Climate Strike: Amnesty ‘irresponsible’ for asking NI schools to allow pupils to protest, says former education minister

Press Eye - Belfast - Northern Ireland - 15th March 2019''School pupils hold a climate change protest in the Cornmarket area of Belfast City Centre. ''Picture by Jonathan Porter/PressEye
Press Eye - Belfast - Northern Ireland - 15th March 2019''School pupils hold a climate change protest in the Cornmarket area of Belfast City Centre. ''Picture by Jonathan Porter/PressEye
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A former education minister has described a call by Amnesty International for Northern Ireland schools to allow children to take part in climate strikes as “irresponsible”.

DUP MLA Peter Weir, who was education minister at Stormont before the collapse of powersharing, was speaking after Amnesty wrote to more than 1,000 schools to urge principals to allow children to take part in the protests on Friday, September 20.

The call from Amnesty has also been criticised by UUP MLA Rosemary Barton, a former teacher and her party’s education spokesperson.

Amnesty’s Northern Ireland programme director Patrick Corrigan, in his letter to principals, wrote: “On Friday September 20, there will be a major international day of action - a global climate strike - led by pupils, but supported by many adults and organisations,

“In Northern Ireland this includes the Irish Congress of Trade Unions, environmental groups such as the RSPB, and Amnesty International.

“We are writing to encourage you to facilitate the participation of your students in this day of action, in whatever way is appropriate for your school.”

Peter Weir told the News Letter: “I think it’s irresponsible to be calling for children to be taken out of school. Many principals may have sympathy with the cause but this puts them in an invidious position because they are being asked to deny a day’s education or be seen as hostile to efforts to combat climate change.”

The DUP MLA added: “I think that issues around the environment and around climate are best dealt with in the curriculum, in schools.”

UUP education spokesperson Rosemary Barton told the News Letter: “Climate change is a very serious issue for us in Northern Ireland and is something that needs a defined approach. It is particularly important and will have far reaching consequences for our young people.

“It would, however, be preferable if alternative ways to register their protest were found for our young people because of the disruption to their education.”

There are more than 2,400 events planned in 1,000 cities around the world, including a march and rally in Belfast organised by Youth Strike 4 Climate and supported by Amnesty, environmental groups such as the RSPB, and the Irish Congress of Trade Unions.