McGuinness condemns DUP after teacher forced to resign
Councillor thanks her pupils for support in face of sectarian intimidation
Martin McGuinness addresses the Sinn Féin Ardfheis on Saturday. He said he was “heartened by the glowing and brave tributes” from Ms Seeley’s pupils. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill.
Sinn Féin’s Martin McGuinness has sharply criticised unionist politicians who failed to support a party councillor and teacher who was forced to resign her job in a loyalist area of Belfast after a campaign of sectarian intimidation.
The North’s Deputy First Minister said pupils at the Boys’ Model school in North Belfast had shown more bravery and leadership than unionist politicians in their support for teacher and Craigavon Sinn Féin councillor Catherine Seeley.
Hitting out at the “disgraceful online abuse” against Ms Seeley, Mr McGuinness said “the forcing of Catherine from her job as a schoolteacher in north Belfast has been motivated entirely by sectarian hatred and prejudice and driven by an unrepresentative and nasty anti-peace process group of extreme loyalists”.
He told about 600 delegates at the Sinn Féin Ardfheis that if this situation had been reversed “and a young Protestant teacher, who was also a member of the DUP, was being forced from her job in a Catholic school, I would be at the door accompanying her to her work.”
Mr McGuinness said: “I would challenge directly those behind the threats and do everything in my power to see them faced down.”
He added: “People will judge for themselves the response of unionist politicians to the attacks on Catherine Seeley. There was a time when people should rightly have expected a robust response from leaders within unionism. This has yet to come.”
However, he was “absolutely heartened by the glowing and brave tributes that came from Catherine’s pupils in Boys’ Model. They have shown courage and leadership. The local DUP MP, many, many years their senior, could learn a lot from them.”
Ms Seeley received a standing ovation when she came on stage to address the conference. She told delegates she wanted “to publicly send a message of gratitude to those pupils of the Boys’ Model School in north Belfast who have courageously offered me their full support.
“They are testimony to the values that should be present not just in education but in every aspect of society. They inspire hope and confidence in me, for the future.”
She told the conference she wanted to draw particular attention to the underachievement of Protestant working-class boys who “are entitled to the same life prospects as everyone else”.
Confronted and challenged
The Upper Bann councillor said politicians and educationalists who opposed the reform of the common funding formula needed to be confronted and challenged and should answer “to the students and children they represent”.
Grant-aided schools receive exchequer funding in the North under a common funding formula, reform of which would see additional resources going to schools in socially deprived areas.
Ms Seeley said if opponents of the reforms answered to the students in such schools “they will learn, as my recent experience has demonstrated, that students can be much wiser, more mature, more responsible and more respectful than some who claim to speak on their behalf”.