Parties divided over smacking comments

REACTION to Children's Commissioner Patricia Lewsley's controversial comments about smacking is largely split along nationalist-unionist lines.

While unionists – with the exception of the PUP – denounced the commissioner for agreeing that child abuse and smacking were the same thing, nationalist politicians said they also wanted to see a ban on all physical punishment of children.

The row intensified as Ms Lewsley claimed she was misquoted by the News Letter – and had not equated smacking with child abuse.

But a News Letter recording of the interview shows she twice agreed that smacking is child abuse.

Ms Lewsley said she had been referring to the "act" of smacking – and not the parents involved.

Speaking on BBC Radio Ulster's Talk Back show, the former SDLP politician claimed her comments had been "taken out of context" and she had been "entrapped" by the reporter.

Asked on Radio Ulster whether she believed physical chastisement of children is child abuse, Ms Lewsley said: "No, that's not what I said and the reporter yesterday took out of context what I said.

"I said that physical punishment is physical punishment – and it's about the action.

"Whether it's used in the sense of a parent hitting a child or whether it's used by an abuser – it's the action (that) is equal to physical punishment – not that parents are child abusers."

And, under repeated questioning from presenter William Crawley about what, in her view, constituted abuse, she said: "I'm wary that you're trying to maybe entrap me the way that the person did yesterday..."

Ms Lewsley's legal attempts to ban smacking have so far have cost taxpayers almost 200,000 – as both the prosecution and defence are funded by public money.

The Commissioner for Children and Young people said yesterday: "My job is to protect children and young people.

"By doing this, I am in no way attempting to criminalise parents and want to make sure parents are given the support they need.

"I also do want to put on record that I did not, nor would I say, that parents who smack children are child abusers."

Upper Bann DUP MP David Simpson, who has tabled a House of Commons Early Day Motion condemning the commissioner's attempts to ban smacking, attacked Ms Lewsley's "doctrinaire and ideological attitude".

East Antrim UUP MLA Roy Beggs Jnr also criticised her comments and asked whether the commissioner would next "want to ban the naughty step".

But PUP leader Dawn Purvis said she supported Ms Lewsley's call for a complete ban on smacking.

The SDLP did not comment on the row, but its youth wing said it fully supported her stance. Sinn Fein also called for smacking to be banned.

The Alliance Party declined to comment.