Northern Ireland

Protest at Annalong school over principal John White's return

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Media captionA crowd gathered outside the school on Monday in protest

Some parents at a County Down primary school have been protesting about the return to school of its principal.

John White won an appeal against dismissal and returned to St Joseph's Primary School, Ballymartin, on Monday after an absence of 20 months.

Mr White had been sacked following an investigation by the board of governors into allegations of gross misconduct.

But an appeals tribunal overturned that decision and ruled that he was unfairly dismissed.

Mr White had denied all the allegations. The tribunal's decision paved the way for him to return to work. However, on Monday morning, angry parents gathered at the doors of the school.

One of them, Thomas Trainor, said: "The fundamental relationships that are based on trust and confidence no longer exist.

"The reputation and future of the school is at stake, and we, the parents, are not willing to accept Mr White's return to the school."

Mr Trainor said he would "seriously consider" removing his daughter from the school over the issue.

However, other parents disagreed.

Michael Norwood said: "You either agree with the rule of law or you don't. We've decided the independent body has seen all the evidence available and we agree with their decision.

"There seems to be a different issue here, where some of the members of the board of governors and some parents don't want the principal to return."

Image caption St Joseph's Primary School in Ballymartin

The employment tribunal found fault with the way in which the board of governors investigated the allegations against Mr White. It recommended that the Council for Catholic Maintained Schools (CCMS) "provide appropriate guidance to boards of governors".

It also recommended that Mr White should be "careful not to place himself is situations where his professional conduct can be called into question".

Six of the eight members of the board of governors, including the local curate, were at the school on Monday.

Paul O'Reilly, chair of the board of governors, said: "The board of governors took a decision to dismiss Mr White. We investigated a situation that arose in January 2012. We reached a conclusion on that, and we are satisfied that that was the correct decision to reach."

It is now understood that Mr White will not return to the school immediately. Instead, he will spend the rest of the academic year trying to find another job.

If that is not possible, Mr White, who declined to be interviewed, would be within his rights to reclaim his post.