Education and libraries support critical thinking – let’s invest

More people in Northern Ireland are now using public libraries than they were five years ago. Forty three per cent of people in Northern Ireland now identify themselves as library users –  up from 40 per cent in 2011. So, why then, were cuts recently announced to library services? We need to invest for the needs of our population – as library use is on an upward curve.

Anita Robinson’s article ‘Library cuts close book on a valuable resource’ (April 25) was a passionate defence of the role of libraries in our society. 

Anita argued that the libraries of today offer much more than they used to. Indeed, it could be reasonably stated that they are learning centres for the community.

I, like many others, am fortunate to be able to freely access our library in Cookstown and any reduction in opening hours would be to the severe detriment of the community.  

While books are the building blocks of libraries, the Internet has revolutionised their relevance. Not every citizen has the luxury of having home access to the World Wide Web and the ability to glean information for their education/research on various topics and issues such as the formation of tornadoes to the anatomy of exercise.

The concept of the ‘Hybrid library’ is now commonplace where books and e-resources co-exist and to their credit Libraries NI have also made available a diverse range of e-magazines for free to library users to access on their tablet devices.  But it is the simple pleasure of recreational reading that many library users – from toddlers to pensioners – enjoy most from their library visits.

My three-year old son looks forward to his frequent trips to the library and browsing through a colourful selection of books. Likewise, there are so many facilities that are available for adults – from the latest novels to online resources to talks, exhibitions and information days.  

We should never take these facilities for granted. We now live in an era of ‘fake news’ where random information has greatly influenced important recent elections in the UK and the US and it is vitally important that our children and future generations are given the resources to develop their critical faculties to help make informed decisions – as we prepare for more uncertainty about political and economic issues that affect all of us.

To this end, The Irish News Young News Readers programme is a valuable educational initiative that I was delighted to involve our Year 8 pupils in St Patrick’s College, Dungannon with recently – and to create an awareness of the key issues in today’s world. Of course, the effective provision of education and libraries to the public requires investment from government – that is why we pay our taxes; but where is the leadership in our civic and political society to future-proof and plan for the educational well-being of future generations of our people? The Education Authority (EA) is currently seeking consultation on their strategic plan setting out their vision, mission, values and key strategic priorities for the next 10 years. The plan will be supported by a three-year corporate plan and annual business plans. These plans will enable the EA to ‘incorporate new priorities and respond to challenges as they arise’.

If you care about the role of libraries and education – and how it can benefit our society as regards critical thinking among our younger population, the EA wants to hear your views on the proposed direction, outcomes and associated actions to help achieve these outcomes:



St Patrick’s College Dungannon,

Co Tyrone

Need for a real conversation on Irish unification

The prominence that the EU has placed on our partitioned country in the opening salvo of the divorce from Britain was to be expected. The south is a loyal member of the European family while the English-led Brexiteers threaten the very existence of the European Union. The border is an obvious opportunity for Brussels to rub Westminster’s nose in what has to be a brutal financial penalty for leaving the only union that now matters. Brexit cheerleaders say that it is in the EU’s interests to make a mutually beneficial deal with London, pointing out that a failed deal would hurt its member states. This is likely true but better a comparatively small financial loss than encouraging Eurosceptic countries to follow the example of England and Wales. The southern economy is thriving and the EU would want to protect their member state from the worst ravages of Brexit. The best way to do this would be to aid unification of the island and the ratification of the mechanism to ease the reconnected north into the union is likely to be the start of such a process. Unity would also serve to highlight Westminster’s isolation from the continental neighbourhood by removing the only ‘land border’ with the EU. Nationalists, unionists and the centre ground here need to have a real conversation on what form unification will take. The deciding factor in a border poll is going to be where we will be better off financially as this perception is what will prompt the pragmatic neutrals into choosing sides. A faltering British economy fighting a rearguard action against a scorned Europe won’t be a good economic bet. Brexit, demographics and Brussels are all pointing the way toward a healed Ireland.


Belfast BT11

How pro-life is SDLP?

It is disturbing and disappointing that the SDLP have suspended three councillors who recently abstained from a Green Party motion alleging that women visiting abortion advice clinics are harassed by pro-life supporters.

How can the SDLP who claim to be a pro-life party justify this decision effectively denying these councillors freedom of conscience? The pro-life supporters who protest outside these advice clinics are there to remind people that there are two lives involved in every pregnancy and of the fact that the mother and her unborn child have an equal right to life. It looks as if the SDLP are trying to water down the strong pro-life position that the party traditionally held in order to look trendy in the hope that they will attract more votes.

In reality people actually have more respect for political parties that take a proper principled stance on issues like abortion rather than parties who yield to every fashion that looks trendy at the time. People are more likely to vote for parties who keep to their principles. The SDLP should return to its original principled pro-life position which affirms the sanctity of life and the equal right to life of the mother and unborn child.


Lisburn, Co Antrim

Israeli law guarantees equality for all

At the San Remo Conference in 1920 the world agreed to the creation of a reconstituted  Jewish state of Israel, 1,900 years after Romans conquered the land and renamed Judea/Israel (and the surrounding areas) ‘Palestine’.

At the same time 22 separate Arab states were formed. Now, is Mr Savage (April 26) suggesting all these Muslim Arab countries are illegal or only the one Jewish state?

Furthermore is he aware that the decisions agreed at San Remo constitute binding International Law that has never been replaced. Thus Israel is guaranteed under International law as a Jewish nation state yet Israeli Law guarantees equality for all, irrespective of race religion creed gender or sexual orientation – a fact not lost on the 22 surrounding Arab countries formed also out of San Remo none of whom offer any such guarantees to their populations. 

I know which country I’d prefer to live in and I think Mr Savage would too given the choice. 


Kilmarnock, Scotland

Warmest congrats

I listened with pride last Sunday evening as St Lawerence’s Primary School, Fintona sang on Radio Ulster’s School Choir of the Year.

They were crowned winners of the junior group in what was a massive achievement,  given that more than 60 other schools from across Northern Ireland also competed in the competition.

I want to offer my warmest  congratulations to all the pupils involved and, of course, to their teachers and parents. No doubt many hours of hard practice was put in over the past months and I was delighted to see all this hard work being rewarded. They did themselves, their school and their town proud.


Sinn Féin, Fermanagh and Omagh District Council