Northern Ireland news

Unionist politicians challenged to find permanent new home for integrated Irish language nursery after hate campaign

Linda Ervine outside Braniel PS where it has been decided not to open Naiscoil Na Seolta in September due to a social media campaign. Picture by Mal McCann

UNIONIST politicians have been challenged to help find a permanent new venue in east Belfast for an integrated Irish language nursery forced out of a primary school by "nonsense, lies, rumour and poison".

Politicians from the DUP and UUP have voiced support for Braniel PS after a social media hate campaign forced Naiscoil na Seolta to ditch plans to open on the site.

Irish language campaigner Linda Ervine said there has been "fantastic" outpouring of support for the pre-school and the decision was reached to relocate has not put parents off - with another child enrolling in the past 24 hours.

However, the new location is being kept private "for as long as possible" over the concerns of the hosts that it could become the focus of a fresh intimidation campaign.

"We would never have chosen this publicity and have done our best to avoid it, but it has given people a chance to speak out in support of us," Ms Ervine said.

"It is very, very heart-warming."

She has been "targeted personally" with threatening posters in the area which the PSNI is investigating after a "small number" of people spread "nonsense, lies, rumour and poison - feeding people things that aren't true".

DUP East Belfast MP Gavin Robinson paid tribute to Braniel PS principal Diane Dawson who he said "spoke powerfully and with great sorrow tonight after the decision of an Irish language nursery to pull out from her school".

"She is a great principal of Braniel PS. All should be able to engage, agree or disagree without intimation, threats or social media abuse."

UUP leader Doug Beattie said he "cannot understand this hate filled campaign against Naiscoil Seolta and Linda Ervine - what is the point, what is achieved other than negativity?

"I'm saddened and I'm disgusted."

Ms Ervine said the latest supportive words of unionist politicians were not enough.

"I am very frustrated. We're in a situation that has come about because of the behaviour of parties. This is why this kind of thinking is around Irish language.

"This kind of incident and this kind of thinking should have been done years ago.

"We are talking here about three-year-olds. They should be behind us 100 per cent making sure it succeeds and helping it to succeed in other unionist areas.

"Once more and more people embrace the language and take jobs in the sector the problem is gone. The Protestant community is under-represented there."

She stressed that the new nursery - which will now open in its new location with 15 of its 16 places filled - was deliberately designed to be integrated and is being attended by people from what is now a mixed area.

"An awful lot of our parents are mixed marriages [Protestant and Catholic]."

Ms Ervine said the next challenge is to find a permanent home for the new school.

"We have got into another temporary venue, but we're looking for a premanent venue. That's where we need unionist politicians to help us.

"We want a permanent venue. We want to be able to grow. This is a good thing and this is a good thing to grow. They need to help us.

"I was an English teacher in east Belfast and there is a lot of low educational achievement - bilingualism is a massive advantage. It helps you with your first language and it creates a flexibility for maths and problem-solving. Bilingual children perform better."

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