Letters to the Editor

Northern Ireland: which way to turn?


As someone who grew up in England, invited by relatives to spend time in Northern Ireland and who has tried hard to learn something meaningful about Irish history, I would like to share some perspectives on the political impasse in Northern Ireland.

The particular trigger for writing was a recent discussion which I had next to Carrickfergus Castle with some American visitors. The castle, having been built in Anglo-Norman times, is for the passerby a constant reminder of the complexity of Ireland’s history. 

Carrickfergus itself is also a reminder of the importance of the island of Ireland’s relationship with the US. Landmarks in the town include the Andrew Jackson Cottage, the ancestral home of the seventh president of the United States.  

The visitors who were studying a statue of King William III, Prince of Orange, asked me, “Should we go left or right?”, a question which momentarily reminded me of the current political impasse in Northern Ireland and the preoccupation with Brexit related issues. 

The 2016 EU referendum should be a lesson to all those who support a referendum on Irish unity that unless the question and possible consequences are properly thought through then a binary yes or no answer is likely to lead to more, not less division.  

Unionists will remind us that King William III was quite clear as to which direction he wanted to go after landing at Carrickfergus. Nationalists will say that he should not have been there in the first place; and what should now be said of the role of the Normans who built the castle in the first place?

Lessons I attended at Queen’s University Belfast on Irish history have been a constant reminder against making generalisations, often an encouragement to look at those aspects of history which may be a surprise for some.  

For example, we would be reminded that it was Presbyterian radicals who were the driving force behind the 1798 United Irish Rebellion and that arguably they could be described as the first Irish ‘republicans’.

There are fundamental divisions within unionism with many unionists looking to Westminster to resolve these various issues but history surely tells us that this is overly optimistic. Perhaps part of the answer as to where to turn may lie in the closer involvement of US.

US president Andrew Jackson came to be regarded by many Americans as one of their great presidents – regarded by many as a hero of the common man.
Perhaps some of his wisdom and directness can be reimported into the ongoing debate about the future of this island. 

Let us hope that the US president is able to visit the island of Ireland this year and that this is a catalyst for early re-engagement of all the various parties. 

Newtownabbey, Co Antrim


Banish gender inequality

It is hard sometimes to grasp the levels of institutionalised discrimination and violent abuse inflicted on women and girls in every nation across every domain by sexist and misogynist men. This is without doubt the greatest crime of our time that 50 per cent of humanity is not treated equally in some societies and do not have the freedom to choose the lifestyle that they would wish.

While some countries have greatly reduced gender inequality none have freed themselves completely of this negative, masculine, domineering and degrading culture.

The plight of women and girls who have to endure the brutal dictates of the Taliban regime in Afghanistan highlight some of the extremes of gender abuse there. They use religion as an excuse to deny equal rights to education, freedom of movement, employment and the dignity to live free from the domination of men.

The religions of the world have a duty to end any outdated patriarchal practices by providing equal opportunities for women so they can fully participate in religious roles once only defined for men. I believe the Church of Rome will remain incomplete until it allows women the same rights as men to serve God as priest, bishop or even, one day, as pope.

I encourage the women and men of Ireland to unite and make our country the first among nations to banish gender inequality and abusive behaviour from our shores by voting for political parties who promote equal representation and who will form a government if elected based on making an equality culture a reality in our homes, schools and places of work and enshrine these ideals into our laws.

The message to the abusers of women and girls must be that they will be severely punished for their repugnant crimes (zero tolerance) and we should endeavour to continually guard society from any form of misogynistic culture.

Dunmurry, Co Antrim


Assessment of pope’s legacy too negative

Tom Collins’s assessment (January 13) of the legacy of Pope Benedict XVI is altogether too negative.  Moreover, his setting one pope against the other ignores the fact they could also be seen as complementing each other.  I was a firm admirer and supporter of Pope Benedict.  I am also a firm admirer and supporter of Pope Francis.  While Benedict, as a teacher, emphasised the importance of the teaching of the Church, literally the teaching of Christ, Francis, as a Pastor, urges all of us to observe that teaching as best we can in our daily lives. There is no contradiction between the two roles and they are both integral to the office of a successor of St Peter. 

Blackrock, Co Dublin


Abortion is not healthcare 

In correspondence with Stephen Farry (Alliance) regarding his defence of ‘buffer zones’ and his voting record on approving every measure designed to impose liberal abortion legislation on Northern Ireland, Mr Farry states: “The law has been modernised in line with human rights standards and the matter is now settled.”

This may be wishful thinking for Mr Farry, because the matter is most assuredly far from ‘settled’. 

Human biology is firm and unchangeable in stating that human life begins at conception. There is no other point at which ‘life’ is infused, neither earlier nor later... all genetic material is present in that moment and the only difference between that little speck of life and everyone reading this letter, is time.

The baby is alive, he already exists, he has the absolute right to come into the world, he has the right to life, otherwise all other human rights are meaningless.

Mr Farry, and all abortion advocates and providers, refer to abortion as healthcare, but it is not. Healthcare is the improvement of health via the prevention, diagnosis, treatment, or cure of disease, illness or injury. In pregnancy there are now two patients and we all know which one will be denied every aspect of healthcare.

Bangor, Co Down


Letters to the Editor