Letters to the Editor

Education in sick counties not a cause for smug satisfaction

The outburst from Ian Paisley at an expert presentation about NI Schools was very revealing. It is a old political tactic to shoot the messenger when faced with unpleasant truths. Education in the sick counties sells us all short, and is most definitely not a cause for smug satisfaction. Sure, some schools produce impressive results from “exam factories” but for the rest, results on closer scrutiny, are very poor. Our two selection systems at 11 means we actively discriminate and damage the life opportunities of our young, typically along social class grounds. Education is the one area that where there is a cross-community consensus, the middle class have a nice deal, courtesy of subsidised education, at the expense of diverting resources from those that need them most. Consider the capital funding, ie taxpayers’ money goes into the grammar sector, inevitably better resources, (buildings, computers etc), available in those schools.  

In July 2016 Theresa May had a few brilliant wheezes, red lines for Brexit and bringing back the 11-plus and grammar schools for England. Under a deluge of expert opinion, evidence-based research and the absence of any credible education authority her big idea was quietly dropped.

In 2005/6 Peter Hain hit on the idea to revive the executive and Good Friday Agreement (GFA) by focussing on the 11-plus and wallets with water charges. That did it, the middle classes woke up, took notice and suddenly the heat was on. So, we got St Andrews when the DUP accepted GFA – sort of. We had secured peace in our time, underpinned by an commitment to screw the futures of our young and unborn – brilliant. Politically the DUP were embraced by  unionist middle class voters, and in so doing sold out their own working class, who did not notice. Report after report since then records the dismal and depressing results for working-class Protestant boys.  

As to Sinn Féin they had a policy, one that was in the interests of our entire society. It was right and principled but sadly vested interests blocked them, not helped of course by a less than inspired minister. A different politician on taking office in 2007, might have challenged the no doubt ex-grammar school civil servants to explain why they had done nothing over the seven years since Martin McGuinness had announced the policy change. By 2016, after nine years with the portfolio, having failed Sinn Féin decided to fold their cards.

Sometimes it is hard to tell the difference between the DUP and Sinn Féin. Certainly in the 12 years since the executive resumed under the DUP/Sinn Féin duopoly two generations of children have been sold down the river. 

Belfast BT9


Stormont stalemate causing domestic abuse victims further pain

Domestic violence has been high on the local news agenda in recent days and weeks, and it is yet another example of where the failure of our two big parties to take the big responsibility that comes with the big mandate is causing further pain to those who are already suffering.

The most obvious issue is that we have no statutory definition of the very term ‘domestic abuse’. This refers to much more than violence in a domestic setting; there is already legislation drafted which focuses on coercive control as the basis of domestic abuse, but of course that cannot be passed without a functioning assembly.

England and Wales will now proceed to introduce legislation which provides a definition, and which goes on to provide statutory guidance for the disclosure of domestic violence (and makes it a statutory aggravating factor for other offences), the establishment of protection orders and notices, amendments to how domestic abuse is managed in court proceedings and other changes to protect victims (such as to tenancy agreements). None of this can proceed in Northern Ireland without ministers in place.

Northern Ireland has also fallen well behind on Domestic Homicide Reviews, which were introduced in England and Wales in 2011 and have been consulted on by the Department of Justice here, but are again delayed due to the lack of an executive. We are also seeing legislation on other related matters, from stalking to adoption, delayed indefinitely, with victims of intimidation, emotional abuse and other sorts of trauma being further punished through no fault of their own by political gridlock.

Still we hear that the failure to set up our institutions of government is to do with rights. I am sympathetic to the cause but not to the tactic of collapsing functioning government. Victims of coercive control, domestic violence, intimidation and harassment also have rights.
These rights are being specifically denied by those refusing to set up an executive.

With domestic abuse high on the news agenda, it is time those who talk about rights just consider whose rights they are denying. We need legislation and policy change, and we need it now. The victims deserve far better than the endless shirking of responsibility by those given a mandate to govern.

Alliance, Belfast South


Our Lord’s conception can be termed ‘immaculate’

Fr Patrick McCafferty (February 21) says the Lord’s conception was not immaculate. The word immaculate according to the Oxford dictionary means ‘Pure, faultless, infallible, sinless…’ It is precisely because He is the Son of God that His conception can be termed ‘immaculate’.Fr Patrick tries to attribute the term immaculate to the conception of Mary instead, there is no mention of this in the scriptures.                                                                             This is one of many examples where the Catholic religion adds man’s tradition to the Word of God. The scriptures warn against this in the first and last books of the bible, Deuteronomy 4:2 “Ye shall not add unto the Word … neither shall ye diminish ought ..”. Revelation 22:18 “If any man  shall add unto these things, God shall add unto Him the plagues … V19 if any man shall take away from the words... God shall take away his name out of the book of life”.                                                           
What Fr Patrick suggests can offer no certainty of salvation.

Cushendall, Co Antrim


St Patrick would turn in his grave

Every year St Patrick’s Day is celebrated with much festivity and increasingly outlandish displays on March 17. However, we also get reports of police concerns over criminal and antisocial behaviour through mindless binge drinking during the festivities. I wonder what St Patrick would make of it all? 

This year St Patrick’s Day falls on a Sunday but it is unlikely that Sunday observance will make much difference to those determined to party.
Patrick’s beliefs and focus are largely ignored each year and even the history books do not always include forgotten details about him, such as the fact that he, as a pre-Roman Celtic Christian and all those who came after him who spread Irish Christianity to Britain and Europe, took the Fourth Commandment literally by resting on the Sabbath (Saturday), as opposed to the later imposition of Sunday.  
He probably wouldn’t believe the evolution in Church practice since his time, not to mention all the rowdy festivities in his name. He was neither Catholic or Protestant. I’d say St Patrick would turn in his grave at what his name has come to represent today.

Bangor, Co Down

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