A Catholic schoolteacher at a north Belfast school has been forced to leave her school district after becoming a a target for a sectarian loyalist hate campaign.
Catherine Seeley, who was recently co-opted as a Sinn Fein councillor in Craigavon, County Armagh, is to quit the Boys’ Model School after becoming the focus of online abuse.
Her employment at the school in the loyalist Ballysillan area had been objected to by the extremist ‘Protestant Coalition’ group. A photograph of the teacher, who is originally from Lurgan, appeared on the group’s Facebook page.
In a joint statement, the board of governors at the Boys’ Model School and the Belfast Education and Library Board (BELB) said they supported Ms Seeley in her decision to leave.
Teaching unions have come out in strong support of Ms Seeley, who is said to have been left very scared by the abuse. The Irish National Teachers Organisation, said no-one should have to put up with being threatened, and called on those responsible to lift the threats.
Ms Seeley graduated from Queen’s University in Belfast with a degree in history and Politics and trained as a teacher before taking up a 12-month teaching post at Boys’ Model last September.
A message on the Facebook page called for a “concerted efforts to get these pro-republican... supporters and perverted RC [Roman Catholic] teachers out of every Protestant school in Northern Ireland”.
Protestant Coalition founder Willie Frazer said that Ms Seeley was “openly a republican supporter”.
“This wasn’t something that she had kept to herself,” he said. “If you do that in public you have to suffer the consequences.”
Sinn Fein condemned what it called “the sectarian targeting and witch hunt of a Catholic school teacher”.
“The sole purpose of the Protestant coalition is anti-peace process, sectarian and inflammatory politics led by people like Willie Frazer, who unionist parties consulted with in recent negotiations,” said spokesman Chris Hazzard.
“It is now high time for unionist political leaders to face down these rejectionist elements and come out to strongly defend the right of people to live and work free from sectarian harassment.”
He said that in the week since the young teacher was forced from her job, no unionist political leader had spoken out in her defence or taken a stand against the “rejectionist mob” driving the campaign.
“Once again [DUP leader] Peter Robinson and [UUP leader] Mike Nesbitt are failing the test of political leadership.”
A DUP spokesman said parents were right to object to Ms Seeley.
“Parents have expressed their concerns to us about their children being taught history or politics by someone who has participated in the commemoration or glorification of IRA terrorists,” he said.
Sinn Fein’s Six-County Education Minister John O’Dowd paid tribute to those pupils at the school who spoke up for Ms Seeley. Mr O’Dowd said the students who had backed her on social media sites had demonstrated “courage and vision”.