9 December 1999 Edition

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DUP attempt to undermine McGuinness

By Padraig MacDabhaid

Newly appointed Education Minister Martin McGuinness has said that he will not be deflected from carrying out his work by the DUP-organised protests carried out by children from schools over the past week. The protests, he said, ``are politically motivated by elements within the DUP''.

And despite DUP denials, a number of leading DUP figures, including Ian Paisley Jnr, Gardiner Kane and Jim Wells, have been present during the protests.

DUP Assembly member Ian Paisley Jnr, said of the pupils' protests: ``I'm more than happy to salute them for what they've done and to encourage them to keep up this protest.'' The DUP's Sammy Wilson, who is the vice-chair of the Education Committee, also said he ``encouraged parents and pupils who have shown their opposition''.

McGuinness has reiterated his determination to work for all children, saying: ``As far as I am concerned, they are our children also, and my job as Education Minister is to press on and try to give them the best education that I possibly can.''

What is clear from the protests is that the DUP are determined to inject sectarianism into the education system, poisoning young minds at a time when adults have begun to turn their backs on Paisley's brand of sectarianism.

That sectarianism was there for all to see in Ballymoney, where schoolchildren carrying Union Jacks and loyalist flags sang `The Billy Boys' about ``being up to our necks in Fenian Blood, surrender or you'll die''.

And while the DUP was congratulating those protesting, Kilrea resident Francis McWilliams explained how his wife and child were terrified by around 70 youths protesting in Ballymoney.

``Myself, my wife and child were shopping in Ballymoney town centre when around 70 pupils from Ballymoney High stormed the town centre in school uniform, singing sectarian songs. A number of youths were carrying loyalist flags and shouting threats against the nationalist residents of Dunloy. I could clearly hear chants of `We won't let no Fenian teach us Irish'.''

The principal of Ballymoney High, Wilfred Ridge, admitted to being at the protest but claimed that he was only there to supervise it.

Similar scenes have been reported in Kilkeel, Cookstown, Glengormley, Portadown, Newtownabbey and Belfast. On the Ballysillan Road in North Belfast, protesting pupils carrying loyalist flags, some wearing UVF memorabilia, blocked roads and attacked a Catholic school and a bus carrying pupils from the school.

The latest walkout took place on Wednesday, 8 December, again in North Belfast. Sinn Féin councillor Danny Lavery condemned the DUP for encouraging schoolchildren from Castle High to march towards Whitewell, an area that has been the target of numerous loyalist attacks.

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