A British government document has described unionist murder gangs as voluntary organisations in the same bracket as children’s charities.
The “gaffe” was contained in notes of a meeting between a group of school principals and senior Department of Education officials.
In them, is recorded a list of action points suggested at the meeting, including to “maintain/establish good working relationships with voluntary organisations (Barnardos, NSPCC, UDA, UVF)”.
The document was obtained under freedom of information by the SDLP.
The party’s equality spokesperson Dolores Kelly said such a parallel was shocking in the extreme.
“It beggars belief that anybody would compare the UDA and UVF with Barnardos and the NSPCC,” she said.
“Indeed it beggars belief that the UDA and the UVF would be asked to help contribute to a plan to help children’s education.
“It is at the same time ludicrous and insulting.”
The document came to light just a day after it emerged that justice campaigner Mark Thompson was among over a hundred nationalists had received from police details of a “significant and substantial” threat to their lives from the UVF.
“Barnardos and the NSPCC do human rights work. The UDA and UVF threaten human rights workers,” Ms Kelly said.
“Barnardos and the NSPCC protect children. The UDA and UVF beat them up. The SDLP will be writing to the minister for education seeking an urgent explanation for this ill conceived and worrying plan.”
A spokesman for the department said the case was merely one of human error, not a policy decision.
“The Department of Education does not equate paramilitary organisations with those doing excellent charity work,” he said.
The SDLP requested the documents as it attempts to gather information on illegal sectarian discrimination by the department through its Renewing Communities programme action plan.
The plan means that schools in 85 per cent Protestant areas will receive additional funding to cater for children with special educational needs while schools in Catholic areas would not receive any funding.