Letters to the Editor

SF abstentionist policy on abortion bill is perplexing

DUP MLA Paul Givan with Anne Brolly from anti-abortion party Aontú outside Stormont in 2019. Mr Givan's private member's bill has attracted support from across the political divide 

I WAS delighted at the outcome of Paul Givan’s private member’s bill in Stormont recently but some of the comments or explanations since then have been perplexing to put it mildly.

The Sinn Féin decision to abstain in the vote was perplexing – perhaps it did not want to be on the losing side or perhaps it was influenced by the thousands of pro-life petitions received by its MLAs. Even more perplexing was the party’s explanation for abstaining, which referenced the Department of Health’s failure to fully implement the British government’s imposition of abortion in the north of Ireland. This was a very odd statement for a so-called republican politician to make and I am sure many republican voters will find it hard to get their heads around it.

There is another aspect to this explanation as follows: Sinn Féin fully supported the implementation of abortion legislation in the Republic of Ireland, which was less radical than what the British imposed in the north. However, they also want the full radical version of the British legislation implemented in the north.

You might think that as a republican party Sinn Féin would want the same or similar legislation in all parts of the island of Ireland. The party’s support for different legislation in the two parts of Ireland strongly suggests a ‘partitionist’ approach to the abortion of unborn Irish babies in both parts of the island.

Maybe it is just coincidence but the British overlord here in the north has announced his intention to compel the Department of Health to fully commission abortion services as laid out in the British legislation. He will know at the voting figures in the assembly a few days ago make it clear that there is not political support here for the so-called services he wants implemented.

I sincerely hope that the unionist MLAs stand their ground and do not allow their Westminster masters to impose these so called services on the people of the north. While I am not writing on behalf of Aontú I am a member of this party, which I believe offers the best hope of championing the rights of our unborn children. We will work closely with our unionist and Protestant friends to protect the lives of our unborn children.

Eamon Dallett
Dungiven, Co Derry



Catch-up school plans will do more harm than good to children

CHILDREN are starting back to school and hopefully to a settled routine and a normality that they haven’t known in more than a year.
Schools and teachers have stepped up to the mark and worked valiantly throughout the pandemic but online learning, however well designed, is no substitute for classrooms and face to face teaching. We know that most children will have fallen behind with their learning and that the achievement gap between the advantaged and their less advantaged peers will have widened.

The results from a set of standardised tests taken by a quarter of a million primary schoolchildren in England (October 2020) have revealed just how bad things are. There was an average decline in performance of between 5 per cent and 15 per cent on previous years. The biggest drop was in maths scores and overall seven-year-olds were most impacted. Disadvantaged students, who were eligible for free school meals, suffered the biggest drop in attainment. 

Dr Timmo Hannay who analysed the results said: “Purely statistically speaking it’s a massive drop. We could have expected something like this. But it’s absolutely shocking in terms of size.”

So how do we deal with this tsunami of educational and emotional damage? 

There may be a natural tendency to overreact and jump in, head first with multiple catch-up programmes, extended school days and shorter school holidays but this approach I feel could do more harm than good.

Amanda Spielman, head of Ofsted in England, has given some very sound advice when speaking this week to the National Conference of the Association of Schools and College Leaders. 

She explained that even with the best will in the world, schools haven’t been able to avert an ‘epidemic’ of demotivated children. Head teachers have told how even their hardest working pupils had lost enthusiasm as time went on. 

She cast doubt on extending schooling into the weekends or summer holidays to allow pupils to catch up on lost learning, saying that such extensions risked making matters worse. She said: “Parents know that after a year of heavy restrictions children need time with their grandparents, with their friends, to get out of the house and enjoy themselves again. These are the things that will help them learn well in school.”

Jim Curran



Stormont has failed women over access to vital services 

THE secretary of state is set to bring forward new regulations to Westminster over the next week which will allow him to direct the NI Executive to make abortion services available to women in Northern Ireland. This comes on the back of the Assembly voting to restrict abortion services when they have already failed to implement services already commissioned.

Women have already been forced to travel to access abortion services in the middle of a pandemic due to the fact these services have not been commissioned by the minister for health. We welcome the proposed action by the secretary of state to ensure that these services are provided for women and girls when needed.

Of course, the proposed action has met with resistance from the DUP whose members are crying that health is a devolved issue, once again happy to use devolution when it suits their ends. 

The fact is they have failed to provide services for women because of their own agenda, totally disregarding the trauma and stress this has caused many women in the region.

The NI Executive has no right to refuse women access to these services. It has a public obligation to ensure that commissioned services are accessible. 

Robin Swann, as minster for health, must comply to the rules and not be brow beaten by the DUP. Sinn Féin is in no position to take the moral high ground on this issue either having abstained from the vote to once again restrict women’s access to abortion services. It would appear that Sinn Féin members continue to portray themselves as all things to all people showing different faces both sides of the border yet calling for a united Ireland.


Gemma Weir
Workers’ Party
North Belfast

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