Letters to the Editor

Concentrations of poverty in schools doing untold damage

In total more than 15,500 school days were lost for pupils as a result of 6,805 suspensions issued during 2016-2017 academic year according to an analysis by The Detail of suspension and expulsion figures obtained in response to a freedom of information request.

The school with the most individual pupils suspended over the year was Belfast Boys’ Model, followed by St Louise’s Comprehensive on the Falls Road and Breda Academy, a secondary school in south Belfast. The primary school with the highest number of suspensions was Ballyoran primary in Portadown. All of these schools have high concentrations of poverty as measured by the Free School Meals index. At Boys Model 58 per cent of the pupils are entitled to free school meals; St Louise’s 60 per cent; Breda Academy 50 per cent and at Ballyoran 58 per cent.

There are now 24 secondary schools in Northern Ireland with 50 per cent or more of their pupils on the free school meals register, almost 20 per cent of all our secondary schools  and it is these concentrations of poverty that do untold damage. These concentrations of poverty in our schools are growing and will only succeed in marginalising more and more of our young people.

According to the OECD schools in the UK are among the most socially segregated in western Europe and here in Northern Ireland social segregation is made worse by so called academic selection at 11.  Middle-class children go to one type of school and disadvantaged children go to another. Research shows that high-poverty schools consistently fail to provide students an equal opportunity for an adequate education. While it is possible to make schools with high concentrations of poverty work and we’re very good at doing this in Northern Ireland, these schools are the exception to the rule. A study by Professor Douglas Harris of Tulane University, found that middle-class schools are 22 times more likely to be consistently high performing as high poverty schools.

As Mark Langhammer of the Association of Teachers and Lecturers has pointed out if we are really to make a difference, if standards really are to rise for all we need schools which are socially mixed, in which peer group pressure can be used effectively to open minds, change outlooks and raise aspirations. Schools which do not have this mix always struggle.

Downpatrick, Co Down


GAA needs to take strong measures to return to its roots

In response to the story in The Irish News (May 22) regarding the banning of the Palestinian flag from Ulster GAA grounds, might I point out that there has always been a US Confederate flag flown by supporters of Cork GAA on a regular basis.

If, as was stated in the article, there is a prohibition on any flags other than the GAA and national flags, how does this equate with the aforementioned flag which has never been removed? There have been other flags also flown at games without comment.

Additionally, there is a sign which can be seen at Croke Park that states, ‘John 3:16’. This is a Christian message and is hardly in keeping with GAA aims to be more inclusive, presumably also to those who are not of that faith, or any. It would appear that the GAA in general is behaving in a self-righteous manner with respect to the flag of Palestine. 

It could be argued that the decline in standards of conduct within the GAA hierarchy, and within the organisation overall, began with the removal of Rule 21, in defiance of the wishes of the vast majority of Gaels in the Occupied Six Counties.

It was from this point on that Free Stateism reared its ugly head within that noble society to eventually usurp control. The result has been the farcical nature of Gaelic football seen today, a direct result of such a dog-eat-dog mindset.
Apart from the occasional cracking game served up by Dublin and Mayo, the rest is dire and a sure and early sign of a moribund organisation that will further weaken and fall apart unless strong measures are taken to return to the GAA’s roots.

Newry, Co Down


Equality should be a top priority

In one of my first events in my year as lord mayor, I proudly led thousands of people through the streets of Belfast in the campaign for equal marriage. It was fitting – and equally frustrating – the last event I participated in as lord mayor last weekend was helping lead another march for marriage equality.

Throughout this year I’ve strived to represent everyone in Belfast, to showcase our city as a truly global society. But Saturday’s march was also sad because it showed the slow pace of change for people in our LGBT community, people who are still fighting for the basic rights others enjoy.

It’s about more than rights – it is literally a matter of life and death in some cases. Statistics show almost one recorded homophobic incident a day in Northern Ireland, with 48 per cent of LGBT students experiencing bullying because of their sexual orientation. People are dying because of how they are treated and granting basic equality rights is a starting point in how we begin to address this.

That is why in my year in office I put equality at the heart of my agenda. I was proud to leave office standing with members of the LGBT community to show my full support for them and to demand change.

If we each do what we can to create an open, welcoming and inclusive Belfast, I believe this time next year there will be no need for another marriage equality march.

Alliance, Belfast


GFA not a valid agreement

Newton Emerson (May 31) stated: “If there is a lesson to be drawn from the Republic’s referendum, it is the democratic value of people knowing exactly what they are voting for.”

The first thing to notice is that the people in the Republic are Irish people who are free from British rule. Unlike their fellow Irish in Northern Ireland who are still under British sovereignty.

As Newton pointed out: “Corbyn repeatedly debunked republican claims that the British-Irish Intergovernmental Conference can make devolved decisions, let alone function as a form of joint authority.”

In short, standalone British sovereignty rules.

According to Newton: “Contrary to popular belief the Good Friday Agreement is not a work of ‘constructive ambiguity’ ... The agreement is a precisely worded law and treaty”.

Aside from “the democratic value of people knowing exactly what they are voting for”, people must be free people. British sovereignty over Irish people means they are not free people. Which means the GFA is not a genuine or valid agreement.

Belfast BT15

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