Shankill pupils 'devastated' at cancelled McAleese visit

21/02/2005 - 15:39:32

Pupils at a Belfast primary school were “devastated” that President Mary McAleese cancelled a planned visit to the Shankill Road area, its principal today said.

Betty Orr, principal of Edenbrooke Primary School, in the Shankill area of west Belfast, said that pupils and staff had organised an event to celebrate “bridge-building and the recognition of differences” for the day.

“The children have done a lot of work in preparation,” she said. “The President was to have lunch here and attend a concert in her honour.”

President McAleese cancelled her visit to the area in the wake of controversial comments she made last month comparing Nazi hatred to the way children in Northern Ireland were taught to hate Catholics.

Edenbrooke pupils were to be joined by the choir of nearby Mercy Primary, Mrs McAleese’s former school, to perform with a group of African drummers at the event.

Marie Heaney, the wife of Nobel prize-winning poet Seamus Heaney, was also due to attend the event.

Mrs Orr, who has been the principal at the school for 12 years, said that she had been in regular contact with Mrs McAleese’s office in recent days and that a mutual decision had been reached to cancel the visit.

The school has previously hosted visits by ministers from both the British and Irish governments, as well as Cherie Blair, the wife of the British Prime Minister.

“We heard rumours that a protest would be staged and we didn’t want the children to be witness to anything like that.

“I consulted some of the parents and they confirmed that those rumours had been circulating. A protest would not be in the spirit of what we were trying to celebrate here and I did not want us to be associated with it in any sense.”

Mrs Orr said that she felt that the President’s comments had been “blown out of proportion.”

“I have read the transcripts of both her speech and her subsequent apology, and I think she very clearly regrets what she said. She had used several different examples but when you read her apology she could not have been more clear. She could not have been more sorry.”

Mrs Orr said that she felt that it would be possible for Mrs McAleese to return to the school, and the Shankill area, at a later date.

“I think the issue is a bit of a political football at the moment and once the general election is over the situation should have calmed down,” she said.

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