Principal ‘sickened’ that hate campaign has forced Irish language nursery to move

A Belfast primary school principal has said she is “saddened and sickened” after a social media hate campaign forced an Irish language nursery to ditch plans to open on her site.

Wednesday, 28th July 2021, 9:33 pm
Updated Wednesday, 28th July 2021, 9:59 pm
Diane Dawson - BBC NI screengrab

Naiscoil na Seolta was due to open to 16 children at Braniel Primary School in September, as the first Irish language school in the east of the city.

The pre-school would have been separate from Braniel PS but was to be housed in a classroom on the site.

The primary school released a statement to parents on Wednesday to say it would not now happen due to the actions of “those who are not of our school community”.

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Braniel Primary principal Diane Dawson said: “I am saddened, I am sickened, I am angry, I am in despair about how we move Northern Ireland forward.

“What upsets me most is that my heart is for children. Why any child would be a threat on any school site is beyond me.”

She told the BBC: “My board of governors, my school community, my parents and my staff all welcomed and were excited to have the Naiscoil rent a premises on our school site.

“Those who have politicised it need to take a long, hard look at themselves.

“I am a unionist and not one word of the Irish language spoken undermines or weakens my unionism, and certainly not two-year-olds learning how to say colours on the Braniel school site.”

A school statement said: “It is with great sadness and regret that we had to inform our school community today of the decision of the Integrated Naiscoil na Seolta to relocate to another site due to actions of individuals not connected to the school.

“Due to an ongoing social media hate campaign against some individuals and the integrated Naiscoil na Seolta, it is with great sadness that it is choosing to relocate to an alternative location.

“A social media campaign was started and fuelled by those who are not connected to the school, nor are parents of our school and who are clearly not interested in facts and truth, who allowed disgusting comments to be posted that were littered with unfounded erroneous allegations about certain individuals and the Naiscoil.

“The comments, made mostly by those who are not of our school community, on social media do not in any way reflect the opinions and beliefs of the governors and entire staff of the school.”

The statement was signed on behalf of the board of governors, principal and staff of Braniel Nursery and Primary School.

A spokesperson for Naiscoil na Seolta said: “We have been offered another venue which is in a better location and which is a larger space which will allow us to grow and develop.”

The nursery recently received £73,000 from Foras na Gaeilge, the north-south body for the promotion of the Irish language, for its running costs.

Its stated aim is to bring integrated Irish-medium primary education to the area.

Linda Ervine, Irish language development officer of Turas, the language organisation which has been running Irish classes for adults at the Skainos centre in east Belfast for a number of years, is among those behind Naiscoil na Seolta.

SDLP councillor Seamas de Faoite said those behind the online campaign should be “ashamed of themselves”.

He added: “Those who ran this campaign of hate against nursery school children are truly warped and twisted. This school wasn’t even open yet, it was due to welcome its first pupils in September and has already been forced to move.

“This lack of tolerance is disgusting and is in no way representative of the majority of people in east Belfast.

“The opening of an Irish language nursery school in east Belfast should have been a symbol of how far we have come in the past few decades, instead it has now become a symbol of how far we still have to go in Northern Ireland.”