IRA risk forces school to leave Army post site

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The Independent Online
A CATHOLIC primary school near the Irish border is to move to a new site because of parents' fears that pupils would be at risk from an Army post being built alongside. Some parents complained that the school was being used as a 'human shield' to deter IRA attacks.

The Northern Ireland authorities yesterday approved the move, which follows weeks of intense local controversy about the safety of the school, which is on the outskirts of Newry, Co Down.

Arguments began when the authorities decided to re-site the security checkpoint, which is on the main Belfast-Dublin road. The post has been severely damaged in two bombings, in one of which a soldier died.

The nearby Cloghogue primary school was damaged in both attacks, and concerns grew when it emerged that the Army proposed to move the base closer to the school. Parents and residents held protest meetings, the latter proposing to put notices in their windows declaring: 'The residents of this house are being used as a human shield.'

Fears reached a new pitch earlier this month when the IRA launched a mortar attack on the building work. Concern was expressed by the local council, the Irish government and the Catholic Church. Many parents said that they would not send their children back to the school, which has about 400 pupils, when it reopened in September.

The Belfast Irish News said the IRA would deserve to be pilloried for an attack on the base, but that the Army would not be able to escape its share of the blame. The newspaper added: 'It is not acceptable for innocent schoolchildren to be deployed in order to defend an Army base.

'This is the sort of tactic which was resorted to by Saddam Hussein in the Gulf war, and is not one which should be used by the British Army in Northern Ireland.'

Yesterday the Northern Ireland Education Minister, Jeremy Hanley, said that the Government had approved a proposal to move pupils away from Cloghogue and into a grammar school in Newry. The school's headmaster, Kevin Campbell, said: 'We have been forced out of our local country school. But having said that, I am highly delighted that the children are getting a place to go that is safe.'

Mr Hanley said the move was 'a very happy solution', undertaken because parents felt there was a risk and would withdraw their children. He added: 'We don't believe that those children would have been at any greater risk from terrorist activities.

'We were taking steps to make sure that the design of the new base in fact protected the children. But that is not the point. We are dealing with realities, we are dealing with perceptions, and those we have now dealt with.' Mr Hanley accused the IRA of exploiting the fears of parents and acting in an 'absolutely disgraceful' manner.