There has been a shocked reaction across Ireland and abroad to news that an Irish language nursery school due to open in East Belfast has been forced to relocate as a result of loyalist pressure.
It emerged this week that those behind the first Irish language pre-school were forced to abandon plans to open at a primary school following a loyalist social media campaign.
Naíscoil na Seolta [Nursery School of the Sails], which would have been a standalone unit housed temporarily on the site, was due to open for 16 children in September 2021. It said it was moving to another location after what was described as a hate campaign “by people unconnected with the school”.
The episode follows hoax bomb attempts at a new Gaelic sports club in the same area following its formation last year.
It also recalls the shocking and violent loyalist blockade of a Catholic primary school in north Belfast twenty years ago, when terrified children were forced to run a gauntlet of abuse as a result of loyalist territorialism.
It is understood a similar motivation was expressed by those behind the hate campaign. The loyalists involved insisted that the Irish language school was unacceptable to their community and should be sited in a more nationalist area.
Sinn Féin’s Minister for Communities at Stormont, Deirdre Hargey, described the situation as ‘outrageous’.
“Parents, children and school staff should not have to put up with this type of disgusting behaviour,” she said.
“Irish medium education is inclusive and it’s thriving across Belfast and these disgusting attempts to deter progress will not be tolerated. Online abuse of any form is disgraceful, but particularly when it’s attacking a nursery school.”
THe SDLP, Ulster Unionist Party and the Alliance Party also condemned the sectarian campaign. Alliance Party leader Naomi Long said to those who participated that if they “are so intimidated by 3 and 4 year olds learning Irish that you participated in this campaign of hate, hang your head in shame”.
The team behind the Naíscoil said they have also been ‘overwhelmed by the support shown’ to them.
“We do, however feel it is important to emphasise that this issue involved a small number of individuals and is no way reflective of the East Belfast community,” the statement read.