22.12.08

Minister's praise for hunger striker Sands prompts complaint to police

GERRY MORIARTY, Northern Editor
Irish Times
22 Dec 2008

A COMPLAINT HAS been made to the PSNI after the Minister for Education in the North praised IRA hunger striker Bobby Sands during a meeting with Belfast schoolchildren.

Sinn Féin's Catríona Ruane spoke approvingly last week of Bobby Sands at a prize-giving ceremony at St Colm's High School in Twinbrook, on the outskirts of west Belfast.

A complaint, made to the PSNI on Saturday, alleged the Minister was in breach of a law on glorifying terrorism.

A police spokesman said he could not comment on individual cases but confirmed that such a complaint had been received at Antrim police station.

"The assessment of the report is at an early stage and it has not been established if any offence has been committed," the spokesman added.

Ms Ruane told the children they should be thankful that Sands, who died on hunger strike in 1981, created the conditions so that they could have a better future.

She also spoke about how she was saddened that the film The Wind That Shakes the Barley, about the War of Independence and the Civil War, had generated criticism.

Ulster Unionist Assembly member Basil McCrea said First Minister Peter Robinson and Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness should reprimand Ms Ruane.

"It is a matter of profound shame that an Education Minister of the Northern Ireland Executive stood in front of schoolchildren and lauded a terrorist hunger striker. It is also incredibly disturbing that the Education Minister revealed frightening authoritarian tendencies by attacking those who dared to criticise a film that gave a historically inaccurate account of the Civil War," said Mr McCrea.

"This demonstrates precisely why education policy is in a complete shambles," he added.

The North's Department of Education would not comment on the matter and directed questions to Sinn Féin.

A Sinn Féin spokesman said it would have been totally inappropriate were Ms Ruane not to talk about Bobby Sands considering that he used to live in Twinbrook.

Referring to the complaint to the PSNI the spokesman said: "This is total nonsense. Bobby Sands is an iconic figure who is respected around the world.

" I am sure the police have more important things to consider when people are being robbed, when children are being stabbed on the streets, and people are being attacked in their homes," the Sinn Féin spokesman said.

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