McAleese barracked on visit to the North

President Mary McAleese was jeered and barracked by a group of loyalist protesters as she visited a primary school in the North today.

Mrs McAleese and her husband Martin were subjected to sectarian abuse as they arrived for a visit of Millburn Primary in Coleraine.

Around 50 demonstrators gathered at the school gates to show their opposition to the president’s visit.

Carrying placards and waving Union flags, some of the protesters shouted: “No surrender,” “f*** off home republican scum,” and “We don’t want you here”.

The group also made reference to controversial comments made by Mrs McAleese three years ago when she compared Protestant attitudes to Catholics during The Troubles as similar to the situation in Nazi Germany before the war.

They also claimed the school did not properly consult with the local community about whether or not her visit should go ahead.

Mrs McAleese was visiting the school to see innovative early years teaching techniques imported from Finland.

She spent time with Primary 1 and 2 pupils before listening to a musical recital from Year 6 and 7 students.

The protesters dispersed when she went inside to commence her visit.

John Moffat, a protester and member of the local residents’ association, said the community was showing its distaste at the President’s presence.

“The school asked us for our opinions and we said we didn’t want to hear,” he said.

“This is not only a protest about the President’s visit, but also at the way the school has handled things. There was the Nazi comments and it has been claimed that the Queen (of England) wouldn’t be able to visit the Irish Republic until policing and justice powers are devolved to Stormont, yet she can come up here without any pre-conditions.”

Millburn Primary School, which accommodates 420 pupils, is located at the heart of a mainly unionist estate in Coleraine.

A Union flag flies in the grounds and Northern Ireland flags adorn lampposts all around it.

Headmaster John Platt said the protesters represented a very small minority. He claimed the vast majority of people supported the President’s visit.

“There are probably about 40 or 50 people out there today and I was told there would be thousands,” he said.

“I took about 50 or 60 calls this morning and only one of them was negative. Minorities have a right to voice their opinion but this is a very small minority. There are around 75,000 people in the wider area around the school - if I have 74,950 people on our side then that will do for me.”

Mr Platt said some people had contacted him claiming loyalist paramilitary elements were involved in the opposition. However, he said he had since been assured by the organisations that they were not involved.

“It has obviously been a worrying time,” he said. “I haven’t had much sleep over the last fortnight but I am sure the vast majority of people support us.”

Mr Platt also rejected claims that he or anyone else in the school had called protesters bigots.

“That certainly didn’t come from me. I can be absolutely clear the word bigot was not used by me or anyone else at the school.”

Some of the protesters had held up banners suggesting that the Irish Government was poised to fund a new school building at Millburn.

But Mr Platt said this was not the case as all funding for the school came from the North's Department of Education.


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