If city won't pay Ciara's blind school fees, I will

A SERVING soldier has pledged to walk 500 miles to raise the money needed to send his blind daughter to a specialist school.

Council bosses have refused to pay to send Ciara McGearey, 13, to the Royal Blind School in Edinburgh – despite an independent tribunal ruling that it is the best place for her.

A legal battle is under way, with the city chiefs appealing against the decision by taking the case to the Court of Session, leaving both Ciara and her family in limbo.

Now her father – Warrant Officer Class 1 Mac McGearey, who is due to deploy to Afghanistan in June – is taking matters into his own hands by trying to raise at least 20,000 through the sponsored walk to send Ciara to the school in the meantime.

Mr McGearey, 40, who serves in the 1st Royal Tank Regiment and has been a soldier for 23 years, said: "I decided to do this when we realised they were taking us to the Court of Session.

"We can't really wait any longer for the politicians and lawyers to sort it out so we want to raise enough money to send her to the school in the interim period.

"About 20,000 would take her to the summer, but we also need to raise money to pay the legal costs for the Court of Session.

"If I could raise the funds to support her in the school until she is 19, I would.

"It's quite sad that it's come to this, especially when the tribunal ruled in our favour.

"This is personal for me and I wanted to do something instead of relying on other people."

Mr McGearey is setting off on his journey tomorrow, leaving from Redford Barracks in Colinton and making his way up to the West Highland Way then back down to Edinburgh via Inverness, Pitlochry and Dunfermline.

His 500-mile walk will take just under a month and he will be walking at least 20 miles a day, camping out or staying in cheap accommodation.

He is being supported by the army, who have given him the time to do the walk, and veterans' charity Poppyscotland.

The council's education department wants Ciara, who lost her sight when she was only three days old after suffering meningitis, to go to the council-run Oaklands Special School, which does not specialise in blindness.

A tribunal, which was set up under the Additional Support for Learning Act, ruled in November that the Blind School was the best option for Ciara.

Calls for the council to withdraw its appeal against the ruling were yesterday rejected.

A motion was submitted in private to the full council meeting by Councillor Jason Rust asking the council to withdraw its appeal.

It was backed by his fellow Tory councillors, along with the Greens and Labour, but the administration voted in favour of continuing the appeal and it won on the casting vote of Lord Provost George Grubb.

Colinton and Fairmilehead councillor Jason Rust, who has been trying to help the family, said: "The family are not after preferential treatment, but simply justice for their daughter. An independent expert tribunal has made a decision in their favour and for the council to be pursuing this to the Court of Session at a cost of thousands of pounds is abysmal.

"Even were the council to be successful at the appeal, the case will be remitted back to a newly convened tribunal and have to be heard all over again at yet more expense. This case reflects poorly on the council."

• www.poppyscotland.org.uk/ciara

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