Northern Ireland

Rows over Irish language nursery 'like Lagan College protests 40 years ago'

Green Party leader Clare Bailey
Green Party leader Clare Bailey Green Party leader Clare Bailey

Rows over the establishment of an Irish language nursery in east Belfast are similar to protests against Northern Ireland's first integrated school 40 years ago, the Green Party leader has said.

Clare Bailey was among the first 28 pupils to attend Lagan College when it was set up in September 1981.

She said she is appalled that a social media hate campaign has forced integrated Naiscoil na Seolta to move from its planned site in the Braniel area of east Belfast.

"Objecting to nursery school children? Where are we going next?" she said.

Naiscoil na Seolta was due to open to 16 children at Braniel Primary School in September, as the first Irish language school in a loyalist area 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.

It has now been forced to move.

Irish language campaigner Linda Ervine said the new temporary location is being kept private "for as long as possible" amid fears of a further campaign of intimation.

The activist also challenged unionist politicians in east Belfast to help them find a permanent base for the school in the area.

Ms Bailey said the row reminded her of the bitter Holy Cross dispute in north Belfast in 2001 and 2002 and protests outside Lagan College 40 years ago.

When the college opened in 1981, it was temporarily housed in Ardnavally Activity Centre beside the river Lagan in south Belfast.

Ms Bailey said the school's principal tried to protect children from protesters and the media spotlight.

"On our first day our principal Sheila Greenfield took the decision that we were not to be brought in the front door where all the protesters, the media and the police were," she said.

"She had to get the parents to drop us off at Shaw's Bridge. We walked up with the teachers round the back way into Ardnavally so we wouldn't get caught up in it.

"That was in 1981, then you've got Holy Cross and now it's a nursery school," she said.

Ms Bailey said there was a clear demand for the naiscoil.

"For me, if you look at school provision and what parents really want, you have to look at what parents have driven, and what they've really driven is integrated and Irish-medium (schools)," she said.

Ms Bailey said she was heartened by strong support for the naiscoil

"As Linda Ervine said this is a small minority (opposed to the nursery school)," she said.

"What's really sad is that mentality still exists, no matter how widespread or not."