Letters to the Editor

Damaging to suggest lives of those with disabilities have no value

AS a father, a foster parent, and a former firefighter I passionately believe that every life is valuable. It is this that inspired me to become chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Disability and motivates my support for the Severe Fetal Impairment (Abortion) Bill.

The way that we treat people and allow them to be treated reveals a lot about how we value them. Along with the birth of our own children, one of the greatest privileges that my wife and I have had has been fostering young children. I will never forget the first wee boy we fostered. From the moment he arrived on our doorstep it was clear he had suffered heart-breaking neglect. He was nearly three, still in nappies, wasn’t speaking and had behavioural issues. But just two weeks after being placed with our family he was toilet trained, starting to talk and his behavioural problems had stopped. There was so much potential in him, so much opportunity to develop and grow, to enjoy life to its fullest. 

Making a child feel safe and cared for, showing them they are valued, is transformative and allows them to thrive. The existing abortion law in Northern Ireland does the exact opposite for children with disabilities. The new regulations that were imposed on Northern Ireland by the British government last year allow Down’s syndrome, cleft lip or club foot pregnancies to be aborted to term. The reality of adopting this position has been seen in Britain where 90 per cent of babies diagnosed with Down’s syndrome in the womb are aborted.

Let’s be clear, those with a disability contribute as much to society as anyone else and lead lives that are full and meaningful. 

But can we do more? 

Absolutely. Disability rights activists have fought hard to be recognised and valued – to have the same opportunities and dignity as everyone else. 

How can we stand by and uphold a practice that completely undermines that? 

From close experience with family and friends, I have travelled a path where the baby scan has delivered news that was not expected and indeed is hard for prospective parents to deal with; all is not well, and serious issues affect the unborn baby. 

These are perhaps the most difficult times in the lives of expectant parents and their families. The options and decisions can never be underestimated and as a man I can only imagine what a woman in these circumstances must be going through.

I care deeply about each and every life, whether mother or baby, whether they have a disability or not, whatever their background, religion or race. We must be committed to ensuring every mother feels supported and cared for and every child feels safe, loved and valued. To suggest those with disabilities are not equally valued is damaging and wrong.

Robbie Butler
Lagan Valley



Obligation to challenge government’s treatment of NHS workers

THE morale among the staff at the hospital where I minister has never been lower.

It is true also for the many close family members and friends that I have who are working for the NHS in Belfast and here in England.

How could it be anything else given the paltry offer of a one per cent pay increase by the government after a year where our lives have depended on the professionalism and care offered by the NHS?

Those of us who have the privilege to work alongside these caregivers stand in solidarity with them as they lobby for better deal from the government.

The threat of strike action should be a grave concern to all, particularly at a time when NHS staff continue to be on the frontline as the ongoing battle to contain the pandemic reaches a crucial stage.

Most people appreciate the exceptional self-sacrifice and courage of NHS staff as they attended to the sick and the dying at the height of the pandemic. It shouldn’t be forgotten that many of them died after getting the disease from their patients.

With this in mind, how can the government offer such a poor pay rise to those who have worked tirelessly to keep us safe and to keep the country functioning?

All the political parties in the Assembly should make strong representations to the Westminster parliament regarding this issue.

The social teaching of the Church obliges me to challenge the government to give a proper increase to the wages of NHS staff, and particularly to nurses, ancillary and cleaning staff who are on very low wages and struggling to survive.

Fr Joseph McCullough 
Chaplain, Royal Marsden Hospital
Fulham Rd
London SW6


Young people should not idolise get rich quick celebs

I HAVE listened to a range of radio stations based both in Belfast and Dublin and am unable to escape constant and repeated talk about ‘the interview’ with Meghan and Harry. Listeners are being urged by presenters to feel sorry for these multi-millionaires for a range of reasons.
I’m particularly surprised, but then again not really, by southern stations who would not feel out of place broadcasting in Britain. Their ongoing obsession with the royals and other shows like Love Island etc reflects Irish society today where our children grow up idolising get rich-quick millionaires and so-called celebrities.
The next generation now, in turn, thinks the world owes them and they should be rich now without building foundations and working for what comes their way in life. I’m not that old really but remember looking up to
hard-working people and family members as well as ‘famous’ people with talent but who also worked hard. Real people.
Now children look up to whomever the media and the apps on their phone tell them to, usually an image rather than the true person themselves. 

Barry Fegan



Bridge-building stuff of fantasy 

I PROPOSE that the bridge be built using long stands and sky hooks with the sections put together using glass nails driven in with rubber hammers and towed in to place by steam-powered airships led by the Ballyslatnaguttery flute band.              
Yours till Finn McCool comes back to finish the Giant’s Causeway.        
                                                                                                                                                                                                                              John McNamee
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                       Belfast 15

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