by Angus Macdonald
A CATHOLIC Primary School in Northern Ireland is to move to a new site provided by local nuns because of fears that pupils will be at risk from attacks on a security checkpoint being built alongside. Parents had complained that the new army post was deliberately sited close to the school in order to use children as a "human shield" against IRA attacks.
Cloughoge Primary School on the outskirts of Newry, Cu Down, has been the focus of bitter controversy over its safety since builders began work on a new army checkpoint on the main Dublin-Belfast road only eight feet away from the school buildings.
Staff and local residents held protest meetings, and many parents vowed not to send their children back to the 400-pupil Primary. Fr Henry Devlin, a local parish priest, described it as "the ham in the sandwich between the Army and the IRA".
Fears grew more urgent earlier this month when the IRA launched a mortar attack on the building works.
No-one was hurt in the incident, which occurred during the school holidays, but teachers meeting in the school building had to dive for cover, But this week education authorities in Northern Ireland accepted the offer of temporary town-centre premises from the Sisters of Mercy in Newry, who are vacating the site of Our Lady's Grammar School, which they run.
Sr Perpetua, headmistress of Our Lady's, said this week. "We are all working for the same Lord, and the Sisters of Mercy gladly stretch out a helping hand to the children of the Cloughoge."
Kevin Campbell, headmaster of Cloughoge, 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."
Fr Devlin, who is also chairman of the Board of Governors of Cloughoge School, told the Catholic Herald: "It was a war environment here not conducive to good formation. There were bulldozers and soldiers with guns everywhere. They were trying to make little British Army soldiers out of our kids."
He said that the education department had "facilitated in every way" the movement to a new site, but drew a distinction between it and the military authorities.