Belfast Telegraph

Ex-republican prisoner says daughter's Catholic school used as 'weapon of normalisation' over Army stand at careers event

By Rebecca Black

A former republican prisoner has accused his daughters' Catholic school of becoming "a weapon of normalisation" after an Army stand was present at an educational event.

The Irish Guards were at Belfast Boys' Model School on Wednesday morning with a stand.

The Ministry of Defence described it as "concentrating on science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM)".

The event was attended by Year 10 pupils from a number of nearby schools, including Mercy College.

It later posted images of pupils at the event, with the Army stall visible in the background. A parent of two Mercy College pupils wrote a letter of complaint to the Council for Catholic Maintained Schools (CCMS) about the Army's presence.

"As a parent of two children who presently attend Mercy College Belfast, I am extremely proud of the school's achievements," he wrote.

"And I am most respectful towards the school's positive ethos and the commitment by its staff to the safety, security, well-being and overall development of its pupils.

"As a north Belfast republican socialist and a former republican prisoner, my views of the British Army have been recorded sufficiently over the years without further elaboration being required. I am shocked, saddened and angry tonight. But most of all I am deeply disappointed by these grotesque images that are being circulated by Mercy College.

"The school is better than being used as a weapon of normalisation. Enlistment into British Crown forces, for my children, or indeed any child who lives in Ardoyne, Ligoniel or the Marrowbone communities, would mean immediate displacement, conflict-related threat and quite possibly death.

"It is only a few years ago that a serving member of British Crown forces was targeted in a republican grenade attack just yards from our home and less than a mile from the gates of Mercy College."

The man went on to say that the pictures will cause hurt to victims of the security forces during the Troubles.

"If we are to forget about the huge legacy issues which remain in our community and the multiple war crimes that have been committed by British Crown force thugs here, if we are to join in the pretence that there is no conflict in Ireland and therefore we focus solely upon the defence and the well-being of our children, then we must challenge those responsible for this recruitment campaign that was waged against vulnerable children who are oblivious to the dangers lurking behind feigned smiles and fancy posters," the parent wrote in the letter.

He added that the CCMS should "take a long, hard look at themselves".

CCMS did not respond to a request from the Belfast Telegraph for a comment.

The MoD said the Armed Forces attend a number of events at various schools.

"The Army is an equal opportunities and equal pay employer," it said.

"It offers the potential of a rewarding and worthwhile career across numerous trades and disciplines to people from right across the community.

"Visits to educational establishments, including schools, are just one way that the Armed Forces can engage and present the various options open to young people at a time when they are trying to decide upon a career.

"This is done with the full cooperation and understanding of the schools concerned and the senior management.

"A stand concentrating on science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM), which is a governmental focus for Northern Ireland, was set up at the Boys' Model Secondary School. The event was attended by pupils from various schools who had expressed an interest in attending."

Belfast Telegraph

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