Is Stormont deal a great new start or pie-in-the-sky parchment?
A new bold document for Northern Ireland or a recipe for disaster? The price of failure this time could be a lot higher with the Brexit factor and the only reason why the parties have bothered to sort things out and the vital push of the two governments. Overall the document appears to be an agreement and a programme for government at the same time, complete with deadlines for various legislation and other actions. The document places a further obligation on the parties to come up with a more detailed programme for government. A tall order to say the least, given the deadlock over the last three years. This could bring them back to square one in no time with deep divisions on what legislation will be – that has been the problem all along. On the one hand it is an ambitious inspired document, but on the other it is widely optimistic with spurious dogmatic rhetoric which has appeared in other documents and not lived up to. Sections of the document come up with detailed specific proposals if adopted, while others are only broadly conceptual and vague. No Irish language act, but Irish language legislation, which a contradiction in terms and will be torturous.
Cultural, language and identity commissions abound in the document, all with lofty ideals in a far from ideal situation. The inclusion of translation services for Ulster-Scots and Irish is seen as a solution, but may become a dangerously divisive approach in the long-run. Will it smooth relations or make things worse? The document attempts to be a magazine to solve just about every problem there is in Northern Ireland, going so far as to annex previous agreements such as the Stormont House Agreement. It runs the risk of institutionalising and augmenting division by legislation if measures are abused and bad decisions are taken. It places a hands-on approach obligation to the two governments to stay involved, but only if certain conditions are met. On the plus side – the text does try to involve the public with a consultative approach to representation, in an attempt to move away from tribalism. It will be much more difficult to bring down the executive this time with a standing commission if there are resignations to ensure continuity. Something which could have been done long ago.
There are also attempts at safeguards such as ethical codes of conduct for ministers. The text directs the parties to deal with public services immediately if all of the above is not enough for them to sort out. There is a long way to go to get a very experimental agreement to work with many pitfalls. Is it a great new start or pie-in-the-sky parchment?
Shanbally, Co Cork
MLAs should put children and families at heart of future policy making
Now that our politicians are back behind their desks at Stormont we would like to emphasise to them the importance of putting local children and families at the heart of their future policy making and spending priorities.
The collapse of the assembly in 2017 had a serious impact on enabling key decision-making to protect and safeguard children and young people from harm.
The NI Executive’s return is potentially transformative and the commitment laid out in the New Decade, New Approach deal to reform health and social care, particularly mental health, as well as education and justice should go some way to achieving positive change for local children and families.
We ask that immediate attention be given to reforming children’s and young people’s access to mental health services and support.
In 2018/19, our Childline services two bases in Belfast and Foyle delivered more than 30,000 counselling sessions to children and young people under the age of 19, with mental health being one of the top areas of concern for them.
Realistic investment needs to be provided to deliver the Protect Life 2 Suicide Prevention Strategy with a clear focus on early intervention and support services for young people in distress.
We also know that up to one in five mothers experience perinatal mental health problems and so we want the restored government to get behind our Fight for a Fair Start Campaign and invest and transform specialist services to ensure parents get the support when they need it.
At a time when domestic and sexual abuse is at an all-time high in Northern Ireland it is crucial that we bring forward legislation to better protect children and families, and increased investment to make sure that specialist services are available to children who need support and help them rebuild their lives.
We hope that 2020 is the start of a decade where our political representatives work together to make a tangible difference to the lives and futures of Northern Ireland’s children and young people.
NSPCC, Northern Ireland
Talking helps you see differently
When you are blind or partially sighted, talking about the problems you are dealing with can be incredibly helpful.
Our ‘Need to Talk’ team supports adults and young people over the age of 11 who are blind or partially sighted. It transforms and saves lives.
We can offer support to help face the future with confidence.
Talking can help you move your life forward in the direction you want regarding your ambitions and goals for family, work and social life.
Our ‘Need to Talk’ counselling service is here to help to rebuild your confidence and self-esteem and give you the strength to retain your independence.
And we can direct you to get the social care you need.
We have living with sight loss courses to help you overcome barriers and challenges you might face.
We can offer you support and advice. Just ask us for help.
Need to Talk is a five-year (2017-2021) cross-border counselling and confidence building project, delivered through a partnership between RNIB in Northern Ireland and Scotland, and Fighting Blindness in the Republic of Ireland. The €1.8million project is funded by the European Union’s INTERREG VA Programme, managed by the Special EU Programmes Body (SEUPB).
Communications officer, RNIB, Belfast
Coping strategy for despair
The Catechism of the Catholic Church makes a profound and vital claim about the name of Our Lord, Jesus Christ, when it says: “To pray ‘Jesus’ is to invoke him and to call him within us. His name is the only one that contains the presence it signifies. Jesus is the Risen One and whoever invokes the name of Jesus is welcoming the Son of God who loved him and who gave himself up for him.”
To be clear, Jesus is present in his name not as a talisman but as a divine presence in communion with us who call on him.
In response therefore to Allison Morris’s moving article about suicide (January 9) and her recommendation of the practice of ‘mindfulness’ as a coping strategy for despair, might I suggest that prayer to Jesus, the author of life himself, would be more effective .