6 January 2000 Edition

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`No' unionists behind school protests

Barry McElduff, Sinn Féin Assembly member for West Tyrone, has slammed the political opportunism of the anti-Agreement unionists in using and abusing schoolchildren for their own narrow political agenda.

McElduff's attack came after it was revealed that a petition, a letter to parents and a suggested plan of action aimed at undermining both Martin McGuinness and Bairbre de Brún, ministers for Education and Health respectively, was being circulated from the Stormont offices of the Northern Ireland Unionist Party.

Some of the suggestions for action made in the letters are to write to the local church ministers asking them to condemn the appointments of McGuinness and de Brún, to arrange protests at hospitals to be visited by de Brún, and to take pupils out of schools where McGuinness is to visit.

This disclosure comes hot on the heels of denials by anti-Agreement unionist parties that they were involved in organising protests carried out by schoolchildren against McGuinness's appointment as Education minister.

Originally, when the petitions and letters were discovered to have emanated from the NIUP's party offices, it was claimed by party members that someone must have broken into party offices and sent the information from there.

However, party leader Cedric Wilson subsequently had to admit that the documents were sent out by party secretary Clifford Smith.

Speaking about the revelation, McElduff said: ``These documents prove what many people have suspected for some time. Anti-Agreement unionists are orchestrating the series of school walkouts and protests witnessed since Martin McGuinness was appointed Minister for Education.

``It is disgraceful that Cedric Wilson and his cohorts feel that it is acceptable to use schoolchildren to further their own narrow and failed agenda.''

McElduff concluded by saying: ``It is clear that anti-Agreement unionists are so desperate to resist inevitable change that they are prepared to use school children, the sick, the elderly, and in fact to manipulate any situation involving vulnerable people. Their tactics are a disgrace and their attempts at lies to cover them up have been exposed.''

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