Letters to the Editor

Public years ahead of political class when it comes to building shared society

I was somewhat surprised to read a platform piece from Sinn Féin’s Michelle O’Neill – ‘Let’s help break the cycle of segregation in education’ (July 14) – in which she talked about ending our segregated education system.

The reason for that surprise was the week prior, during a debate on my Private Member’s Bill on integrated education, two Sinn Féin MLAs said while they were broadly supportive of integrated education, they voiced concerns relating to it.

Firstly, John O’Dowd criticised what he claimed was an eroding of “Irish culture” ethos in integrated schools, while Pat Sheehan stated: “Although I have said that we all instinctively support integrated education, I am not aware of any real evidence that integration will have longer-term benefits for society”, before using the example of the former Yugoslavia going to war as to why integrated education did not have an impact.

Many politicians who claim to want to educate children together have failed to enable the necessary changes needed since the 1998 agreement, particularly those who have been in positions of responsibility relating to education.

The assembly debate made difficult listening for anyone with a genuine interest in building a shared, inclusive society in Northern Ireland. It saw ‘us and them’ political divisions exposed as politicians used language depressingly familiar to those in the integrated sector and showed how difficult it is to move towards a single education system when the people who control the system are so vested in their own preferred type of school.

Integrated education will not fix a separated society but it provides an opportunity to build foundations of mutual recognition and respect, something backed up by the recent Life and Times Survey showed 69 per cent of parents would prefer their child went to a mixed religion school.

The Department of Education does not even include integrated education when planning to provide education in an area. If the system was fair, then it would have the same access to support and be planned for as maintained and controlled

schools are. The assembly debate confirms the public, and specifically our young people, are years ahead of the political class when it comes to building a shared society. Let’s see if the Integrated Education Bill is allowed to proceed to become law. If it doesn’t, those same young people may never be able to be educated together.

KELLIE ARMSTRONG MLA
Alliance, Strangford, Co Down

 

Think carefully before leaving your children home alone

At NSPCC NI we know it  it has been a challenging year, particularly for parents trying to juggle all the responsibilities that life has thrown at them during the pandemic. With all of the lockdowns, home-schooling and closures of childcare facilities, many parents have had to bridge the childcare gap by taking leave and furlough. Now that things are returning to the ‘new’ normal, we know that many parents may not have the leave options they usually would for the long school summer holidays in Northern Ireland.

Between work, appointments and other family commitments, many parents will face a decision of whether to leave their child home alone during the summer holidays at some point. And, as children get older, it’s common for them to want more freedom and learn to be independent – it is an important part of growing up, but there can be a lot to think about for parents when it comes to allowing their child to go out alone.

The NSPCC has new resources that aim to provide families with helpful advice to keep their children safe.

Our ‘Home or Out Alone’ campaign aims to help parents make the right decision about leaving their children at home safely or letting them leave the house unsupervised, a tricky decision for many to make that will differ from child to child. Our new guide is designed to reduce any worry by helping parents make the right decision for them and their child. There’s no legal age a child can be left home alone as every child matures differently, but it’s against the law to leave a child alone if it puts them at risk. A child who doesn’t feel comfortable shouldn’t be left alone.

The campaign also gives advice to parents and carers on issues surrounding safety, boundaries and building trust. Remember, every child will be different, so it’s important that you have the conversation with your own child and work together to keep them safe.

For advice and help deciding if your child can stay home or go out alone, visit www.nspcc.org.uk/safe-alone

The NSPCC’s helpline is available for advice and support on 0808 800 5000 or via help@nspcc.org.uk.

  BRONAGH MULDOON
NSPCC Northern Ireland

 

It would be better for Belfast City Council ‘to get rid of Better’

I could not agree more with Lynda Walker – ‘Better to get rid of Better’ (July 16). Belfast City Council should be held to account for handing leisure services to GLL and the ensuing problems since.

They are not providing a high level of services to all local people at all times - in Andersontown Leisure Centre you can no longer book a recreational swim between 10am and 6pm, and you are required to pay more for slides or family fun.

At £31.50 for a family of four for 50mins, I doubt they will ever get the capacity expected, as I don’t know to many families who could afford this.

Our local councillors, with the exception of People Before Profit’s Matt Collins, seem to have washed their hands of our leisure service. They seem to forget it was our rates that built them and our votes that put them in council.

KATHLEEN McKENNA
Belfast BT11

 

Perpetuating division

The leader of the  British Labour Party used his recent visit to Ireland to proclaim that he “believes in the Union” and will campaign for it. Or, to put it another way, he will work to perpetuate Partition. It is, I suppose, in some way appropriate that a British politician with no mandate from any section of the Irish people should, in this particular year, use such a visit to make such a declaration. I doubt however that Mr Starmer has the historical awareness to appreciate the irony of this.

PAUL LOUGHLIN
An Chúil Mhór, Doire

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