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School head lashes out at 'Taliban' and 'sectarian' allegations from outgoing principal

By Cate McCurry

Published 09/04/2016

Elizabeth Armstrong
Elizabeth Armstrong

The outgoing headmaster of a distinguished grammar claims his successor has portrayed the school’s board of governors as the “Taliban of Fermanagh” and "sectarian" over a 10-year battle to merge two Fermanagh schools.

Dr Neil Morton, the Portora Royal headmaster, slammed Elizabeth Armstrong, the principal of Enniskillen Collegiate, for her role in the long-running campaign to prevent the amalgamation of the two schools.

Ms Armstrong has been elected to take the reins of the new Enniskillen Royal, a school which she opposed for almost a decade and has branded Dr Morton's claims as "entirely untrue".

He also highlighted his grave concerns for the newly amalgamated school saying that the “nasty and poisonous” legacy will feed into its future. He went on to say that the model of the school “wasn’t fit for purpose” when one side is opposed to it.

“One of the key players (Armstrong) in the opposition to change is able to carry that opposition into the new situation having lambasted the Board of Governors of the new school and accused them of sectarianism,” he added.

“All of this very dangerous and damaging propaganda is tied up in the campaign against amalgamation led by the person who has now been appointed principal.

“What should be a relationship of trust between principal and the governors is now one of distrust."

In response Ms Armstrong said she found Dr Morton's claims "very concerning".

"Dr Morton’s statements are entirely untrue. I have never stated that the Portora Governors are “sectarian" nor referred to the “Taliban” of Fermanagh.

"The second of these comments was, in fact, made by Senior Counsel acting for the Fermanagh Protestant Board of Education. This is recorded at paragraph 149 of the Judgment in the Judicial Review application-

To use Mr Scoffield QC’s colourful phrase the FPBE has been presented as some sort of “Protestant Taliban” intent on exercising a sinister role over the proposed new school.”

"I consider it is very concerning that Dr Morton is attributing remarks to me which are completely untrue. I do not consider and have never implied nor suggested that Portora Governors are sectarian and any reference to the word “Taliban” was an observation by Counsel in open Court and had nothing to do with me whatsoever."

A legal challenge to the merger was mounted by a Collegiate pupil. It was rejected by a High Court in February.

Dr Morton said the pupil was “used and exploited” in order to raise the judicial review which he says will cost the public purse £300,00.

Dr Morton, who will now play a role in setting up the new Education Authority, sent a letter to his pupils’ parents criticising Ms Armstrong earlier this week.

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