29/07/2009

North's Latest School Fire Probed

Vandals have again set fire to a school in north Belfast.

The PSNI are investigating after the canteen at Stella Maris School on the Shore Road was attacked overnight.

It was also found that paint had been thrown over the building when the blaze was discovered at 2am on Wednesday.

After the fire, the police appealed for people living near schools to be vigilant and contact them about suspicious activity as the number of incidents increase.

It is the fourth school to be targeted by arsonists in the greater Belfast area in recent weeks.

Earlier this month, the DUP MLA Nigel Dodds spoke out against such attacks and condemned one that took place just a short distance from the latest incident, at the Star of the Sea Primary School.

He said that attack in his constituency was "a despicable and apparently sectarian attack which will be rejected by all right-thinking people".

The school's Principal Kieran McGarry said it was a 'welcoming school' that enjoyed good relations with its neighbours.

"Our policy within school is to teach the children to show respect and tolerance to all people."

Another apparently sectarian attack was at St Patrick's College, Bearnageeha, on Belfast's Antrim Road.

That attack was quickly followed by a devastating fire on a school in nearby Newtownabbey - which almost completely destroyed Whitehouse Primary School.

However, earlier this week, plans for a replacement facility for the fire-hit Whitehouse Primary School were said to be progressing well.

Soon after visiting the ruined school site, the Northern Ireland Education Minister, Caitríona Ruane, said: "Plans are well under way to enable the use of spare capacity in Newtownabbey Community High School supplemented with mobile classrooms so children can return to school after the summer break," and also noted that the Department is also working to progress the planned new school as quickly as possible and that construction can start later this year.

"Whitehouse Primary, like many schools, plays an important role in the life of the community and it is important strong support is offered to get the school operational as soon as possible," she concluded, on Monday.

See: Minister Slams School Arson Attacks

(BMcC/JM)

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