I'm sorry for Holy Cross comparison: Anti-racism activist Patrick Yu
An anti-racism activist has apologised for saying that children could face a Holy Cross-style onslaught of racist hatred in south Belfast.
Patrick Yu, head of the Northern Ireland Council for Ethnic Minorities (NICEM), sparked a major row last week when he said minority families would be at high risk of being attacked if they had to pass through the Village area.
The comments were made in a submission from NICEM over proposals to merge three schools.
Mr Yu warned of the potential of a "Holy Cross number two" in the area, leading to angry calls from residents and politicians for his resignation.
Yesterday NICEM issued a statement apologising for the remarks.
"NICEM would like to issue a sincere apology to the community for the statement that the merger had the potential of turning into a situation like Holy Cross," the body said.
It added: "It was never and has never been our aim or our intention to demonise or label any communities within Northern Ireland. We acknowledge that using this comparison was a poor choice."
Mr Yu's statements came about over plans to amalgamate Fane Street Primary School with Blythefield in Sandy Row and Donegall Road primary. Some 64% of Fane Street pupils are from immigrant families and a third are Muslims.
The Educational Authority (EA) says a merger is necessary because there are 800 empty places between the three schools. But in a submission on the proposals, NICEM said any merger could be dangerous.
It said it "would present a high security risk of racist attacks against ethnic minority and Muslim families" if parents have to pass the Village area to get to the proposed new school.
Following a meeting with local representatives and community groups, NICEM apologised for its "Holy Cross" remarks.
However, the body said that black and ethnic minority parents had expressed concerns about potential racist attacks and bullying.
NICEM said it was concerned that the Education Authority had not carried out a risk assessment before proposing the possible amalgamation.
The body said that all families had been asked to agree to a merger without being provided with adequate information from the Education Authority.
It added that "no one agenda should supersede the rights of all children to a safe and progressive education".
South Belfast DUP MLA Jimmy Spratt, who had called for Mr Yu's resignation in the wake of his comments last week, said he welcomed the "overdue apology to the local community".
Last week the PSNI said there was no evidence that a school merger would see an increase in racist attacks. Assistant Chief Constable Stephen Martin added: "People need to own their words and need to be very measured in what they say."
No decision has been taken as to what format the merger might take. Options being explored include building a new campus for the three schools or amalgamating three sites into two.
For the most part, parents from all three schools want each one to remain open, and parents of children attending Donegall Road Primary have been holding protests against the merger.
The Education Authority is looking at merging Fane Street, Blythefield and Donegall Road primary schools. More than 60% of pupils at Fame Street Primary School are from immigrant families. Last week the Council for Ethnic Minorities said children could become the victims of racist attacks if their classes were moved.