4 September 2003 Edition
UDA target the innocent: Bomb greets first day Holy Cross kids
BY LAURA FRIEL
A loyalist pipe bomb attached to the gates of Holy Cross Girls' Primary School disrupted the first day of term and renewed fears of a resumption of a sectarian campaign of violence against the North Belfast Catholic School. The attack took place against the backdrop of a sectarian campaign of intimidation by Glenbryn loyalists targeting Catholic homes in nearby Deerpark Road.
Three years ago the Catholic primary school, which accommodates pupils as young as four years of age, became the target of a vicious loyalist campaign of violent intimidation, during which a loyalist mob threw pipe bombs, bricks and bottles at children and parents as they attempted to walk to school.
After weeks of violence, the blockade by Glenbryn loyalists ended but the ongoing threat of further violence and sporadic attacks has continued to deny security to the children and their parents. In a previous attack, a pipe bomb was attached to the primary school's gate as pupils returned after the Christmas vacation.
On Monday morning, the device was discovered shortly before parents and their children were due to arrive at the school. For the many four- and five-year-old children, it was not only the first day of term but also their first day at school. A day that should have been both proud and happy was marred.
A PNSI cordon confronted parents and children arriving to walk the short distance along Ardoyne Road to the school. For some older children who had lived through the trauma of the loyalist blockade, the renewal of loyalist violence proved too much. Tearful scenes ensued as a few children became fearful and pleaded to go home. Many families abandoned any attempt to get their children to school.
With access to the school blocked, other parents were forced to take their children by bus to nearby St Gabriel's school, from where the pupils made their way across grass pitches to the back of Holy Cross school.
Attempts by the teachers and staff to provide as normal a school day as possible for their pupils was further thwarted after they were informed that two other devices might have been planted on the school premises.
In a telephone call to a local radio station, the UDA, using the cover name Red Hand Defenders, admitted planting the bomb at the school gates and claimed that there were two more. Holy Cross children were immediately evacuated to St Gabriel's before being allowed home. No further devices were discovered.
Meanwhile in what some newspapers have described as 'pogrom', Glenbryn loyalists have been systematically attacking Catholic homes in the mixed Deerpark Road area of North Belfast.
Attacks on Catholic families living in Deerpark Road have continued unabated for the last five years but in recent weeks sporadic attacks have been escalated into a campaign of intimidation designed to systematically drive Catholics out of the area.
A bungalow at a corner leading into the loyalist Glenbryn estate was first to be targeted. In a number of nightly attacks the home of Sarah Barkley (28) and her two young children was targeted by a loyalist mob of around 30 men, some of whom wore masks.
During over a dozen loyalist attacks on the bungalow since January, the family repeatedly telephone the PSNI and asked for help.
"Whenever I telephoned the police said they were too busy and would send someone when they could. One night, three men were standing in my garden smashing my windows and trying to get into the house. I telephoned 999 but the PSNI never bothered to come out," said Sarah.
The PSNI advised the family to keep a rope upstairs in case the house was petrol bombed and they needed to escape the fire by climbing out of a bedroom window. During a particularly gruesome attack, the family's pet cat was mutilated and left to die outside their front door. Sarah's seven-year-old daughter discovered the dead animal.
After repeated attacks and the failure of the PSNI to afford them any meaningful protection, Sarah and her two young daughters were forced to flee from their home. Their escape was made possible after the Housing Executive to purchase their home under a special scheme.
Sarah Barkley described her three years in Deerpark Road as the "worst years of my life" and expressed her fears for the Catholic families still living in the street.
"I feel really bad for the Catholics who are still left here because they know they are going to be attacked until they give up and leave. The worst thing is that no one in authority seems to care," she told the media.
Since the Barkley family has been force to leave, Glenbryn loyalists have targeted four other Catholic houses. On Friday night, about 30 loyalists gathered outside Catholic homes, smashing windows, daubing walls with sectarian graffiti and threatening to return with petrol and pipe bombs.
Amongst the mob was the female partner of a prominent loyalist. The woman was seen smashing the windscreen of any vehicle parked outside a Catholic home.
The attack came just over a week after a vicious sectarian attack on three Catholic teenagers. The loyalist gang fractured one boy's arm and left another with puncture holes in his chest and back. The third escaped and raised the alarm.
In the latest incident a loyalist mob entered Deerpark Road at about 9.30pm on the night of Tuesday 2 September and attacked the home of a Catholic woman. The house was one of four that had been attacked just days before.
Loyalist slogans were painted on the house and bricks, bottles and golf balls were thrown through the windows during the rampage.
Local politicians and clergy have described the unionist attacks as part of a campaign to drive Catholics out of the street. North Belfast priest Fr Aiden Troy supported a call by Fr Hugh Kennedy for more protection for nationalist families living on the edge of loyalist estates.
Fr Kennedy accused loyalists of orchestrating a systematic campaign to remove Catholic families from Deerpark Road, while Fr Troy said people were being driven from their homes "for no other reason than their religion.
"These families need protection and they need it now," said Troy.
In October 1998, Catholic Brian Service was shot dead at the junction of Deerpark Road as he walked to his parent's Ardoyne home. In August 2001, an elderly couple escaped injury after their home was pipe bombed by loyalists. Two months later, a four-year-old girl narrowly escaped injury when a pipe bomb exploded close to where she was sleeping on a sofa. In June 2002, seven Catholic homes were attacked during which a loyalist gunman fired several shots.