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Empey and Wilson: ministers' gaffes revealed

By Kathryn Torney, Symon Ross and Victoria O'Hara

Two Stormont Ministers are under fire after they were criticised for making controversial gaffes about jobless vampires and whinging letters.

Employment Minister Reg Empey told this paper that some young people without training or jobs could be described as “vampires”.

He said: “Some of them are what we call the vampires. They get up at 3pm and are then up all night.”

Meanwhile Finance Minister Sammy Wilson has refused to apologise after telling a mother-of-two to stop writing him “whinging letters”.

Reg Empey and the young people he calls ‘vampires’

Northern Ireland’s Employment Minister has been slammed for branding some young people without any education or hope of finding work as “vampires”.

Sir Reg Empey made the comments in an interview with the Belfast Telegraph when discussing 16 to 24-year-olds classified as NEETS (Not in Employment, Education or Training).

The minister said some of these people “are what we call the vampires. They get up at 3pm in the afternoon and are then up all night”.

However, his comments have been criticised by a Belfast youth worker who said they were emotive and risked demonising young people.

The Barnardo’s charity has called for a special strategy to be devised after it emerged that the number of NEETS in Northern Ireland has risen to 47,000 — a fifth of the total age group.

When discussing the scale of the problem, Sir Reg told this paper: “Some of them are what we call the vampires.

“They get up at 3pm in the afternoon and are then up all night.

“They could be the typical young person we see out in the streets — no job, no ambition and no self esteem and getting into |difficulties and at the mercy of paramilitaries.”

He added: “Others may be at home all day watching TV with mummy. They may not be out running wild in the streets but they are unanchored and may just be sitting things out if their parents have money.

“Often NEETS come from broken homes and difficult backgrounds but also in that group there will be some young people not in economic distress and just sitting at home.”

The minister said that his department runs a range of schemes including the Learner Access and Engagement Programme— which supports hard to reach learners through learning in voluntary and community groups in conjunction with further education colleges.

Johnston Price, a community worker in west Belfast, hit out at Sir Reg's terminology. He said: “I think he's demonising young people by calling them vampires”.

That is emotive language, which shifts the blame onto young people rather than onto the education system, which is clearly failing people in working class areas.

“Sir Reg should be trying to target resources to make up the qualifications gap.

“Calling them vampires is not coming at the problem in the right way.”

Margaret Kelly, Barnardo’s Northern Ireland assistant director of policy warned: “The growing numbers of these young people in Northern Ireland mean we face a risk of a lost generation.”

Yesterday it was revealed that a third of the 53,700 people claiming unemployed benefits in Northern Ireland are under 25.

In a worrying sign for the future, the numbers also suggest that more than one in five of the province’s young people are now out of work.

The Labour Force Survey (LFS) showed an estimated unemployment level of 24,000, or 20.4%, among 18-24 year olds between July and September, a rise of 4,000 on the previous quarter and an 8,000 increase on a year ago.

And despite a positive outcome in the most recent month, the number of young people claiming the dole has shot up by 6,545 to 17,325 since October last year, meaning that almost a third of those signing on in Northern Ireland are under 25.

“It remains a concern that one third of the unemployed are within this age bracket. Only Wales has a higher proportion of its unemployed within this category,” said Ulster Bank economist Richard Ramsey.

“While the claimant count indicates an easing in the levels of youth unemployment, the LFS highlights that Northern Ireland’s youth unemployment rate hit a record high in July-September 2009. More than one in five of 18-24 year olds are unemployed. This compares with 18% for the UK,” he added.

Sammy Wilson and the mum he told to stop writing whinging letters

Finance Minister Sammy Wilson has refused to apologise for telling a mother-of-two to stop writing him “whinging letters” after she voiced concerns about equal pay claim negotiations in the Civil Service.

Veronica Norton (40), from Coleraine, said she was left “completely stunned” after receiving the written response to her letter.

Mrs Norton, who works in a Social Security office, had written to the minister via his constituency office in Larne during tense negotiations relating to an long-running pay dispute.

She believed that what Mr Wilson had told the Assembly in a statement contradicted what he had said in a NIPSA union bulletin about the matter.

Mrs Norton said: “Yes, I had initially used strong language to him in my letter, but I felt strongly about the matter and challenged him on it.”

Speaking to the Belfast Telegraph Mr Wilson, however, labelled the letter as being “ill-informed, ignorant and bad mannered”.

In the response to Mrs Norton’s letter Mr Wilson told her: “You can choose to believe who you want, it doesn’t matter to me, I know where the negotiations are and can I also point out that I am making a serious attempt to resolve the issue.”

Mr Wilson also told her that “I don’t expect you to understand the details of the case but I can assure you that despite what NIPSA |officials say, there have been proposals put forward by my Department.

“I would appreciate it if you could get your facts right before you write anymore whinging letters to me in future.” A deal was finally struck yesterday after months of negotiations from a long-delayed equal pay issue which goes back for years.

Mrs Norton said she has now made a complaint about the letter to the Office of First Minister and Deputy First Minister.

“I was just disgusted by the letter, he is a public representative and that type of language is not appropriate,” she said.

Mr Wilson, however, told the Belfast Telegraph that he refuses to apologise as he is a public representative, not a “public punch bag”.

“When anyone writes to me with any query I always seek to answer them, that is my job as a public representative,” he said.

“What I will not take from anyone is being treated like a public punch bag.

“When I receive ill-informed, ignorant, bad mannered and intemperate communication from members of the public, especially when I am doing my best, I don’t take kindly to that kind of communication and I will respond in kind.

“I think the person who needs to apologise is Mrs Norton, who first of all didn’t check her facts before she wrote, then secondly wrote in a most ill-mannered and intemperate manner and then had the cheek to expect a nice reply. Well, she has come to the wrong person.”

Belfast Telegraph


From Belfast Telegraph