Protests at Catholic School

A Catholic school student and her mother make their way to Holy Cross Roman Catholic school under a heavy police and British Army presence in the Ardoyne area of north Belfast, Northern Ireland, Tuesday, Sept. 4, 2001. Protestants in the bitterly divided north Belfast neighborhood of Ardoyne hurled rocks, bricks, bottles and even flower pots at the heavily girded officers protecting the girls as they arrived for school. (AP Photo/Peter Morrison)

By Irish America Staff
December / January 2002

North Belfast, Oct. 23 – Loyalist protestors who have spent the last eight weeks blocking Catholic children from entering their school were threatened with legal action if they do not call off their protests.

The governors of the Holy Cross School in the Ardoyne area of North Belfast announced they were going to the High Court if the stand-off continued.

The protestors came in for international derision when they were seen around the globe on TV spitting at four-year-old girls and calling them names, throwing stones and cursing. School Board chairman Fr. Aidan Troy said: “We are seeing 220 children being physically, emotionally and spiritually abused. I am watching them deteriorate before my eyes. That is not good enough.”

And the head of the North’s Human Rights Commission, Bryce Dickson, accompanied the children as they walked into their school in a show of solidarity. The protests have been going on for weeks against the backdrop of loyalist complaints that nationalists have been encroaching on their neighborhood and that they are surrounded and are being mistreated by them. But loyalists have scaled down protests following the global recriminations, and now simply turn their backs on the children and blow air whistles as they pass.

But three Catholic parents were told that death threats had been issued against them by the Red Hand Defenders, a cover name for the Ulster Defence Association. And a large police presence is permanently in the area after a pipe bomb attack on the children, which was condemned both nationally and internationally.

President Bush’s special envoy for Ireland, Richard Haass, said he condemned in the strongest possible terms the attack on the young girls.

The principal of the Holy Cross School, Anne Tanney, has been trying to “normalize” things for her young pupils since the protests began. Ironically, four years ago she found a quotation from Abraham Lincoln which she thought would be appropriate to hang in the entrance hall. It reads: “If we had been born where they were born. Taught what they were taught. We would believe what they believe.” She told reporters that that’s what they have always tried to teach the children in the school, long before the protests started. ♦

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