Irish Times

Student is suspended after photograph with President

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Alison Healy

An Iraqi student was suspended from her school yesterday after she had her photograph taken with the President, Mrs McAleese. The school has defended the action, saying it was a disciplinary matter as the pupil had disobeyed specific instructions.

Zainab Kadhum (17) is a Leaving Certificate student at Ballinteer Community School in south Dublin. Mrs McAleese visited the school on Wednesday and watched a wheelchair hurling match.

Before the visit, Zainab asked the deputy principal, Mr Danny Cussen, if she could have her photograph taken with the President.

Mr Cussen said she could not. The school had received a set of protocol guidelines from Áras an Uachtaráin in advance of the visit.

The guidelines said that the President was happy to have her photograph taken, but people should not ask her to pose for personal photographs as she would not have the time to facilitate everyone.

During the visit, Zainab approached the President's group and asked one of her entourage if she could have her photograph taken.

She was told she could ask Mrs McAleese. The President agreed, and Zainab gave her camera to another student to take the photograph.

After this came to Mr Cussen's attention, he brought Zainab and her father into his office yesterday morning. They disagreed on the version of events, and Mr Cussen suspended the girl for five days.

He told The Irish Times that he was very saddened at the highlighting of this internal school matter as it would embarrass the President. She had generously given her time to the school, and he did not want to drag her into a disciplinary matter.

Mr Cussen said it was not fair or accurate to say that the student was suspended just because she had had her photograph taken with the President.

"This is an internal matter. It's a disciplinary issue," he said. "The action was taken after a particular instruction was given to a student and was then disobeyed."

It is understood that the student was to be suspended for a shorter period of time until a further disagreement arose between the student and the deputy principal over who said what.

Yesterday Zainab said she was shocked by the suspension. "I don't deserve this," she said. "Can you tell me if this is a democracy? I am from Iraq. We had not a democracy, so I wanted to take a picture with the President of Ireland. She was very lovely to me. But he [Mr Cussen] told me 'You can't touch the President'."

She said she did not fully understand Mr Cussen when he said she could not request the photograph. "The woman with the President said: 'It's OK, just ask her' and nobody said no. If I did something wrong, I didn't mean to do it."

A spokeswoman for Mrs McAleese said the President was not aware of the suspension. She said people were asked to not request personal photographs so that the visits would flow smoothly.

However, whenever someone asked the President to pose, she obliged if at all possible.

"The President wouldn't get involved in something like this as a disciplinary action is a matter for the school," the spokeswoman said.

Zainab said she wanted to go back to school because the Christmas exams were coming up.

Mr Cussen said the incident had "absolutely nothing" to do with Zainab's nationality. It was a multicultural school, he said. None of the students had been allowed to request personal photographs with the President.

© The Irish Times

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