Extended Covid-19 school closures tantamount to child abuse says DUP's Paul Givan
A DUP MLA has branded longer school closures advocated by some ministers in the Executive as "child abuse".
Paul Givan highlighted the negative impact on young people's educational prospects as he claimed several ministers were using children in the "most appalling way".
Schools closed on Monday for two weeks as part of the Executive's four week intensification of coronavirus restrictions.
The move has seen the Halloween mid-term holiday extended by an extra week.
It is understood Sinn Féin was in favour of closing schools for between four to six weeks, with the two-week closure ultimately agreed by the Executive representing a compromise struck with the DUP.
Mr Givan told the assembly the impact of the extended school closure during the first lockdown had been "devastating" for some children.
"That's why I am so frustrated that some members of the Executive wanted to shut our schools down for six weeks and then four weeks," he said.
"I tell you, I'm looking at the impact this is having on children and it's child abuse what has taken place, and they are using children in the most appalling way."
Mr Givan questioned the rationale for closing when Stormont's medical and scientific advisers had flagged concerns not around schools themselves, but with the associated traffic and human interaction outside the gates.
The Lagan Valley representative also defended his party and constituency colleague Edwin Poots amid controversy over his claim that Covid-19 is more rife in nationalist areas than unionist ones.
He said the agriculture minister's remarks were made in a "sensible manner".
Mr Givan claimed Sinn Féin members were "blinded" to the reality and insisted Mr Poots had not brought the issue of religion into the debate.
"It's an inability to recognise that in areas the rate has been higher, and that's what my colleague outlined, the rate has been higher in those areas where the party opposite (Sinn Féin) has greater political support than other areas.
"No mention (made by Mr Poots) anywhere of religion."
Sinn Féin's Caoimhe Archibald criticised Mr Givan's contribution during an assembly budget debate.
"I think there is no place for finger pointing at sections of our communities," she said.
"So let's not muddy the waters with (a) mixed message and scapegoating people."