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School principal Burns cleared over tweet that SDLP woman had 'face like the back of van'

Principal 'not responsible' for insulting SDLP woman

By Noel McAdam

Published 27/04/2016

St Paul’s Bessbrook head teacher Jarlath Burns
St Paul’s Bessbrook head teacher Jarlath Burns
SDLP Assembly candidate Karen McKevitt

School bosses have cleared a high-profile head teacher over a tweet that an SDLP politician had "a face like the back of a van".

Well-known GAA pundit Jarlath Burns was accused of cyber bullying after the remark about Karen McKevitt was posted on the social network from his phone.

The SDLP Assembly election candidate made a formal complaint to the Council for Catholic Maintained Schools (CCMS), which promised it would "address" the incident.

The body said it had "received assurances" from Mr Burns that the tweet was sent "without his knowledge or permission".

A CCMS statement said: "(We) can confirm that we received a complaint in relation to a comment posted on a social media account of one of its principals.

"We received assurances from the principal that the tweet was sent without his knowledge or permission, and we are satisfied that the matter has been addressed."

Mr Burns, a former captain of Armagh and a regular face on BBC and RTE coverage of GAA games, said that he had no further comment to make on the issue.

But Mrs McKevitt, who is standing in the Newry and Armagh constituency, replied: "I've had no contact from the CCMS.

"I don't know what procedures they followed."

Mr Burns, principal of St Paul's High School in Bessbrook, denied posting the offensive tweet that accompanied a photograph of Mrs McKevitt's election van taken from a car overtaking it.

The tweet read: Look who was in front of me this evening... face like the back of a van."

He issued an apology via his Twitter page last Thursday and said he "fully acknowledged" the hurt caused to Mrs McKevitt.

The two met on Friday, along with a representative of the school's board of governors, but they failed to agree on a joint public statement.

Mr Burns said he was at a GAA match when a number of tweets "which did not represent my values or opinions" were issued from his phone.

He said that once he became aware of them they were immediately deleted.

He contacted the SDLP Press office the following day, which was said to have accepted his explanation.

Mrs McKevitt initially demanded a full public apology for what she called a "grossly offensive and sexist" remark.

"I have long been an outspoken critic of cyber bullying, which is an enormous problem, particularly for young people," she said.

"I have championed the rights of people irrespective of gender or position or background not to be subjected to discriminatory and hurtful commentary on social media."

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