11/11/2011 09:49 GMT | Updated 11/01/2012 05:12 GMT

Poppy Row: John O'Dowd, Northern Ireland Education Minister, Attacks Media Over School Poppy Ban Coverage

Northern Ireland's education minster John O'Dowd has hit out at journalists for publicising a "baseless" story involving a pupil who was allegedly asked to remove her poppy.

Reports of the incident, including an article by the BBC, described how a parent lodged a complaint against Dundonald High School, saying their daughter was told by teachers she was not allowed to wear her poppy.

The father, who wished only to be named as 'Andy', said he was "disgusted" and the request was "an absolute disgrace", and promptly lodged a formal complaint to the school.

According to Andy, his daughter was told by a teacher "them kids aren't getting in my classroom wearing them poppies".

The allegation spiralled out of control as news outlets and politicians latched on to the claims. David McNarry, an Ulster Unionist MLA, said the school should be "teaching pupils about why people would want to wear it with pride".

"The reaction I'm getting from parents is one of shock. If there's no truth in this then let Dundonald High School say so," he added.

The school has denied the accusation, saying there was "no evidence" to substantiate the claims after carrying out an internal investigation on the same day the complaint was made.

A statement released by the school read: "Every year Dundonald High school sells hundreds of poppies, making a significant contribution to this worthy appeal."

"Pupils wear their poppies proudly in all classrooms and every year we have a special assembly for Remembrance Day."

Now the education minister has attacked a local Belfast newspaper after they "devoted extensive coverage" to the claims.

“Unfortunately, however, the damage had been done. Poor journalism had thrust individuals, and a wider school community, into the limelight on the back of a baseless story.

"Dragging a school community through a political debate on the airwaves is no way to handle such a sensitive issue.

“We must never forget that at the heart of this are children. I am very concerned at the impact this coverage has had on Dundonald High School and its teachers and pupils who are left, when the media move on, to pick up the pieces," O'Dowd added.

“I would ask and expect that in future media organisations, and those wishing to comment on such matters, would reflect with maturity before chasing quick headlines."