Letters to the Editor

Columnist's statement about Churches' role in lockdown wholly inaccurate

Plans to use church buildings as classrooms during the lockdown were mooted as part of efforts to allow schools to reopen safely but never came to fruition

IT was with considerable disappointment that we read the opinion piece by Newton Emerson in The Irish News (April 15 2021). In his article Mr Emerson makes the unfounded and wholly inaccurate statement that the Churches ignored Stormont’s plea to make church buildings available as classrooms as part of the effort to reopen schools safely.
While the guidance did make reference to the possibility of exploring innovative solutions involving the use of other premises no formal requests were made to the Churches or other public and private bodies.
Critically, to the best of our knowledge, no such requests were received or rejected by any Church authorities or for that matter by any other bodies. Indeed, a more accurate assessment should have reflected that many schools worked in partnership with local Churches and other providers to explore the potential to share property.

While there was no expectation that buildings would be made available, many schools, Church bodies and other providers did try to develop a range of innovative local solutions. However, these failed to materialise due to a myriad of other reasons, none of which were introduced by Churches or other bodies. In fact, most such vacant premises were not immediately conducive to a child’s learning experience and in many cases would have required significant capital investment to bring them to anywhere near ready for use. Many buildings presented significant health and safety challenges ranging from their physical construction and locations through to the inability of schools to adequately staff them and supervise children safely. There were issues around furnishing, equipment, IT infrastructure, toileting, play facilities and school meals provision that could not be easily resolved. Finally, there were significant challenges around the arrangements for public and employers’ liability insurance that required detailed consideration in every case.
None of these factors were within the control of the Churches or other bodies.  

Mr Emerson could have chosen to properly inform himself on both the initial guidance and its eventual outworking before presenting a wholly inaccurate portrayal of the Churches’ role in the matter. Had he done so he would have quickly discovered that that Churches were indeed more than willing to help schools and have done so throughout the pandemic. 

Gerry Campbell
Chief Executive
Council for Catholic Maintained Schools



Measures to enforce social distancing must take account of blind and partially sighted people

WITH lockdown restrictions set to ease soon, there is an understandable buzz of excitement in the air as people look forward to getting outside to see loved ones and enjoy the warmer weather.

But we are hearing from many blind and partially sighted people who are anxious about public spaces becoming busier and have lost confidence in going outside after a year of Covid restrictions.

Measures to enforce social distancing often rely on the ability to see things such as signs, queuing systems, or barriers.

When you can’t see these changes, they can create new obstacles to navigate and further erode confidence.

We’re asking the public to help us safely social distance as the restrictions change.

By being aware of the challenges we might face, and simply asking if assistance is needed, you can help us keep our independence and stay safe.

We’re also calling for local authorities and businesses to take action, so that measures designed to protect us are inclusive to everyone, not just to those who can see them.

RNIB’s website and helpline has more info on this (rnib.org.uk 0303 123 9999).

Our ‘new normal’ should be as open and inclusive as possible, to help everyone get back outside – not make it more difficult.

Dr Jacqueline Witherow
Director, RNIB Northern Ireland




Better uses for millions spent on social investment

NEWS this week that the Stormont Executive has approved another £10 million in funding for the ‘Communities in Transition’ initiative will certainly be music to the ears of those community organisations in loyalist and republican areas with close links or associations to paramilitary organisations.

Tens of millions of pounds have been spent on ‘Communities in Transition’, Social Investment Fund and a whole range of other programmes to tackle disadvantage and the influence of paramilitaries. The funding is going to the same community organisations in deprived loyalist and republican areas, yet as the events of the past weeks have shown, the two communities in these deprived areas are as polarised as ever.

Why after 25 years since the signing of the Good Friday Agreement are we still funding communities to transition?
The money would be better spent on the health service.

  S Fox

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