A SINISTER sectarian sign at a Co Down primary school followed a visit from staff from a nearby Catholic secondary aimed at encouraging pupils to attend its open day.
The large sign that said 'Keep Irish out of our kids classroom' (sic) appeared in the grounds of state-controlled Cumran PS in Clough overnight on Sunday.
It came just days after staff from by nearby St Malachy's High School in Castlewellan visited the primary ahead of the secondary school's open day at the weekend.
Police are treating the incident as a sectarian hate crime.
Cumran PS opened in 2005 following the merger of Clough PS and Dundrum PS.
For much of the year the mixed village of Clough is bedecked with loyalist flags, bunting and paramilitary emblems.
Last year, The Irish News reported how a 100ft flagpole that towers over the village and is often topped with a union flag, does not require planning permission or need to meet any building control regulations.
South Down MP Chris Hazzard welcomed the PSNI investigation and said the Education Authority was also probing the incident.
"I've been speaking to local people and they are genuinely disgusted and angry at this," he said.
"Relations between schools and community relations in this area are positive and this sinister sign does not reflect local feeling."
The Sinn Féin representative said there had been repeated vandalism of Irish language road signs in the area.
"Combined with these attacks, this latest incident would point to a concerted campaign targeting the Irish language," he said.
"The people responsible for this sectarianism need to have an appreciation of an inclusive community and allow children to go about school life in peace."
SDLP councillor Hugh Gallagher described the incident as "really disheartening".
"There is no place for sectarianism within our society and it’s particularly disappointing that this has happened in Clough, where I know personally of a large amount of good cross-community and inter-agency work that goes on," he said.
"I’m sure that whoever carried this out does not speak for the people of Clough who just want to live in peace with their neighbours."
A spokesperson for Cumran PS said the sign had been removed.
"We support the ethos of education where young people of all abilities, traditions and backgrounds are educated in a caring and nurturing learning environment in which respect for others is paramount," the spokesperson said.
St Malachy's High School was contacted for comment.