There has been widespread condemnation over a social media hate campaign that forced an East Belfast Irish language pre-school to relocate.
The Naíscoil na Seolta integrated Irish language pre-school was due to open in September of this year in the grounds of Braniel Nursery and Primary School.
However on Tuesday, the primary school announced that due to an ongoing social media hate campaign, carried out by people with no connection to the school, the pre-school was having to relocate.
The principal, staff and the board of governors at the East Belfast Primary School told parents and staff today of the decision, which they say comes after “disgusting” and “unfounded erroneous allegations” were posted online.
They said: “Due to an ongoing social media hate campaign against some individuals and the integrated Naíscoil 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 clearly were 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 Naíscoil.
“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 we always will.
“The comments, made mostly by those who are not even from the school community, on social media do not in any way reflect the opinions and beliefs of the governors and the entire staff of the school.”
Naíscoil na Seolta, thanked Braniel Nursery and Primary School for its support over the past few months, and said that it had made the decision to relocate with “mixed emotions”.
It said: “With mixed emotions, Naíscoil na Seolta has made the decision to relocate to another site in East Belfast.
“We would like to thank Diane Dawson, Braniel Primary School, its governors and parents for the generous opportunity they extended to us to use a mobile building on their school grounds.
“We received a hugely warm welcome, and have loved bringing the Irish language to Braniel, which we look forward to continuing.
“There was however, a small scale social media campaign launched in an attempt to move us on. This was dealt with using the correct channels. Nonetheless, with children’s wellbeing at the front of our minds, we have decided to take up a new opportunity.
“The Braniel site was always a temporary location, as we developed plans for a permanent home in East Belfast. In the last weeks it had emerged that a new site had become available to us. The new site is bigger, more conveniently located for parents and builds on our existing relationships in East Belfast. The new location will be announced very soon after we have spoken to parents and funders.
“Naíscoil na Seolta has always been about deepening community relationships, and these relationships will continue, regardless of our location. We remain committed to, and excited about bringing integrated Irish medium education to East Belfast.”
Since the announcement there has been widespread condemnation of the online hate campaign against the school.
Communities Minister Deirdre Hargey said: ““It’s outrageous that Naíscoil na Seolta, due to open at Braniel PS, have been forced to relocate following a campaign of online abuse and hate.
“Parents, children and school staff should not have to put up with this type of disgusting behaviour.
“Irish medium education is inclusive and it’s thriving across Belfast and these disgusting attempts to deter progress will not be tolerated.
“Online abuse of any form is disgraceful, but particularly when it’s attacking a nursery school.
“We need a strong message from right across society and from political leaders, that this campaign of hate against this Naíscoil is wrong.”
UUP leader Doug Beattie said: “I cannot understand this hate filled campaign against Naíscoil na Seolta and Linda Ervine – what is the point, what is achieved other than negativity. I’m saddened and I’m disgusted.”
East Belfast councillors also spoke out against the intimidation with Alliance Councillor Michelle Kelly saying: “An orchestrated hate campaign…against a nursery school. These people will not win though, because we are lucky enough to have people like Linda Ervine driving forward a positive, shared future that I look forward to my little daughter growing up in.”
Green Party councillor Anthony Flynn said: “Shocked, appalled and disgusted at what has happened with Naíscoil na Seolta at the Braniel Primary School.
“Those whom have been involved in a campaign of hate and abuse towards Linda Ervine and the school should be ashamed of themselves, they do not represent the Braniel nor the wider community.
“There is absolutely nothing to fear from kids coming together from different backgrounds to learn and grow.
“I sincerely hope the nursery can be relocated soon, which will be of huge benefit to the whole of East Belfast.”