Letters to the Editor

Society must stop using the word ‘punishment' to describe crimes

I was very disturbed to read in the media statement of the Police Ombudsman into the  case of four  young men who in 1979 made false confessions to the police the following terminology: “…a number of punishment shootings… implicated them in a punishment shooting…”.

To describe instances of the many  thousands of shootings carried out by republican and loyalist paramilitaries – usually of young adults and often children – as “punishment” is shameful.

It is to our disgrace as a society that after more than 50 years of these invariably premeditated attacks, it is common currency to use the word ‘punishment’, which has the immediate effect of sanitising the violence, and shifting the blame from perpetrator to the victim. It is hardly surprising that shootings and beatings continue to this day, bringing trauma, fear and physical and psychological misery to many of our most disadvantaged areas.

Nowhere else in the world are children who have been abused dismissed by being told they have been ‘punished’.

I recall talking to a mother of an 18-year-old patient whom I saw after he was shot in the legs by the IRA. She had been warned this would happen. She said the RUC Inspector told her he knew who had done it (she also knew). When asked what he would do about it he wryly said: “You know no one ever gets charged with these offences. And if they were, you would be out of this house the same night.”

Emeritus QUB Professor Liam Kennedy, who wrote the report They Shoot Children, Don’t They, has been one of the few academics to tackle this huge breach of human rights.

Fr Martin Magill and the journalist Leona O’Neill have also been courageously forthright. Sadly they would appear to be rather in the minority.

Orwell noted: “If thought can corrupt language, language can also corrupt thought.”

If an organisation such as the Police Ombudsman for Northern Ireland, which is expected to be a final arbiter of fair play, casually dismisses what in any other democracy  would be seen as one of the most serious crimes as mere ‘punishment’, it’s no wonder we remain a long way from normality. Words matter, they really do. They set the terms and the tone of any debate. As a society we must stop using the word ‘punishment’ to describe crimes.

Belfast BT9


Future of Ireland is in the hands of its citizens

I must take issue with Suneil Sharma’s letter – ‘Sorry for bursting Brian Feeney’s unification bubble’ (June 20). He is accusing Brian Feeney of living in a bubble and engaging in confirmation bias vís-a-vís his arguments for Irish unity.

Mr Sharma’s central arguments are that the Irish social, health and other standards are not as good as those in the UK, and he generally reduces the debate on unity to an overly simplistic thesis that whoever can pay the most for Northern Ireland will win.

He completely ignores a number of important issues. Without a doubt Ireland has it problems. However, it is a wealthy first-world country with good governance, well developed services and supports for its citizens. No person from northern Ireland would be worse off in a united Ireland, there would be pluses and minuses of course – however, I expect they might not have to visit food banks as often.

The education system is methodically secularising in the south it has a long way to go but progress is being made, not so in the north I believe.

In addition the economic situation in Ireland has improved substantially over the last 40 years and continues to do so. The UK is on an opposite trajectory, partially because of Brexit – this will become more evident with the passage of time.

But most importantly the future of Ireland is in the hands of its citizens. At present the future of Northern Ireland is in the hands of English nationalists. We should have a well-informed debate about the social and political future of the Island, the past and the present will not be useful yardsticks to measure the future benefits of unity.

When the time comes to vote I will urge my brothers and sisters in Northern Ireland to chose the country with a future not the country living in the past.

Claddagh, Co Galway


Ethnic situation

A distinction has to be drawn between the Planter and the Settler and it is by virtue of the Settler Community that there exists in Northern Ireland an ethnic situation. The Planters were the undertakers and servitors – if one likes, the original gentry coming in to manage the north for the English crown - living in their stately homes set in large parks and sending their offspring to be educated in the public schools in England. In 400 years, they’ve never married into the Settler community.

Now, the Settler community is something else. These did not come in, they were brought in from a ‘sceptred isle’ that was having, at the time, something of a burgeoning population crisis. They are British, but unlike the folks who inhabit Britain, are somewhat peasant, not having experienced the land clearances of the 18th and early 19th centuries. They are Irish but are differently conditioned, differently orientated to the rest of the population in Ireland.

Perhaps it might be well if all were to consider that in any reckoning and come to terms with it.

Newtownbutler, Co Fermanagh


Far too many NHS patients

It is worrying that one dare not speak of the real cause of the NHS crisis, nor the fourth estate publish anything in relation to this.

Although many nurses and doctors have apparently transferred to some form of agency work, it is not that we have too few medical staff, or ‘an elderly care time bomb’.

What we have is far too many patients. It is irresponsible  of government to bring into any country, huge numbers of dependant, economic immigrants, without having  first ensured that the various infrastructures are in place to receive them.

Greyabbey, Co Down

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Letters to the Editor