By Simon Curran & Sean McAnespy (Omagh CBS)
A RETIRED schoolteacher has blasted a local MLA as “stupid” after he told dozens of pupils that homosexuality is “an abomination” during a NI Assembly ‘Let’s Talk’ event last week.
Tom Buchanan, West Tyrone DUP MLA, was responding to a question from an Omagh CBS pupil who asked the panel of politicians to outline their views on homosexuality and marriage equality.
Mr Buchanan’s response that homosexuality “isn’t right” and is “an abomination” sparked a buzz within the room, with some pupils applauding the MLA’s views whilst the majority voiced their disapproval.
Reacting to Mr Buchanan’s comments, retired schoolteacher and gay rights activist, Stephen Birkett, from Strabane, said, “People like this live in the dark ages. These sort of remarks to schoolchildren are stupid and annoying and obviously he (Buchanan) has no concept of what people are really like.”
The discussion, which was held at the Westville Hotel in Enniskillen, allowed 130 pupils from schools across Tyrone and Fermanagh to have their queries and concerns answered at first hand by MLAs from a range of political parties.
The panel included West Tyrone MLAs Ross Hussey (UUP), Joe Byrne (SDLP), Tom Buchanan (DUP) and Sinn Féin Fermanagh/South Tyrone MLA, Phil Flanagan.
The event excelled in the sense that key concerns and issues had been voiced by the pupils, with opinionated responses causing divides between pupils and the panel.
However, no response created a stir in the room like Mr Buchanan’s damning condemnation of homosexuality.
In contrast, Sinn Fein’s Phil Flanagan expressed a liberal stance, while Ross Hussey and Joe Byrne were diplomatic in their responses.
Other opinions were conveyed by polls and statistics, raising alarming questions on Northern Ireland’s future and what needs to be achieved in order to improve the state of youth in Northern Ireland.
One particular statistic which stood out was the fact that 68 per-cent of pupils in the room knew somebody who had been thinking about suicide. This disquieting statistic compelled a deafening silence throughout the room, shocking both pupils and MLAs.
Other polls revealed that 70 per-cent of pupils planned on moving away from Northern Ireland within ten years, and that 92 per-cent of pupils believed that today’s Northern Irish politicians are incompetent.
The polling system was also used to determine the favourable parties among the youths attending.
In the final poll Sinn Féin had the largest percentage voting for them while the DUP came second. Both the SDLP and the UUP recorded an equal percentage in third place.
The event also gave the pupils an opportunity to grill some of the politicians in smaller groups. This allowed the pupils to ask questions about the lives of politicians and how to become involved.
Some of these politicians included Basil McCrea of the NI21 party, Sinn Féin’s Barry McElduff and the UUP’s Lord Maurice Morrow.
The pupils attending the event considered it a success as it gave them a unique insight into some of the politicians who may represent them in the future.