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14 Jan 2014
• See also: NI Historical Institutional Abuse Inquiry
Hundreds of witnesses will give evidence to the inquiry
Two religious orders in the Catholic Church have apologised for the abuse suffered by children in their residential homes.
The comments were made on the second day of the inquiry into historical abuse in 13 Northern Ireland care homes and borstals between 1922 and 1995.
Lawyers for De La Salle Brothers and Sisters of Nazareth made the apologies.
The Health and Social Care Board also said that if the state had failed in any way it was sorry.
A barrister representing De La Salle Brothers offered their “sincere and unreserved apology” for the abuse at its home in Kircubbin, County Down.
The QC said the Brothers “deeply regret that boys in their care were abused”.
He said their mission was to look after the welfare of vulnerable and deprived children, and the abuse by some Brothers “was in contradiction to their vocation.
“They recognise that there have been failures to protect the victims,” he said.
HIA abuse inquiry – the numbers
• 434 people have made formal applications to speak to the inquiry
• 300+ witnesses are expected to testify during the public hearings
• 263 alleged victims have already given statements to the inquiry’s acknowledgement forum
• 13 residential institutions are currently under investigation by the inquiry team
“This inquiry represents perhaps the last opportunity to establish what exactly occurred during the operation of the homes.”
The inquiry also heard admissions made on behalf of the Sisters of Nazareth order of nuns.
A barrister representing them said they “recognise the hurt that’s been caused to some children in their care”.
“They apologise unreservedly for any abuse suffered by children in their care. They go forward hoping that lessons will be learned, not just by them in the provision of care, but also by carers generally in society and in wider society at large.”
A barrister for the Health and Social Care Board said that where it had failed to meet acceptable standards, it offered its apologies to those involved.
Christine Smith Christine Smith QC outlined the context in which institutional care in Northern Ireland had operated
Earlier, it was told that some children’s homes in Northern Ireland in the 1960s were relics of a bygone era.
Post-war welfare reforms were not adopted by some institutions, the senior counsel to the panel said.
“The evidence suggests that those homes operated as outdated survivors of a bygone age,” said Christine Smith QC.
Outlining the context of institutional care in Northern Ireland, she said the status of children historically could be illustrated by the fact that while the RSPCA was set up in 1824, the NSPCC was not set up for another 60 years.
Institutions under investigation
Local authority homes:
• Lissue Children’s Unit, Lisburn
• Kincora Boys’ Home, Belfast
• Bawnmore Children’s Home, Newtownabbey
Juvenile justice institutions:
• St Patrick’s Training School, Belfast
• Lisnevin Training School, County Down
• Rathgael Training School, Bangor
Secular voluntary homes:
• Barnardo’s Sharonmore Project, Newtownabbey
• Barnardo’s Macedon, Newtownabbey
Catholic Church-run homes:
• St Joseph’s Home, Termonbacca, Londonderry
• Nazareth House Children’s Home, Derry
• Nazareth House Children’s Home, Belfast
• Nazareth Lodge Children’s Home, Belfast
• De La Salle Boys’ Home, Kircubbin, County Down
The barrister told the inquiry of one submission received by a woman who had been in care between 1971 and 1976.
She detailed how after wetting her bed, she had her nose rubbed in it, before being stripped, left in a cold room and then forced to wash in cold water and disinfectant.
The biggest ever public inquiry into child abuse ever held in the UK is investigating claims of physical, sexual, and emotional abuse, as well as childhood neglect.
The public hearings stage of the inquiry, which began on Monday, is being held in Banbridge, County Down, and is expected to last for 18 months.
The inquiry’s remit is limited to children’s residential institutions in Northern Ireland.
During that time, it is due to hear evidence from more than 300 witnesses, including former residents who claim they were abused as children, the people who ran the institutions, health and social care officials and government representatives.
The inquiry’s remit is limited to children’s residential institutions in Northern Ireland.
To date, 434 people have contacted the inquiry to allege they were abused.
Ex-judge leading inquiry calls on government and accused institutions to co-operate in fair and open way
13 Jan 2014
Sir Anthony Hart, chair of the inquiry. (Photograph: Paul Faith/AFP/Getty Images)
A retired judge in charge of the biggest inquiry into child abuse in UK legal history has appealed for openness from the institutions in Northern Ireland where crimes against children allegedly took place.
Opening the public inquiry into 13 orphanages, young offender centres and other places where children were kept in care, Sir Anthony Hart said the government had to be open in its dealings with the tribunal.
“This may be a challenging process for everyone involved, but it is our hope that everybody, whether from government or from the institutions, who is requested to assist the inquiry will co-operate in a fair, open and wholehearted way so that this unique opportunity will not be wasted,” Hart said at Banbridge courthouse where the hearings will take place.
He assured the more than 400 victims – 300 of whom will give personal testimony to the court – that they “will have the satisfaction of knowing that their experiences are being listened to and investigated”.
Christine Smith, senior counsel for the inquiry, told the court: “By examining how vulnerable children living in children’s homes between 1922 and 1995 were treated, this inquiry will examine the soul of Northern Ireland in that period.”
The inquiry will examine claims of sexual and physical abuse including at the Kincora boys’ home in east Belfast, where a senior Orangeman and a number of loyalist extremists are alleged to have raped children.
The inquiry may also explore allegations that the security forces – both MI5 and RUC Special Branch – knew about abuse in Kincora, but failed to act against those responsible because many of the alleged abusers were state agents.
There will be written and oral testimony from 434 individuals. The inquiry will also investigate how 120 children from the institutions were sent to Australia as part of a child migration policy between 1947 and 1956.
The hearings are scheduled to continue to June 2015 and could cost up to £19m. Campaigners in Britain said they wanted the inquiry to extend to England and Wales.
Jonathan Wheeler, a lawyer and founding member of Stop Church Child Abuse, said: “The start of this inquiry will be a relief to the alleged victims, allowing them to take heart in the fact that a process intended to bring them justice is at last under way. Lessons must also be learned by the authorities and all those responsible for the care of young children to prevent this kind of abuse from ever happening again.
“We have been calling for a similar over-arching inquiry in England and Wales. The government has refused, but if Northern Ireland can tackle the issue why should survivors here be denied their say and the proper scrutiny of all they have suffered.”
The secret justice bill will normalise security force abuses – and undermine the Northern Ireland peace process
The Guardian – Comment is free
27 August 2012
John and Geraldine Finucane, the youngest son and wife of Pat Finucane, the murdered Northern Irish lawyer, in Dublin last February as part of an Amnesty International campaign for a judicial probe into the 1989 killing. (Photograph: Reuters)
‘The right to know and effectively challenge the opposing case has long been recognised by the common law as a fundamental feature of the judicial process” – so said Lord Kerr in a recent supreme court judgment.
However, the justice and security bill now going through parliament would give the government the power to decide that certain evidence in civil proceedings might cause “damage” or “harm” to the public interest, and therefore must be given in secret. It would use the special advocate procedure, which excludes non-state parties from a hearing or from any knowledge of the secret evidence given in these “closed material proceedings”. Those of us campaigning on human rights in Northern Ireland are particularly concerned about the impact of this legislation in our region.
The Northern Ireland dimension is important for three reasons. First, the legislation is a breach of the common law principle of open justice, which is at least 300 years old. Second, similar measures have been trialled in Northern Ireland and led to miscarriages of justice. Third, applying this law here would add to the cover of secrecy over the past and present actions of security and intelligence agents – threatening to undermine the peace process and nurture a culture of impunity.
The establishment of a parallel “anti-terrorist” justice system would lead to the kind of human rights abuses that fuelled the conflict in Northern Ireland and marginalised communities. And this legislation risks weakening the peace process in one crucial way. One of the gaps in that process is the lack of a comprehensive method of dealing with the legacy of the past, especially in terms of unsolved murders and other crimes. Instead there is a patchwork of measures, including public inquiries, the historical inquiries team, ongoing investigations by the Police Service of Northern Ireland, the police ombudsman and inquests.
Thankfully, the secret justice proposals do not relate to inquests. But a range of civil proceedings dealing with the legacy of the conflict would be affected, including any future judicial reviews of investigations into conflict-related deaths, challenges relating to decisions not to prosecute, and civil actions for damages that concern miscarriages of justice, cases of ill-treatment or unlawful killings. This legislation would in effect close off all the other legal avenues that victims or their relatives are trying to use to get at the truth.
Many of these cases revolve around the actions of state agents – whether uniformed policemen or soldiers, or the shadow army of agents and informants recruited by a range of secret agencies during the secret war in Northern Ireland. There is a pattern emerging of covering up these activities and refusing to properly investigate cases where state agents may have been involved in unlawful killings. This pattern includes the refusal of an inquiry into the murder of the human rights lawyer Pat Finucane – the most prominent and serious collusion case admitted by the UK prime minister.
There can be little doubt, however, that the experience of waging a 30-year dirty war within the borders of the UK has deeply corrupted the British security establishment. It is arguable that its long experience in Northern Ireland has normalised human rights abuses in the pursuit of “counter-terrorism”. Today the dirty war is not confined to Northern Ireland but has a global theatre of operations. And, under the same lid of secrecy, a culture of impunity for the security establishment corrupts and rots the very fabric of democracy and the rule of law.
• Brian Gormally is director of the Committee on the Administration of Justice, a human rights NGO in Northern Ireland
By Colm Heatley
7 Mar 2012
**Links and photos onsite
A ferris wheel is seen by City Hall in Belfast, Northern Ireland. (Photographer: Peter Macdiarmid/Getty Images)
For Belfast clothing retailer Michael Hamilton, power is money.
The owner of the Bureau, a store in downtown Belfast selling handcrafted Alden leather shoes at 600 pounds ($952) and designer jeans for 300 pounds, wants Northern Ireland to wrest control from the U.K. over taxes levied on companies and align them with Ireland to the south. The 46-year-old reckons it would attract employers and enrich the local population.
“Trading is brutal,” Hamilton said at his shop on Howard Street in the Northern Irish capital. “Getting corporation tax cut and attracting high-end jobs would be brilliant for us. It would be great if those people were living in Belfast.”
Political wrangling over who controls what within the U.K. is raising questions about the constitutional future of the country more than at any time for three centuries as Scotland pushes for independence. Devolved governments in Northern Ireland and Wales are seeking power over taxation and spending.
Prime Minister David Cameron set up a committee last year to look at demands by the administration in Belfast to opt out of the U.K.-wide company tax rate of 26 percent. The province plans to slash it to no more than 12.5 percent, the rate in the Republic of Ireland, which won sovereignty from Britain in 1922.
“The recession has hastened the process of getting economic autonomy from London,” Mike Smyth, head of economics at the University of Ulster, said in a telephone interview last month. “It is inevitable that they will look for further autonomy. Corporation tax is essential. Attracting the big multinationals here with a low corporation tax rate is key.”
The proposal to cede company tax powers to Belfast was started in May by Secretary of State for Northern Ireland Owen Paterson and is being examined by a committee at the U.K. Parliament at Westminster in London.
“We continue to work with U.K. government ministers to move this work forward as quickly as possible,” the Finance Ministry in Belfast said in an e-mailed statement on March 1. A report on the proposal to hand company tax powers to Belfast from London is scheduled for the summer and the U.K. government will decide whether to approve the plan, the ministry said.
Northern Ireland, whose 1.8 million people make up 2.9 percent of the U.K.’s population, is the region in the country most dependent on state jobs and government spending, according to the Office for National Statistics.
Almost 28 percent of the workforce is employed by the state in Northern Ireland, compared with a U.K. average of 20.6 percent, the statistics office said. In Wales, the proportion is 25.6 percent and 23.7 percent in Scotland.
The U.K. government aims to cut more than 700,000 public- sector jobs over the next six years as part of austerity measures aimed at reducing the budget deficit.
Private employers in Northern Ireland, part of the U.K. since it was separated from the rest of Ireland in 1921, created fewer than 3,000 jobs last year, compared with 13,000 in the Republic of Ireland via multinational companies enticed by the lower rate, according to data by Invest NI.
The number of unemployed in the province has doubled over the past three years, said Richard Ramsey, a Belfast-based economist at Ulster Bank Ltd., part of Royal Bank of Scotland Group Plc. Benefit claimants represent 6.9 percent of the working population, the second-highest of any region in the U.K., behind the northeast of England, he said.
“The disparity between Northern Ireland and the rest of the U.K. is widening,” Ramsey said. “The region needs a game changer, corporation tax would be a big part of that.”
Companies such as Bank of New York Mellon Corp. have chosen to base themselves in Dublin’s International Financial Services Centre. Titanic Quarter, a 185-acre development in Belfast opened in 2008 on a dockside development named after the ill-fated liner built in a nearby dockyard, has so far attracted one client, Citigroup Inc.
Northern Ireland’s power-sharing assembly was revived in 2008 as part of a peace deal to end the three decade-long conflict known as the Troubles that claimed 3,500 lives.
While remaining in the U.K., the province now needs more economic freedom from London to revive the economy, said Nigel Dodds, deputy leader of the Democratic Unionist Party, the biggest in Northern Ireland.
“People aren’t asking about Irish unity, they are asking about bread and butter issues,” said Dodds.
Majority-Protestant Northern Ireland was partitioned from the rest of Ireland, which is mainly Catholic, following a three-year war between the Irish Republican Army and the British. In 1969, the Troubles began, with the IRA fighting for a united Ireland in a campaign that wasn’t officially declared over until 2005.
“Its about time we got corporate tax devolved,” Glyn Roberts, chief executive officer of the Northern Ireland Independent Retail Traders Association, which represents more than 1,300 businesses in the region, said. “It’s tough times for businesses here. We could learn some lessons from Dublin when it comes to attracting the big companies in.”
At the clothing store in Belfast, most of Hamilton’s sales are online. He longs for the passing trade of Dublin retailers, 100 miles (161 kilometers) across the border where firms from Google Inc. (GOOG) to Facebook Inc. (FB) have bases.
“Locally it’s so tough,” Hamilton said last week. “Corporation tax would bring proper quality jobs into the country. It would deliver a caliber of customer that we just don’t have here.”
•To contact the reporter on this story: Colm Heatley in Belfast at firstname.lastname@example.org
To contact the editor responsible for this story: Mark Gilbert at email@example.com
A ‘peace gate’ has been opened in the barrier that divides Belfast’s Alexandra Park, allowing Catholics and Protestants to mix – during the day at least. But a walk to survey the city’s 99 peace walls offers vivid evidence of communities riven by hatred
21 Jan 2012
The Cupar Way ‘peace wall’, which divides the Protestant Shankill Road from the Catholic Falls Road. (Photograph: Antonio Olmos for the Observer)
Alexandra Park in north Belfast is a gently sloping expanse of green that looks, at first glance, like any other small, well-tended public park in any other British city. It has winding paths, tall trees, a pond and, down towards its lower end, a pleasantly leafy area that could easily be turned into a nature walk for local children. To reach it, though, you have to pass though a newly created gate in a 3m-high, reinforced corrugated steel fence that bisects the park.
On a overcast afternoon last November, the park is all but deserted save for myself, Antonio Olmos, the Observer photographer, and a solitary figure with a large dog we glimpse though the open gate. Then, as if on cue, a council van arrives and two workers jump out. It is 3pm and they are here to close the gate in the fence. As they do so, Alexandra Park once again becomes two separate parks: one Catholic, the other Protestant.
The “peace gate” in Alexandra Park was officially opened amid much media attention on 16 September last year. Attended by politicians, residents and children from two local schools, one Protestant, the other Roman Catholic, the ceremony was weighted with symbolism and there was much talk of “a new beginning”.
To an outsider, though, unused to north Belfast’s tribally defined geography and deeply ingrained religious identities, the sight of the high steel fence running the breadth of the park, with or without the open gate, is heart-sinking. When I mention this to local parks’ manager, Liam McKinley, he seems slightly affronted. “The gate is a big step forward, a real positive development,” he insists, adding that, since the gate has been open, there have been no sectarian clashes in the park.
Liam puts me in touch with a local Sinn Féin councillor, Conor Maskey. “For a long time, the fence did its job,” he tells me, “but lately there was a growing sense that the reasons for it being there had, if not disappeared, at least abated. Community workers from both sides canvassed opinion door to door around here and found that 99% of people were in favour of the gate being opened. Basically, they wanted their park back.”
In the context of the patchwork quilt of conflicting loyalties that is north Belfast, the opening of the Alexandra Park peace gate was progress. “No matter where you go around here, you eventually come to a dividing line between the two communities,” says Kate Clarke, a community worker from a nearby nationalist neighbourhood, who works for the North Belfast Interface Network to improve relationships between the two sides. “A lot of the interfaces don’t have physical barriers, but there is an invisible dividing line that local people are aware of, because, historically, they were, and to a degree, still are, threatening and unsafe places.”
A park employee closing the peace wall at 3pm in Belfast. (Photograph: Antonio Olmos for the Observer)
Alexandra Park was divided by a “peace wall” on 1 September 1994, the day after the IRA declared its historic ceasefire. Throughout the Troubles, it had been a flashpoint for sectarian conflict, a fiercely contested space where regular pitched battles broke out between loyalists and nationalists. “There was hand-to-hand fighting down there,” says Sam Cochrane, an ex-political prisoner turned community activist from nearby Tiger’s Bay, a fiercely loyalist neighbourhood. “Several young lads were carted off to hospital with serious head injuries from slates. Sometimes there was shooting.”
The barrier, which grew over the years from a high fence to a solid steel structure, stopped the violence and made the people who lived in the houses around the park, and whose homes were often attacked, feel a whole lot safer. Like the majority of the peace walls in Belfast, it was erected at the request of locals.
According to a report published by the Belfast Interface Project, there are now 99 interfaces – or peace walls – in Belfast. Some walls date from the early years of the Troubles, when sectarian tit-for-tat killings and violence were a regular occurrence on the strife-torn streets of Belfast. An estimated one-third, though, have gone up since the IRA and Protestant paramilitary ceasefire in 1994. Many existing walls have been made longer and higher in recent years. Last week, too, the International Fund for Ireland, an independent organisation promoting reconciliation in Northern Ireland, announced that it will fund a £2m project aimed at bringing down the Belfast peace walls “by building confidence between the communities”. Given the slow pace of political change in Northern Ireland, that may take some time. Read the rest of this entry »
11 January 2012
Peter Geoghegan looks back at another referendum when nationalist opinion was ignored by Westminster – with the vote producing a far from clear and decisive result
“DO YOU want Scotland to remain part of the United Kingdom?” Doubtless it’s the kind of phrasing David Cameron had in mind when he demanded a “fair, clear and decisive question” on Scottish independence earlier this week. But the Tory leader would do well to reflect on the last time Westminster ignored nationalist opposition to put such a formulation to the vote in a referendum on the constitutional future of a member of the United Kingdom – in Northern Ireland, in 1973.
The so-called Border Poll, conducted across Northern Ireland on 8 March, 1973, certainly asked a clear question: should the North stay in the UK or join the Republic of Ireland. And it produced a decisive result. On a respectable-looking 58 per cent turnout, a whopping 98.92 per cent voted to retain the status quo.
But on Cameron’s fairness criterion, the Border Poll was altogether less clear and decisive. That January, as sectarian violence raged across Northern Ireland, the eminently sensible SDLP leader Gerry Fitt called on his (predominantly moderate) supporters “to ignore completely the referendum and reject this extremely irresponsible decision by the British government”. The Catholic/nationalist population boycotted the vote en masse, while the Irish Republican Army vowed to disrupt the ballot. In the end, one soldier was killed in the days leading up to the referendum and a paltry 6,463 supported a united Ireland.
Scotland today is not, thankfully, Northern Ireland four decades ago, but the perils of London interference in a plebiscite on sovereignty should not be lost on Westminster panjandrums. Scottish Nationalists are a long way from issuing a boycott for a referendum many have spent a lifetime campaigning for, but continued dictating of terms by a Conservative prime minister with scant mandate north of the Border could change that.
Somewhat surprisingly, there has been precious little consideration of what, if any, effect all this talk of independence in Scotland might have across the Irish Sea. Given its strong cultural and historical ties with Ireland, and particularly Ulster and indeed unionism, any move by Scotland away from the United Kingdom could provoke something of an existentialist crisis among Northern Irish unionists, and even nationalists.
Northern Ireland’s constitutional future is, in many respects, still unsettled. The Good Friday Agreement, signed in 1998, is essentially a constitutional holding position, enshrining the aspirations of nationalists and unionists, while binding both to the wishes of the majority. With the collapse of the Irish Celtic Tiger and Northern Ireland’s own economic travails, the future of the Irish wing of the Union appears secure – but it is built on relatively soft sands.
The results of last year’s census aren’t expected until the summer, but other indicators suggest that the Catholic population in Northern Ireland is growing more quickly than the Protestant. Conventional wisdom posits that such a rise will lead to increased support for nationalism and, eventually, Irish reunification.
According to the 2001 census, just over 53 per cent of the Northern Ireland populace hails from a Protestant background, 44 per cent from a Catholic background, with the remainder of a non-religious background, or other Christian and non-Christian faiths. However, figures obtained from the Higher Education Statistics Agency by Traditional Unionist Voice leader Jim Allister suggest that these demographics might be shifting. In 2009-10, Queen’s University in Belfast had 8,710 Northern Ireland resident students from a Catholic background, compared with 6,740 from a Protestant faith. The contrast was even more extreme in the University of Ulster, which had 11,070 Catholics and 7,020 Protestants spread across its four campuses.
As reported in the Irish Times recently, this trend is equally pronounced in second-level education, where factors such as leaving Northern Ireland to attend university in Britain do not come into play. Data released by Northern Ireland’s department of education, showed that, in 2010-11, there were 120,415 Protestants and 163,693 Catholics in the North’s schools.
Birth rates are a hoary subject in Northern Ireland. When Republicans dropped their boycott of the census at the end of the Troubles, the question of whether nationalists might breed their way to a united Ireland became a hot topic, replete with tired stereotypes about the size of Catholic families. The run-up to the 2001 census featured a wealth of over-heated headlines: “Catholic Boom: Census shows Protestants will be minority in ten years”; “Nationalists will become majority’’; “Unionists filled with foreboding at loss of influence”.
Then, when the eventual figures revealed a smaller than envisaged Catholic population, it became a matter of “Census blow to republican hopes” and “United Ireland disappointed”.
In reality, the sectarian headcount has been a less useful heuristic for voting intentions than many assume: significant numbers of Protestants and, more commonly, Catholics have voted for nationalist and unionist parties respectively. The latest findings from the Northern Ireland Life and Times survey, released last summer, show the latter tendency strengthening – 52 per cent of Catholics polled were in favour of remaining in the UK; only 4 per cent of Protestants supported union with the Republic of Ireland. In total, a large majority, 73 per cent, backed the union with Britain.
Indeed in June, the first minister, Peter Robinson – who was so vehemently opposed to power-sharing with Catholics in 1986 that he led 500 loyalists to invade the village of Clontibret in the Irish Republic in protest at the Anglo-Irish Agreement – set out a vision for transforming those erstwhile naysayers, the Democratic Unionist Party, into a cross-community force.
“My task is to make voting DUP as comfortable a choice for a Catholic as anyone else,” Robinson wrote, noting that “support for a united Ireland has dropped to an all-time low of some 16 per cent”.
Looked at from Castle Buildings at Stormont, the Union seems in rude health. Buttressed slightly from the economic ill-winds blowing a gale across the border and reliant on Exchequer support to the tune of some £6 billion per annum, Northern Ireland – and many Northern Irish Catholics – have a significant investment in the British state. In the leafy suburbs, middle-class mixing is slowly breaking down many of the old sectarian barriers, disrupting the Orange-Green dichotomy that has dominated mindsets for generations.
It would take a seismic event to alter Northern Ireland’s constitutional status… say, Scottish independence. The independence debate has already put the prospect of a break-up of the UK on the table in a way that would have been unthinkable ten years ago. If Scots were to go it alone, Northern Ireland would find itself culturally and geographically isolated inside a truncated Union with a decidedly uncertain future.
Scotland and Ireland will always be close. At its shortest, the distance between the Mull of Kintyre and the north Antrim coast is only 20km. A pan-Celtic union, encompassing independent Scotland and both sides of the Irish border, has some form: the ancient Gaelic overkingdom of Dalriada stretched all the way from Skye to Antrim during the 6th and 7th centuries, reaching its apogee at the great monastic settlement of Iona.
A new Dalriada is a fantastical, prospect, but in the event of Scottish independence the status quo in Northern Ireland is unlikely to suffice, for both endogenous and exogenous reasons. It’s hard to imagine an increasingly confident Catholic population retaining long-term support for a Union reduced to just England and Wales (and equally difficult to conceive of any huge desire on London’s part to retain control in Belfast).
The result of the 1973 Northern Ireland referendum was a foregone conclusion. Now the clamour for Scottish independence could have unintended consequences for political life on both sides of the Irish Sea. One thing is certain: next time the future of the Union is put to a vote, the outcome won’t be anywhere near as clear-cut as it was almost 40 years ago.
2 Dec 2011
The number of children living in child poverty in Northern Ireland is on the increase and is higher than the UK average, according to newly released figures from the Department of Social Development.
An extra 14,000 children in the region now live in poverty, statistics for 2009-10 have shown. This represents a 3% increase on the previous year.
The council areas with the highest numbers of cases are Derry at 44% and Limavady 34%.
The research found that seven of the 26 councils in Northern Ireland have a rate of 30% or more.
Fergus Cooper, head of the charity Save the Children in NI, said that the 2009-10 Households Below Average Income survey shows that 28% of children are growing up in poverty in Northern Ireland.
He said: “The figure for the whole of the UK is 20%. More worryingly, figures in most regions of Britain actually fell one or two per cent over the same period whereas they rose 3% here.”
Mr Cooper warned that child poverty is rising despite government commitments to put an end to it by 2020.
“We know that since 2010, low income families in Northern Ireland have faced rising inflation, growing unemployment and the highest energy and childcare costs in the UK.”
He added: “The Chancellor’s autumn statement removing the promised £110 Child Tax Credit and freezing Working Tax Credits will further hurt hard working families.”
The children’s charity is calling on the Stormont Executive and individual ministers to ensure that they can meet their obligations to children under the 2010 Child Poverty Act.
Mr Cooper concluded: “The 2020 target is to reduce child poverty below 10%. The Executive must take action now to ensure a worsening child poverty situation here does not become a crisis.”
Ulster Unionist Party leader Tom Elliott has called on the First and deputy First Minister to act immediately.
He described the figures as “extremely worrying.”
“The draft Programme for Government gives the commitment of fulfilling our statutory obligations to reduce child poverty under the Child Poverty Act.
“This Act also required Northern Ireland to put a strategy in place which describes the activities to be taken in order to tackle child poverty. Whilst this Strategy is now in place it is clearly not delivering reductions in child poverty.
“Immediate action is needed and I would also say that the £80 million Social Investment Fund cannot be solely relied upon to effect the change which is necessary in this area.”
Mark H Durkan, SDLP Foyle MLA and Social Development spokesperson, said the Executive must do more to tackle child poverty.
“This survey highlights the ineptitude of the Executive in meeting their statutory obligations to children as laid out in the 2010 Child Poverty Act,” he said.
“What is even more upsetting is that when broken down into council areas, an overwhelming 44% of children in Derry are living in poverty whereas the figure for the UK as a whole is 20%.”
He said that instead of making progress towards eliminating child poverty in Northern Ireland, the situation is just getting worse.
“Coming up to the festive period, with rising levels of unemployment throughout Northern Ireland, it is heart-breaking to imagine that parents are unable to provide for their children.
“With the stripping back of the child tax credit scheme, legislation must be introduced that will afford greater protection for those families living in poverty.
“If the 2010 Child Poverty Act’s target to reduce child poverty below 10% by 2020 is to be met, the Executive must take urgent legislative action to combat child poverty in our city.”
1 December 2011
THE long-term impact of the Troubles on those affected by the violence is much worse than many people imagine, Health Minister Edwin Poots has said.
At a seminar organised by the Eastern Trauma Advisory Panel, Mr Poots said one in 10 people here have lost a relative in the conflict.
“Many more were physically or psychologically injured,” he said.
“Although the facts are there for everyone to see, there is widespread ignorance of the impact of this on the health and wellbeing of our population.
“We know that in Northern Ireland people most directly affected by the Troubles are more likely to experience poor mental health.”
He said the work of the Trauma Advisory Panels was vital in addressing these problems.
“The support and guidance they provide does make a difference in helping people recover and heal.
“Their aim is to ensure that services provided for these people reflect current best practice and can make a real difference to their lives.”
The minister launched a DVD demonstrating the panel members’ best practice and the benefit of accessing support and services through the groups and organisations for victims and survivors.