‘Cumbernauld survivor’ lawyer Stephen Atherton will proceed to battle for kids’s rights
STEPHEN Atherton’s Twitter profile is strictly what it says on the field: “ Cumbernauld survivor within the ’80s. Father of 5 lovely rascals. Wrestle for Justice at John J McNally Solicitors. ”
Whereas all eyes and ears can be on Stormont’s govt assessment of the present restrictions later right now – with the hope that outside sports activities for kids and youth may have a date of. return – Atherton’s authorized problem to the enduring playing ban can be heard in Belfast. Excessive Courtroom Thursday.
It is a case that might probably have far-reaching implications for kids’s lives greater than an erratic graph of the COVID an infection fee that has usually dictated circumstances to them over the previous yr.
We are going to come again to the statutory rights of kids, however first: who’s the 51-year-old Glasgow-born lawyer who, with relentless power, has been calling for 5 months on the Division of Well being and members of the chief for his or her remedy of kids in the course of the pandemic?
“I used to be born a stone’s throw from Hampden Park,” Atherton explains.
“My mother and father have been from the working class. I would not say we lived in poverty, however the lodging was poor. We moved to a brand new city referred to as Cumbernauld once I was two years outdated. I might have a brother who died of meningitis simply earlier than I used to be born.
“There was an enormous toddler mortality at the moment. Again then, households have been gaining so many factors transferring to those locations referred to as new cities.
“Cumbernauld would have a construction much like that of a spot like Craigavon. From that second on, I used to be like another baby; I simply needed to be a footballer.
“I used to be in Norwich as a schoolboy after which signed schoolboy varieties for Hearts. I did seven ‘O’ ranges and acquired actually good grades, however I needed to comply with my dream and grow to be knowledgeable footballer.
Between 16 and 18, Atherton, a midfielder, liked each minute of his time at Tyncastle.
Nonetheless, two days earlier than celebrating his 18th birthday, then Hearts supervisor Alex MacDonald referred to as the teenager into his workplace and broke the horrible information that he was being launched by the membership.
“I used to be informed I used to be too younger to be knowledgeable footballer within the Scottish League. In skilled phrases, it was a demise sentence for me as a result of on the time it was not stated that you’re not ok.
“Trying again, which may have been his method of gently letting me down. I do not know, I will by no means know, however Alex MacDonald was somebody I had immense respect for – a former Rangers participant – and he stated to me: “You’re too small.” ”
Atherton left Hearts and by no means kicked a ball once more.
“I labeled myself as a failure. I felt my identification was nonetheless as a footballer – and it was gone.
“After leaving Hearts, I typically requested myself, ‘Who am I? What am I?'”
Between the ages of 18 and 26, Atherton’s life twisted and profession expectations have been tightly managed.
He acquired a job in a builder’s retailers.
“Enjoying on the grass day by day I discovered myself carrying gasoline cylinders and that form of factor. I began promoting money registers till I used to be 25 years outdated.
“We as soon as acquired concerned in a authorized dispute and a letter got here in and I used to be requested to learn it. I could not perceive the language of it, and I bear in mind considering, ‘Rattling, I had half a mind. ”
“It made me return to schooling.”
In 1997, he rolled the cube and went to review regulation.
He watched London, Manchester and Dublin earlier than settling in Belfast.
“The Rangers had simply received 9 occasions in a row, so I do not know what the motivation was for his or her 10-consecutives ready on me,” stated Atherton, season ticket holder from Celtic, “however with timing. spotless I went to Belfast.
“I assumed this was the place to get away from all of it and focus. I got here right here, I went to Castlereagh Faculty for a yr, I stayed at Moy in Tyrone, I labored in a bar. I took my entry course for Queen’s and I met my spouse there, who’s from Maghery. We began a household. In 2003, I joined John J McNally Solicitors and have been there ever since.
Since being at knee top, his sons have performed Gaelic soccer and soccer for Maghery and Glenavon, respectively.
Somebody at Mourneview Academy realized that he had performed a little bit of soccer as a youth and, like many mother and father, Atherton was thrown in a membership tracksuit and requested for assist.
His youngest son, Christopher, performs on the identical U14 crew because the son of Glenavon senior supervisor Gary Hamilton, who has additionally been a steadfast campaigner to get youngsters again into the outside sport.
“I’ve monumental respect for Glenavon Soccer Membership,” stated Atherton.
“It is an actual intercommunity membership that provides youngsters an opportunity and locations youngsters on the very coronary heart of their membership. Gary Hamilton attends virtually each academy assembly. I’ve monumental respect for Gary.
“He is so taken with younger gamers as a result of it is so essential and vital to him.
After incomes one other diploma in sports activities regulation, Atherton was invited to serve on the Disciplinary Committee of the Irish Federation in January 2018.
Life was good. Her youngsters liked their sports activities and the entire household has woven into the material of Glenavon.
Final March, nonetheless, your entire planet was hit by an invisible tsunami referred to as COVID19 with lockdowns that may quickly grow to be an accepted function of recent life.
Two of her personal youngsters, Odhran and Lauren, undergo from bronchial asthma and shield themselves, Lauren being hospitalized final September with respiratory issues.
Following the final outside sports activities shutdown in mid-October, increasingly more folks started to query the benefit of denying youngsters the chance to play and work together with their mates, particularly with apparently all virologists and public well being specialists agreeing that the charges of transmission of the illness to the skin are exceptionally low, significantly amongst youngsters.
With a burning sense of rage and injustice, the title of the Magherafelt-based lawyer began appearing on social media, in newspaper columns, in varied podcasts and on tv.
Atherton’s articulation and fervour have been his twin weapons within the battle to finish what he and plenty of see as the continuing “ home arrest ” of younger folks, whereas additionally reminding the federal government and, specifically, to the Minister of Well being, their statutory obligations to guard the rights and well-being of kids.
The fixed refusal of Minister Robin Swann and his scientific advisers has been for residents to heed the “keep at residence” message to scale back the variety of constructive circumstances and hospital admissions.
In November, Atherton give up his volunteer position on the Irish FA Self-discipline Committee in protest after failing to safe their help in bringing the kids again to the soccer pitch in a secure and doable method.
The GAA has additionally been fiercely criticized for its perceived failure to convey youngsters again to a subject.
It’s estimated that youngsters have misplaced 9 of the previous 12 months taking part in their sport regardless of low charges of transmission in an outside setting with mitigation measures in place.
The GAA insists it has at all times adopted authorities tips.
Whereas finding out remotely for a sports activities regulation diploma at Sheffield Hallam College, Atherton accomplished a thesis on youngsters’s rights.
“It was due to this thesis that I used to be so delicate to the United Nations Conference on the Rights of the Little one (UNCRC), in any other case it could most likely have handed me.
“I might have thought it was an injustice that children did not play soccer, however, let’s name it luck or destiny, when youngsters’s sport was criminalized – as a result of that is what it’s – I instinctively knew that youngsters have the precise to play, they’ve a proper in order that their voice is heard.
Scotland is within the strategy of incorporating the UNCRC into home regulation whereas right here the North Irish Commissioner for Kids and Youth has referred to as on the federal government to do the identical.
Whatever the final result of his authorized problem, Atherton needs a public inquiry into how the pandemic is dealt with and the way the lives of kids have been severely affected.
“I’ll ask that the United Nations Conference on the Rights of the Little one be integrated right here into home regulation, which can assist shield youngsters sooner or later.
“The aim of my life after this, apart from my very own youngsters, is to make sure that the following era of kids by no means expertise what this era of kids has been by this yr. It might probably by no means occur once more. ”
“Each time you shut a faculty; each time you go to shut a play space we’ve to have a look at the impact that may have on the children. We have to give youngsters a voice. It is a large a part of the United Nations Conference on the Rights of the Little one – and all through this pandemic, youngsters have had no say within the matter. They’ve been silent, marginalized and pushed apart.
Atherton additionally believes that Nordic society’s checks and balances on authorities have been weak and has criticized sections of the media for failing to look at key selections affecting youngsters’s lives with extra vigor.
Because the Northern Eire govt continues to comply with directions from the Division of Well being, it seems poised to ease the ban on outside sports activities for kids later within the day and can be anticipated to provide extra particular particulars on again to highschool for older youngsters.
Because the Division of Well being tries to soundly exit the present lockdown, a rising variety of folks imagine youngsters have suffered the worst bouts of this pandemic.
What value do you give to a yr of misplaced childhood?
It appears like Stephen Atherton’s battle is simply starting.
“I’ve at all times recognized myself as a footballer in school. It was your identification. What has occurred to so many youngsters and younger folks is the deconstruction of their identification. Sadly, you’ll be able to’t put that within the pleadings. ”
Outside sports activities for kids are anticipated to obtain a return date from the Northern Eire govt later right now.