‘Hate campaign’ forces Irish language pre-school in east Belfast to move

Social media campaign drives first cross-community pre-school from unionist area

Stormont’s Sinn Féin communities minister Deirdre Hargey (above) said it was ‘outrageous’  the school was forced to move following ‘a campaign of online abuse and hate’.  Photograph:  Niall Carson/PA

Stormont’s Sinn Féin communities minister Deirdre Hargey (above) said it was ‘outrageous’ the school was forced to move following ‘a campaign of online abuse and hate’. Photograph: Niall Carson/PA

 

An Irish language pre-school, which was set to be the first to open in the traditionally unionist heartland of east Belfast, says it has been forced to relocate because of a social media hate campaign.

Naíscoil na Sceolta, which says it is the first fully-integrated cross-community Irish pre-school in the North, intended to operate from the grounds of Braniel Primary School in September.

Weeks before it was to welcome 16 children – 40 per cent Protestant, 40 per cent Catholic and 20 per cent from other or no faiths – it announced it needed to find another location.

PSNI Supt Gerard Pollock said the force received a report in May about social media comments regarding the school and another in July about posters that had been erected.

“We are treating both incidents as hate incidents,” he said.

The board of governors and staff of Braniel Primary School said the online campaign was started and fuelled by people who were “not connected to the school”.

“Braniel Nursery and Primary school is not and should never be thought of as a contested space. We are proud to be a shared space for all. We welcome all children, parents, families, and individuals irrespective of religion, faith, creed or language and always will,” it said.

Linda Ervine, an Irish language activist involved in setting up Naíscoil na Sceolta, insisted she would not be deterred.

“We are making history,” she said. “We have the children, we have the funding, we have a new venue. We are looking forward to September, we are very excited about meeting our first intake.”

Ms Ervine would not disclose the location of the new venue but said it is more centrally located in east Belfast. She said the social media campaign was driven by “a very small number of individuals who claimed to be representing the parents of Braniel schoolchildren and the community”. She said those behind the planned school were “still on very good terms with Braniel Primary School”.

Naíscoil na Seolta, which is being funded by Foras na Gaeilge for at least two years, said in a statement that it made the decision to relocate “with mixed emotions”.

“Nonetheless, with the children’s wellbeing at the front of our minds, we have decided to take up a new opportunity,” it said in a statement.

“Naíscoil na Seolta has always been about deepening community relationships, and these relationships will continue, regardless of our location.”

The Stormont communities minister, Sinn Féin’s Deirdre Hargey, said it was “outrageous” that the school was forced to move following “a campaign of online abuse and hate”.