MAURA Harrington, the school principal at the heart of the Shell to Sea protests, has been heavily criticised by some parents of her pupils, who feel her high profile in the campaign is not in the best interests of the school. Harrington is the principal of the 61-pupil Inver national school, which was the recipient of a recent Department of Education report, calling for substantive change in how the school is run.
The report said a new management structure is required and that meetings are lacking defined agendas, forward planning and proper record keeping.
Parents of children attending the school now feel Harrington's continuing involvement in the protests which have turned violent on several occasions and in which she herself was badly hurt, are affecting standards at the school.
Several parents contacted this weekend indicate they are putting together a letter detailing their complaints and hope to present it to the school and its board of management in the coming days.
"Over the past number of weeks, we have seen her in papers and on the television in situations that people in positions of authority should not be behaving. She has a right to protest, but we feel that at present, the school is suffering as a result of her involvement," said one parent of an eight-year-old child at the mixed school.
Harrington was forced to take extended leave after sustaining head and neck injuries during a violent protest on October 12. She was injured as Gardai tried to clear demonstrators blocking an access road used by Shell workers.
Last Sunday, she was given a rousing endorsement at the Republican Sinn Fein Ard Fheis during the presidential address of Ruairi O Bradaigh. Harrington, in fact, addressed the hard-line republican conference in 2005.
Harrington has repeatedly refused to discuss her role as principal in public but has insisted that she never allows politics to enter the classroom. Despite repeated attempts to contact her this weekend, Harrington was not available for comment.
Harrington's actions have not gone down well with the more moderate elements of the Shell to Sea campaign.
Dr Mark Garavan, sociologist at nearby Galway-Mayo Institute of Technology, and spokesman for Shell to Sea said: "While not speaking about any one individual, the violent actions or the days of action have only served to muddy the waters and deflect attention from the main argument. There is no place for such violence from anyone and we want to move forward in a peaceful way."
Dr Garavan explained that the Shell to Sea includes a wide scope of people with differing beliefs, and is bigger than anyone individual.
"We have scheduled a solidarity day for next Friday and we want to make it clear that we don't want a repeat of the shocking and ugly scenes that took place previously. Relations with the Gardai are quite poor already down here."