Letters to the Editor

North's future in UK has never been more fragile

Has Brexit brought a united Ireland closer?

Fra Hughes (November 8) clearly did not read my original letter and should have reread his own before he hit send.

Fra needs to make his mind up as to whether he wants more power transferred to Ireland from Britain or hand back everything to London.

Even his rhetoric doesn’t match up. It is full of contradictions.

Here is his opinion: Stormont is terrible and delivering nothing but I want to be there; close Stormont and give all powers back to London; take power back from London; put more money into hospitals, but give the power to decide were money is used back to London.

Fra says the status of the north within the ‘UK’ has never been stronger. I could have swore it was stronger when more than 60 per cent of the population was unionist, whereas now it is nearly 50/50.

It was probably stronger when unionists controlled every facet of the six-county state and nationalists were denied jobs and housing.

When the British government was under no obligation to recognise any vote for a reunited Ireland. Now they have signed an international agreement to abide by any such vote.

Nationalists in the north no longer keep their heads down; the Irish language has never been stronger; Gaelic Games, music and dance has never been more openly celebrated and more unionists are open to acceptance of their Irish identity. Young nationalists by and large go where they want to and are proud to display their identity and culture.

Since the Brexit vote the reunification of Ireland has never received so much attention while the future exit of Scotland is on the cards.

The initial reasons given for the setting up of the Orange State are gone. The supremacy of Protestantism in all walks of life is no more. The unionist industries (supported yearly by massive grants from London) are no more. The 26-counties is no longer a pro-Catholic Church state. 

The north’s future within the so-called UK has never been more fragile and it’s all to play for.

Belfast BT14


Social segregation made worse by academic selection at 11

Last month the DUP launched a briefing paper on the theme of underachievement among young disadvantaged Protestant boys and girls. The paper was written by DUP councillor Peter Martin.

There is much in the report that is good and Peter Martin conveys a genuine concern about the plight of these children. Unfortunately the report fails to address the issue of selection at 11 and the social segregation that it enforces. It’s a bit like writing a history of the Second World War without mentioning Adolf Hitler. As far as the DUP are concerned selection is the ‘elephant in the room’.

The report points out that the problem of underachievement among disadvantaged children is not just a Northern Ireland problem but a UK-wide problem. The report goes on to say that though England has a comprehensive system, ‘it is clear from the results that despite the fact that the majority of English schools do not employ selective testing it suffers similar problems to Northern Ireland in terms  of educational underachievement’. These comments indicate a failure or refusal to understand that the  so-called comprehensive system in England is in many cases no more comprehensive than our grammar school system here.

According to the OECD schools in the UK are among the most socially segregated in western Europe and social segregation is still a huge problem in England despite comprehensive education. Research by the Sutton Trust in 2013 showed that the top 500 comprehensives based on their scores on the English Baccalaureate had on average 7.2 per cent of their pupils on the Free School Meals register compared to a national average of 16.5 per cent.

Here in Northern Ireland social segregation is made even worse by so-called academic selection at 11. There are now 24 secondary schools with 50 per cent or more of their pupils on the free school meals register, and it is these concentrations of poverty that do untold damage. 

Compare the DUP paper to a statement issued by the Catholic Principals Association, where it reiterates its opposition to the ‘unregulated system of social selection at 10/11 years of age which operates under the guise of academic testing… No part of Catholic education should be involved in supporting or operating a system of selection which promotes social segregation and inequality. No part of Catholic education should align itself on this issue with regressive forces in our society in order to protect selfish, sectional interests’.

Downpatrick, Co Down


Injury pensions

It is a travesty and an embarrassment to our society that an injury pension has not been put in place for people who were seriously injured in the Troubles. We should be looking after them, as well as the families of those who lost their lives.

In Africa they say that “when two elephants fight a lot of grass gets trampled”. In Ireland, the ‘elephants’ were narrow and exclusive forms of Irish republicanism and unionism. As these two flawed ideologies fought it out many people got hurt, some of them with life changing injuries.

If people like these are not already being looked after properly, there should be adequate provision.  

A small number belonged to paramilitary groups –approximately six loyalists and four republicans. Those organisations, with the wealth they have amassed, should already be taking care of their former members, but if that’s not the case, they should probably be taken care of by wider society too.

However, if that idea isn’t agreed, perhaps these 10 people could step aside for the time being, or be dealt with separately on the same terms, in order to let around 490 others to access payments quickly. The pension would work best if it was based on need with an emphasis on ensuring that no-one suffers financially or experiences destitution.

And, if the assembly can’t make a timely decision on this issue, Westminster should take responsibility and deduct the cost from Northern Ireland’s block grant.

Holywood, Co Down


Facilitating integrated education

Polls repeatedly show that a majority of parents would like their children to attend integrated schools but each year there are not enough places.

Under the Fresh Start Agreement Westminster allocated  an extra £500 million over 10 years to facilitate integrated and shared schools.

The Department of Education has a statutory duty to encourage and facilitate the demand for integrated education, but there has been little evidence of this happening under either Sinn Féin or DUP education ministers .

It is in the interest of both these parties to maximise their votes by prolonging the divisions in our society and increasing the fear of the ‘other side’.

All parents who wish their children to attend integrated schools should be able to do so.

Children of all religions or none and of different races will grow up with understanding, tolerance and respect for each other’s culture. They will not wish to remain part of our divided society and we will have a genuine shared society.

Belfast BT8


Lifestyle choices

In response to Sammy Wilson’s outburst (‘Aids battle takes away resources’, December 1) that it was a lifestyle choice – obviously inferring aids suffers brought it on themselves and his refusal to wear a red ribbon for World Aids day in support of the battle against aids. If this is indeed so it puts in jeopardy Sammy’s and his unionist colleagues’ demand for the military covenant to be introduced in N Ireland. It is without doubt (as there is not nor never was conscription in Ireland) that being a soldier is a lifestyle choice. If Sammy is as he claims a democrat he will now withdraw his support for the covenant, bar of course he and his cohorts believe in double standards.
Time will tell.

Banbridge, Co Down              

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Letters to the Editor