Belfast Telegraph

'Don't use pupils as political tool' ... Northern Ireland school hits back after rugby kit criticism

Councillor praises school for cross-community efforts

By Michael Sheils McNamee

A school has said it must "draw a line in the sand" after an online row over a cross-community rugby kit - saying its pupils were being used "as a political tool".

On its Facebook page, Kilkeel High School’s principal hit back after criticism of the kit.

One unionist councillor, Glyn Hanna praised the school for its cross-community efforts. He had queried the colours used on the shirt on Facebook. He said he later contacted the school and it was explained to him how the design came about by a group of pupils from the two schools.

"I work, in the community and on the council, on promoting cross-community engagement," he said.

"I welcome the school's endeavours - there should be more of it.

"My post online has been mis-represented. I had never seen this top before and was surprised - and I had three children who attended the school. I contacted the principal who explained it to me and I was happy with that."

On Wednesday, the girls’ collaborative rugby team, made up of players from the High School and St Louis Grammar, were in action playing Rugby 7s, with pictures later posted on Kilkeel’s Facebook page.

Some drew attention to the colours on the jersey saying it was like a GAA strip. There is green and yellow on the right shoulder of the white shirt to represent St Louis, with burgundy and sky blue on the left shoulder to represent the colours of Kilkeel High School.

The school crests are also printed on each side. Kilkeel High said the kit had been devised by pupils who had the idea to represent both schools on the jerseys after they formed the collaborative team.

A large number of comments on Kilkeel High School’s Facebook page came out in support of the school and the pupils for their efforts with the cross-community rugby team.

School principal Victor Coert, in a Facebook post, said he had been contacted asking for the top to be changed. He outlined how a group of 18 boys came together on a pitch and came up with the idea of forming a team which led to the unique shirt.

"None of you sat in the circle – I did!" said principal Victor Coert. "None of you listened to that conversation – I did! Those boys became teammates and friends."

He added: “I have had enough of my pupils being used as a political tool in this entire debate.

“Please realise that they too are reading the comments you make about their school.”

Mr Coert said that “no one has had the decency” to contact him about the rugby top, except for one phone call.

“I would implore you — the community of Kilkeel — please do not use our school for individual or political agendas,” Mr Coert added, saying his office was open for contact.

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