also the decision of Ó Dálaigh C.J. in Ryan v.
Attorney General [1965] I.R. 294.

To continue reading

Request your trial

VLEX uses login cookies to provide you with a better browsing experience. If you click on 'Accept' or continue browsing this site we consider that you accept our cookie policy. ACCEPT