Parents at a Co Antrim school say they are unhappy with what they view as attempts to “pressure” children into taking part in GAA.
Parents of pupils at Ballymoney High School have hit out after the school told Year 11 boys they were to receive coaching in order to participate in a GAA initiative alongside pupils from two other schools, Dalriada Grammar School and Our Lady of Lourdes School.
One of the parents, who asked not to be identified in order to protect their son’s identity, said the boys were “under pressure” to take part because the initiative was opt-out rather than opt-in.
“The boys were told that if they had any concerns they could go and see the principal or the vice-principal about it,” the concerned father said.
“They are being put in a position where they have to single themselves out.
“Gaelic football is not cross-community. It is not unionist friendly and I am not happy with the way Ballymoney High School has handled the whole thing.”
PUP councillor Russell Watton said a number of parents had approached him with their concerns.
“The school have told me that it is optional, that there is an opt-out.”
Mr Watton said this was unfair on the pupils with concerns, and that an opt-in system would have been better.
“What young boy is going to go in, individually, at 15 years of age and put their hand up and say ‘I have a problem with this?’,” he asked.
“They’re being asked to go and speak to someone in a position of authority and explain themselves.
“What young boy is going to do that? They’re not.”
Mr Watton explained parents’ concerns with the GAA, saying: “I have no problem with the GAA. It is what it is, but the GAA has a problem in working-class unionist areas. People living in these estates never had anything to do with the GAA, and the GAA never had anything to do with them.
“There are cups named after dead IRA men. What’s some young boy in a band supposed to do? It is not fair that they’re being put in this position. “Don’t get me wrong, I am not that daft to think that everyone in the GAA are out-and-out republicans, but GAA is seen in that way by unionists.”
TUV leader Jim Allister said: “These social engineering projects are very questionable and therefore it is very important that there should be full, proper parental consent.
“An opt-in scheme is a far better protection rather than an opt-out scheme. An opt-out scheme puts the onus on the parent or pupil to disengage from something which isn’t a normal activity at the school of their choice.”
A spokesman for the Education Authority said: “This is part of the cross-community Cuchullains Initiative which has been going for about 10 years now. Five pupils from each school will be chosen to make up a team which will compete in a one-off competition against schools from other towns.”
Cynthia Currie, principal of Ballymoney High School, said: “The three schools in Ballymoney, Dalriada School, Ballymoney High School and Our Lady of Lourdes School, have a strong history of collaboration and cross-community work.
“This is part of an ongoing Shared Education programme of activities which the three schools are involved in. In this particular initiative, Ballymoney is one of a number of towns involved.”