15 May 2003 Edition

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NIO refuses Holy Cross compensation

BY ÁINE NÍ BHRIAIN


The NIO Compensations Agency has refused to pay damages to the families of several traumatised children of Holy Cross Primary Schoolin North Belfast.

The family of ten-year-old Shauna Lee Quail is one of many to have been told that their child will not be compensated under the Criminal Injuries Compensation scheme. The scheme is supposed to pay compensation to those who have suffered mental and physical injury.

Some Holy Cross children have been awarded minimal compensation for the trauma they endured during the violent unionist blockade in 2001, but for unexplained reasons the NIO has informed others they are not eligible.

Shauna's mother, Sharon Quail, said she was sickened and shocked by the news.

"I am absolutely disgusted that my daughter - who was eight years old and had to live through that hell up there - is being treated in this way.

"All the kids went through the same thing, and the NIO showed for those three months that they were not going to stop it. My daughter still asks me what some of the foul words they shouted at her mean.

"We endured urine-filled balloons, fireworks, abuse and torture and I don't think any of us are going to forget it. I would like to see the kickup if someone in the NIO's daughter had to go through the same thing."

For three months in 2001, the parents and children of Holy Cross Primary School in north Belfast endured a nightmare of unionist intimidation and terror.

With the guidance and encouragement of the UDA, unionists threw bricks, bottles, and even a blast bomb at Catholic girls as young as four years of age, as the children and their parents made their way to school through the unionist Glenbryn estate.

The "blockade" went on for twelve weeks before it was "suspended" by Glenbryn residents.

This week, an NIO spokesperson said that exact figures on Holy Cross families who have been refused compensation were unavailable, but defended its system of deciding payments, stating: "In the year ending 2001, the agency received 1,000 claims related to public order in the North Belfast area. It is not possible to give a breakdown of these claims specifically to the Holy Cross dispute."

Holy Cross Priest Father Gary Donegan, who was present during the blockade alongside Holy Cross Governor Fr Aiden Troy, has challenged the agency to explain why some claims were not being granted.

"How do you compensate children for what actually happened?" asked Father Donegan, "because the reality is that what happened during that terrible time may manifest itself in their teenage years.

"There was all sorts of things said, and spin put on it at the time, but at the end of the day children are literally that - little children - who basically were totally innocent of any of the reality that led to the protest in the first place.

"So therefore, for them not only to have gone through the horror of that, but then to be denied compensation which in some way may alleviate some of the pain, seems very strange, and I wonder what kind of criteria is used to judge that. For example, if one child has received compensation, how can that child's pain be deeper or more damaging than what happened to another?

"It begs the question, who draws up the criteria of pain in such situations and how is one child's pain measured over and above somebody else's?

"Without any shadow of a doubt, these children were damaged. Without any shadow of a doubt, these children were traumatised. So therefore, in a society that proposes to be one that cares and puts children first, it wouldn't be so much the question whether these children suffered lasting damage, the question is 'what should we give these children'? That should be the beginning, the stepping stone for us to work from. How can we compensate these children? How can we compensate them financially, emotionally?

"Is it a face-saving exercise? Is it a money saving exercise? What criteria justifies somebody saying one child deserves to be compensated while another child, another family, doesn't? It doesn't make sense, having witnessed that protest every day during that time, to say one can handle it and another can't. What manifests itself now is not to say what will manifest itself in time to come.

"If any child was traumatised by this then all the children were traumatised. Anything that would alleviate that suffering in any sense or go towards future help or care is the least that could be expected."

Sharon Quail is not waiting for the NIO to expand on their requirements for compensation. She intends to fight the decision. "This has been a kick in the teeth," she said. "It's not like it's a lot of money that would go to pay to help Shauna Lee over her years of trauma ahead. But it's the principle of the way she is being treated. I will bring this all the way."

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