Unionists have raised concerns about Sinn Fein’s Martin McGuinness awarding scholarships in a west Belfast school in honour of IRA hunger striker Bobby Sands.
Mr McGuinness recently visited St Colm’s High School in Twinbrook to present the Bobby Sands Gaeltacht Scholarships to two children.
The bursary is a joint initiative taken by Sinn Féin and the Bobby Sands Gaeltacht Scholarship, a recently-formed group of local business people.
During the visit Mr McGuinness also presented certificates to a number of other students who excelled in Irish.
But Castlereagh East TUV councillor Andrew Girvin took issue with the fact that an award was being made to children in the name of a convicted IRA member.
“Bobby Sands was a terrorist who was convicted of a number of serious offences including possession of weapons and involvement in a gun battle with police officers after he and other IRA men left the scene of a bombing,” Mr Girvin said. “He is not a role model which any young person should be aspiring to.
“I am not at all surprised that Sinn Fein would seek to lionise Sands. They have never made any secret of the fact that they are linked to terror and bloodshed. However, the fact that joint First Minister McGuinness (as he is described in the Republican News report) made the award and that he was accompanied by Junior Minister Jennifer McCann raises serious questions for OFMDFM – a department supposedly committed to ‘promoting equality’.”
The school should explain why it supported the award, he said.
“It is totally unacceptable that children should grow up in Northern Ireland believing that men of violence should be emulated.”
He said he would be raising the matter with the children’s commissioner, the relevant education board and the Office of First and Deputy First Minister.
The Council for Catholic Maintained schools, which oversees the school, said nobody was available to comment. The school had not commented at the time of going to press.
Sinn Féin West Belfast MLA Pat Sheehan hit back that it was fitting that Bobby Sands’ contribution to the Irish language should be remembered and honoured.
“Bobby Stands lived in Twinbrook and is regarded as a hero by the community in the area,” he said.
“In the local community and in Long Kesh Bobby was heavily involved in the promotion and development of the Irish language.”