Plans to locate a new Irish-language nursery in an east Belfast school have been scrapped with it forced to relocate after a “social media hate campaign”.
Naiscoil na Seolta had planned to locate in the grounds of Brainel Nursery and Primary School but will now be going elsewhere. It had been due to open in September.
The nursery plans to open in inner east Belfast.
A spokesperson for Naiscoil na Seolta said: “We have been offered another venue which is in a better location and which is a larger space which will allow us to grow and develop.”
Irish language campaigner Linda Ervine and the language organisation Turas are among those behind the new naiscoil, which would have been a first for the east of the city.
Ms Ervine has enjoyed a good relationship with Braniel PS Principal Diane Dawson and has been teaching Irish lessons in the school.
Voicing their disgust at the abuse since the pre-school was announced in May, Braniel’s governors said it was “with great sadness” that the Irish school will now be looking elsewhere.
“Due to an ongoing social media hate campaign against some individuals and the Integrated Naiscoil na Seolta it is with great sadness that it is choosing to relocate to an alternative location,” the school said.
“A social media campaign was started and fuelled by those who are not connected to the school, nor are parents of children at the school and are clearly not interested in facts and truth, who allowed disgusting comments to be posted that were littered with unfounded, erroneous allegations about individuals and the Naiscoil.
“Braniel Nursery and Primary school is not and should never be thought of as a contested space.
“We are proud to be a shared space for all. We welcome children, parents, families and individuals irrespective of religion, faith, creed or language and always will.
"The comments, made mostly by those who are not even from our school community, on social media, do not in any way reflect the opinions and beliefs of the governors and entire staff of the school.”
Braniel PS principal Diane Dawson said the comments concerning the Irish nursery had been “some of the most disgusting and shameful bullying I have ever seen on Facebook by individuals with no association to the school”.
"Neither Linda Ervine nor Naiscoil na Seolta deserved the vicious trolling and hate they received for renting a space on our site for the Naíscoil,” she said.
Sinn Fein MLA Deirdre Hargey said it is “outrageous” the nursery has been forced to relocate.
“Irish medium education is inclusive and it’s thriving across Belfast and these disgusting attempts to deter progress will not be tolerated,” she continued.
“Online abuse of any form is disgraceful, but particularly when it’s attacking a nursery school."
SDLP councillor Seamas de Faoite said those behind the online hate campaign are “truly warped and twisted”.
“That the prospect of infants learning Irish while attending an integrated nursery sparked such a campaign of hate really is hard to comprehend,” he stated.
“It’s also a slap in the face to the great work Linda Ervine and others have been doing in the community to open up opportunities around the Irish language to a wider demographic.”
Ciaran Mac Giolla Bhein, chief executive of Comhairle na Gaelscolaíochta, the representative body for Irish-medium education, said he agreed with the decision to move the school as the “wellbeing of the children is paramount".
“Although this is undoubtedly a set back, we view this as merely a bump in the road that won't change the overall direction of travel; in what will be an innovative and exciting project to bring integrated Irish-medium education (IME) to east Belfast,” he said.