Letters to the Editor

There's an easy way to talk to children about staying safe

Talking to children about sexual abuse can be a daunting and challenging task. For many parents the idea of sitting down with their off-spring when they are still getting to grips with primary school and speaking about how they can stay safe from sexual abuse is about as appealing as a nasty trip to the dentist. Some may make an attempt to broach the subject while others will simply wait until their son or daughter is well into their teens. However, when you consider that one child in every 20 suffers some form of sexual abuse, the argument for having this conversation as early as possible becomes increasingly persuasive. It is also important to recognise that the old adage of ‘stranger danger’ now only applies in a small percentage of cases, with a third of all child sexual offences committed by other children and 90 per cent of perpetrators being known to their victims.

The good news is that there is an easy way to talk to your child about how to stay safe without using scary words or even mentioning sex. At the NSPCC we simply call this Talking Pants. From P through to S, each letter stands for an important rule for kids to remember – Privates are private; Always remember your body belongs to you; No means no; Talk about secrets that upset you and Speak up – someone can help.

Helping us to spread this message is our favourite cartoon dinosaur, Pantosauraus, who now has his own game which is free to download from the iOS and Android app store. ‘Playtime with Pantosaurus’ features four mini challenges where children test their skills against Pantosaurus and his friends while learning the Pants rule. Using this game will enable children to have fun while learning about how to stay safe from sexual abuse and what to do should anything happen that they feel uncertain or uncomfortable about.

At the same time it is important that parents have their own conversations with their child about these important and sensitive issues. It’s much better to do this bit by bit rather than trying to deal with it all in one go, weaving these chats into everyday discussions instead of turning it into a big deal.
The more you talk about it the less awkward and uncomfortable you will feel. More importantly you will also have the peace of mind that you are equipping your child with vital knowledge to help keep them safe now and in the future, both online and out in the real world. 

Head of the NSPCC in Northern Ireland


Northern Ireland has truly been cast into shadows

Despite the heroic efforts of hundreds of staff from the Department of Infrastructure (DfI) to grit our roads network there has still been significant disruption. Schools have been forced to close, business and commerce have been adversely affected. 

Shockingly, until as late as October 2017, the department did not have the capacity to make financial provision for such winter service in the current financial year. Thankfully for our community in-year monitoring of departmental budgets and ‘under spends’ elsewhere, allowed the reallocation that is funding the activity we are witnessing.

The ongoing problems faced by DfI are outlined in the Briefing on the Northern Ireland Budgetary Outlook 2018-20 issued by the Department of Finance.  This sets out various scenarios by which the NI budget might be balanced. This follows cuts to the block grant which match the extreme austerity imposed on public expenditure in GB. 

Unfortunately because of severe cuts made in 2014/15 to its predecessor the Department for Regional Development, DfI has never achieved a reasonable baseline in its budget. Given that there is no activity that the public would want the department to abandon, it has simply been forced, among other things, to under fund Translink, leaving them to exhaust their financial reserves, pay less to NI Water than the regulator has determined reasonable and to reduce routine maintenance of roads. 

The most telling example of this man-made crisis lies in the budget scenarios outlined that require the abandonment of funding for public street lighting.  Notwithstanding the obvious problems that will arise in community safety, with an annual energy bill of just over £12 million, street lighting is simply not affordable within the DfI’s likely budget allocation. The Westminster government, without a vote to its name in Northern Ireland, has truly cast us into the shadows.

NIPSA, Belfast BT2


Ireland should get special economic zone status

Like Macau, a former Portuguese Colony, and since 1999 a special economic zone within China, the island of Ireland if designated special economic zone status by agreement between the Republic, Northern Ireland, the European Union and Great Britain would have the possibility of replicating Macau’s success – a region having the fourth highest life expectancy in the world; a high human development index ranking 18th in the world; one of the world’s richest regions; its GDP per capita by purchasing power parity higher than any country in the world deemed by the World Bank in 2014. Ireland has a wealth of resources, agricultural, 200 miles of offshore assets including fisheries and sub-terrain reserves and high educational standards. Accommodating the various historical perspectives and in the context of a non-politicised and non-militarised Europe, Ireland should be afforded special economic zone status such as that existing within China, with other precedents in Egypt, India, Iran, Jamaica, Malaysia, Mexico, Myanmar, Panama, Poland, Philippines, South Korea, North Korea, Nigeria, Russia, Thailand, Ukraine, Pakistan, Uzbekistan, Vietnam, Zambia and within the EU, the special designated zone of the Canary Islands.

Blarney, Co Cork


Tougher approach needed on elderly abuse

At Action on Elder Abuse Northern Ireland, we were pleased to read in The Irish News – ‘Man loses appeal over assault in family feud case’ (January 16) – James Anthony McBride, the Co Tyrone man found guilty of assaulting his father-in-law Johnny Fee has lost an appeal against his sentence.

The coercive control evident in this case was appalling, as Mr Fee was in the words of the judge “pressured, intimidated and bullied” to sign over his property to his family in a way that would not have been financially beneficial for him.  
This was in addition to physical assault, verbal abuse and a threat to Mr Fee’s life. 

Given that crimes against older people are so often not taken seriously and are rarely punished, we are relieved that the judge here has upheld the original sentence given the nature of abuse suffered by Mr Fee, however lenient it may have been.  In future, we would wish to see the judicial system implementing a robust approach in sentencing cases of elder abuse to ensure that the punishment does indeed fit the crime.

Action on Elder Abuse Northern Ireland


Plastic bag charging

Am I being unduly cynical at the support from retailers for compulsory plastic bag charging? .

More to the point would they allow customers to use the empty cardboard boxes in which products have been delivered to the shop? My local supermarket used to have piles of these freely available at the checkout and plastic bag use was minimal as a result. Nowadays, these have to be disposed of by retailers at vast cost – surely far better for them to be taken home and disposed of by customers as domestic waste at no cost to traders.

Edinburgh, Scotland

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