Belfast Telegraph

Northern Ireland school tight-lipped on whether it will meet dissidents after PSNI visit

By Claire Williamson

A Northern Ireland school will not be drawn on whether it will meet a dissident republican political grouping who have taken exception after the PSNI made a visit to pupils.

Members of the Newry Neighbourhood Policing Team visited St Joseph's Boys' High School last week to tell students about "choices and consequences".

Pupils were also introduced to one of the drugs dogs, Sam, and his handler. Officers posted pictures of the visit on their Facebook page, as did the school.

However, a dissident republican political grouping in Newry is seeking to meet the principal of the school after the visit was branded "outrageous". Saoradh claimed some parents have "serious concerns" that St Joseph's didn't inform parents in advance.

The group's Newry branch issued a statement on Tuesday claiming the visit had "breached the neutral learning environment".

The group added that it was "outrageous" that "gunmen" were allowed on to the premises.

It said: "Saoradh An Iuir have received serious concerns from parents of St Joseph's Boys' High School in Newry regarding a recent visit to the school by armed members of the RUC.

"Among the concerns raised was the fact that no prior notification was given nor was any consent sought from parents."

It continued: "School should be a neutral learning environment, a safe haven. Somewhere that our children should be able to go to learn and grow."

It said that one parent, who is also a party activist, said: "To not even be notified or consulted that they would be visiting the school carrying firearms in the vicinity of my child is outrageous."

The group said a meeting had been arranged between a Saoradh representative, whose child is also a pupil, and the school principal.

The school declined to comment on the statement or whether it would meet the representative.

DUP MLA for Newry and Armagh William Irwin said the police should be encouraged in their work. He said it was a positive thing for officers to engage with young people.

"It's good to see police going in (to schools) and explaining the situation," he told the Belfast Telegraph.

"I would have thought many parents would welcome that.

"It's very backward looking for a dissident republican group to condemn that.

"As far as I know the PSNI visits most schools in Northern Ireland and I think that's good."

PSNI Superintendent Paul Reid said: "We have an excellent relationship with schools in the Newry area and work closely with them and the local community to tackle concerns and provide information about a number of issues including drugs, staying safe online and road safety.

"A local school invited us in to talk to some of their pupils about these issues and we were pleased to respond by sending members of our neighbourhood policing team to chat with them."

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