Belfast Telegraph

Unionist outrage over Bobby Sands Irish language bursary awarded to pupils at west Belfast school

By Nevin Farrell

Sinn Fein has been accused of politicising the Irish language by unionists left furious by a school scholarship programme named after the hunger striker Bobby Sands.

The DUP and Ulster Unionist Party have both raised concerns about the controversial 'Bobby Sands Gaeltacht Scholarships' which have been awarded to two pupils at St Colm's High School in Twinbrook, on the outskirts of west Belfast.

The UUP's Danny Kinahan was particularly critical of Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness who handed out the summer scholarships to pupils at the school. And chairman of the Stormont education committee Mervyn Storey has written to the Bishop of Down and Connor to raise his concerns.

Mr Kinahan said it was concerning that Mr McGuinness "seems to think it is appropriate to present schoolchildren with a scholarship named in honour of a convicted terrorist".

"School should be an environment where children are able to learn about and learn from other cultures in an inclusive manner," he said.

"It is certainly not an appropriate place to glorify the memory of a convicted terrorist – and indeed there would rightly be uproar if a unionist politician presented a similar award named after a loyalist terrorist. There cannot be any doubt about Sinn Fein's continuing intention to politicise the Irish language. If they really cared about promoting Irish language and cultural heritage, they would be trying to get all sections of our community on board."

The telephone at St Colm's High was diverting to its answerphone yesterday.

A Department of Education spokesman said the row was a matter for the school.

"It is a matter for schools to decide what outside resources they make use of and what extra-curricular activities they facilitate for the benefit of their pupils," he said.

Foras na Gaelige – which promotes the Irish language – was making no comment on the matter yesterday.

Sinn Fein West Belfast MLA Pat Sheehan hit back at unionist criticism and said that it was fitting that Bobby Sands' contribution to the Irish language should be remembered and honoured.

He said: "Bobby Sands lived in Twinbrook and is regarded as a hero by the community.

"In the local community and in Long Kesh, Bobby was heavily involved in the promotion and development of the Irish language."

The bursary is a joint initiative taken by Sinn Fein and the Bobby Sands Gaeltacht Scholarship, a recently-formed group of local business people dedicated to helping children interested in learning and speaking Irish.


Bobby Sands died on May 5, 1981 in the Maze Prison hospital after 66 days of a hunger strike. Aged 27, the IRA member was the leader of the 1981 hunger strikes which saw 10 republican prisoners starve themselves to death in protest over prisoner status and conditions. During his hunger strike, he was elected as MP for Fermanagh and South Tyrone. The married father-of-one was well-known as a prolific writer and poet, particularly in the Irish language.

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