21 June 2001 Edition
Ardoyne school under loyalist siege
Violent clashes have erupted in north Belfast for two nights after a standoff developed over a loyalist blockade of Holy Cross primary school on the Ardoyne Road.
The trouble started on Tuesday when a man was attacked by loyalists as he collected his daughter from the school. A gang of loyalists were putting up UDA flags at the time and set upon the man, smashing his car windows with a hammer then assaulting him. ``He was lucky not to have been more seriously hurt'', said Sinn Féin councillor Margaret McClenaghan. The man managed to escape and make his way along the Ardoyne Road to Ardoyne. When word spread about the attack, parents, concerned for their children, went to the school.
Mobs of loyalists also gathered and a standoff developed. The RUC came on the scene, but despite their presence, the loyalists stoned nationalist parents.
According to McClenaghan, who represents Ardoyne, the children were petrified and had to be brought across fields to St Gabriel's on the Upper Crumlin Road and taken home from there.
On Wednesday, loyalists had gathered on the road for the second time in two days in an attempt to intimidate nationalists. It was clear to even the RUC that loyalists were orchestrating something. Sinn Féin's Gerry Kelly, who was at the scene, accused UDA elements ``of stirring up trouble''. After a man armed with a gun was seen on a motorbike on the loyalist side, the RUC failed to provde protection for the children, and the school was closed for the day.
Pupils were taken home by parents infuriated by the failure of a huge RUC presence to keep the school open and safe from loyalist gangs.
Some parents removed their children from the nearby Convent of Mercy primary school as the angry crowds spilled on to the Crumlin Road. Later, loyalists fired a bomb in the back garden of a house in nearby Alliance Avenue, setting the tone for a night of disturbances.
The trouble at Holy Cross came only days after the loyalist Tour of the North march through North Belfast last Friday, 15 June.
The newly elected hardline unionist MP, Nigel Dodds, attended the march, adding to the anger felt by nationalists over the Parades Commission's decision to allow part of the parade march past Ardoyne Shops.
A huge force of RUC moved into the Upper Crumlin Road on Friday to facilitate the Orange marchers, who broke all the conditions imposed on them by the Commission.
Sinn Féin's Gerry Kelly, who was on the scene on Friday, accused Orangemen of flouting the Parades Commission's restrictions by playing music as they passed Holy Cross chapel on the Crumlin Road and Ardoyne Shops until they reached Hesketh.
``The loyalists also shouted obscene, sectarian abuse at residents,'' said Kelly, ``and we will be taking it up with the Parades Commission.''
In three coordinated attacks in the Ballymena area in the early hours of Wednesday morning, loyalists attempted to burn down two Catholic churches and a pub near Broughshane.
For the umpteenth time in recent years, Our Lady Queen of Peace church in Harryville was targeted. The loyalist gang involved in the arson attempt were disturbed and made off, leaving behind tyres full of flammable liquid which had been propped up at the door of the chapel.
Also targeted was the chapel at Crebilly - again the raiders made off after they were disturbed.
In the third attack, a petrol bomb was thrown at a pub on Carnlough Road in nearby Broughshane.
These attacks come only days after two dozen loyalists attacked the Fisherwick estate in Ballymena and tore down tricolours. During the invasion of the small nationalist estate, the loyalists threatened nationalist residents with iron bars and baseball bats.
Sinn Féin Assembly member John Kelly criticised the loyalists who are behind this series of attacks and accused them of heightening tension in the run up to Drumcree.
Springfield residents prepare for trouble
With a next week's Orange march on the Springfield Road looming, nationalist residents of the area are preparing themselves for the worst.
In the run up to this march every year, attacks on nationalist homes along the Springfield Road increase.
So far both petrol and pipe bombs have been lobbed into vulnerable areas, such as Bombay Street, which straddle the peace line.
As they attempt to bring attention to their opposition to the Orange March Springfield Residents Action Group is staging a series of white line pickets along the Road every day between 4.30pm and 5pm.
``I would urge everyone who can attend our pickets to do so and show their solidarity with us,'' said spokesperson John McGivern.