6 September 2001 Edition
Pure sectarian hate
The ugly nature of loyalism was exposed on Ardoyne Road in North Belfast this week, when Catholic schoolchildren, some as young as four, were attacked as they returned to school for the new term. On Monday, shocked television audiences witnessed a middle-aged man, just one of many furious loyalists, screaming ``Scum! Scum! Scum!'' repeatedly at clearly terrified mothers and children.
On Wednesday 5 September, as the children were running the gauntlet of hate along Ardoyne Road for the third day, a pipe bomb was hurled at them. It exploded, injuring four RUC members.
Loyalists want to prevent pupils from the Holy Cross school to walk along the Ardoyne Road, past the loyalist Glenbryn Estate, and enter their school by its front gate. Their `protest' has been nothing other than an organised sectarian assault on the children and their parents.
On Monday morning 3 September, with tension in the area at its highest level in weeks, loyalist mobs in Glenbryn bombarded them with bricks and bottles.
The 400-yard walk along Ardoyne Road through a tunnel of hate-filled sectarian and even sexual verbal abuse revealed to the world the nature of loyalism - a racist ideology portraying nationalists as subhuman.
Known UDA figures were among the crowd screaming abuse at the children, while DUP councillor Nelson McCausland, who was in the area, had no words of condemnation.
The area's MP, the DUP's Nigel Dodds could only call for a ``cooling off'' period and refused to condemn the verbal violence against innocent children.
Sinn Féin President Gerry Adams said the blockade of the school and the loyalist protest should end now. ``There can be no excuse or justification for the sectarian abuse and violence directed at the children and their parents as they try to make their way to school,'' he said. ``Children have a right to education and a right to travel to and from their school free from threat and intimidation. The picket is being fuelled by elements of the DUP and the violence is from the UDA and is based on pure sectarian hatred. Sections of the media have sought to present this issue as one of `each side as bad as the other'. This is not true.''
Ardoyne: Running the gauntlet
BY LAURA FRIEL
``What would you like me to teach my child?'' asks a Catholic mother, responding to the media. ``Should I tell her that our Protestant neighbours have decided she's a second class citizen and from now on we'll be going to school by the back door?''
At the corner of Ardoyne Road, the scene is as hostile as the questioning. British army vehicles straddle the roadway leaving only a small gap through which parents and their children will be expected to walk. Beyond the first barrier rows of RUC Land Rovers and the armoured jeeps of the British army line both sides of the road.
Hundreds of heavily armed, mostly masked, RUC officers in full riot gear and British soldiers carrying semi automatic rifles and prepared for combat, line the route. Just visible at the end of this corridor of military hardware are the bright blue gates of Holy Cross Catholic School, a primary school for girls in North Belfast and the focus of a sectarian campaign of intimidation by loyalists.
It's over 40 minutes before Holy Cross children are due to walk to school but halfway down, adjacent to the main Ardoyne Road, loyalist mobs are already beginning to gather at Hesketh and Glenbryn Park. The streets are littered with stones, broken bricks and smashed glass, the debris of confrontation the night before. Red, white and blue painted bollards mark the entrance to the Glenbryn estate.
With predictable zeal, loyalist flags, including the Union Jack, UVF, UDA and Orange Order flags have been erected along the route. Less predictably, a huge French Tricolour is flying from a rooftop. It's obviously a case of `Yaba daba doo, any red, white and blue will do'. The roar of an overhead helicopter adds to the oppression of the early morning scene.
At 8.30am, parents from the nearby nationalist estate begin to arrive with their children. In their red school uniforms, the young pupils of Holy Cross, from the top of their beribboned heads to the toe of their polished shoes, have been dressed with obvious care and attention. These are cherished children from loving homes. And for parents and pupils this should have been a day of pleasure and pride.
Yesterday, Monday, the first day of the new school year, parents and pupils had been forced to run a gauntlet of sectarian abuse and attack by loyalists lining the route to Holy Cross School. The RUC operation to afford the children protection had been woefully inadequate, if not down right half hearted. Children, many as young as four and five, had wept and screamed in bewilderment and fear as loyalists hurled their particular brand of hate.
``Scum, scum, scum,'' the mob had chanted. Catholic parents had been told to ``get that Fenian Bastard out of here.'' Catholic mothers were subjected to particularly nasty sexual verbal abuse. Distressed, and by then also desperate, parents had pulled their crying children close, many covering their ears and eyes as if this could somehow shield them from the worst excesses of hatred in which they had been unwittingly plunged. ``I didn't expect it to be as bad as this,'' one parent said.
Pelted with stones, bottles and fireworks, the children had arrived at Holy Cross hysterical and too afraid to stay. A teacher described a child cowering in a corner and others hiding under desks as the mob outside continued to lay siege to the school gates. Newly appointed parish priest, Fr. Aidan Troy, who had accompanied parents and children on the route to the school, described the journey as ``beyond my worst nightmare''.
``I have been in many troubled areas in the world,'' said Fr. Troy. ``In 30 years of being a priest, I have never seen anything like this.''
And the scenes had been heartbreaking. As news broadcasters flashed the images across the world, they were watched by thousands, perhaps millions, of people, but most particularly by northern nationalists. Sectarianism in whatever form is always ugly, but stripped of all pretence, it is hideous.
British journalists, upon whom the mantle of apologist for unionism has rested so comfortably for years, repeatedly focused their hostility towards nationalist parents. ``Just why were they subjecting their children to such an ordeal?''
Traumatised mothers and their children were hauled up before the cameras by a media still running along the parallel tracks of the `two tribes' model. Increasingly desperate commentators tried to build a picture of events in which both sides were equally blameworthy.
But how could the images of the baying mob, hurling insults and missiles, be equated with the tearstained faces of terrified children, some barely more than babies? The story had already careered off the rails. The power relationship of oppressed and oppressor had been exposed by the display of naked sectarianism captured on screen, just as it had been in Alabama decades ago.
And sadly, while loyalists, caught up in rivalry between various of their paramilitary groups, may well have orchestrated this, there appears to have been no shortage of Protestant residents willing to attach themselves to the cause. Screaming sectarian abuse in front of cameras caused no visible sign of shame amongst many Glenbryn residents, who appeared totally immune or unaware of their own despicable behaviour.
Brazen-faced in her bigotry, a resident old enough to be a grandmother demanded to know ``why should there be four Fenian schools in a Protestant area?'' No pretence here that this was something other than what we can see before our own eyes.
This is not David Ervine's `cry for help and understanding'. There are no `great complexities' as suggested by Church of Ireland Primate Robin Eames, too difficult for outsiders to comprehend, as some unionist politicians and commentators have suggested. This is the white supremacist calling the black a `nigger'.
So what if the object of their racist venom just happens to be a four-year-old whose only `crime' is walking to school past their front door? What's the big deal? A Fenian is a Fenian from the day it is born.
And should we really be surprised by this shocking display of hatred and intolerance? For decades, anti-Catholic sectarianism has been fostered and utilised in the interests of British occupation in the North. If the residents of Glenbryn have no shame, it is because they have been shamefully used.
And many loyalist leaders, like Billy Hutchinson, are intelligent enough to know this. They lack, not insight, but the political will to lead their constituency out of this cul de sac of reaction.
Day two, Tuesday, and as parents wait, children who arrived stoically, with even an occasional smile, begin to wilt under the pressure. Offering comfort and support, local priests, teachers and members of the school's board of governors join parents and pupils as they wait to walk to school.
As the decision is taken to set off, some of the children collapse into tears and panic and are taken home. Others, pale with fear, cling to mothers and fathers who remain calm despite their own visible anxiety.
The RUC and British Army have decided that only parents and pupils will be allowed to walk the 400-yard stretch along the Ardoyne Road to Holy Cross School. Even a clear view of the road has been obscured. Relatives, friends and neighbours stand aside.
Everyone is very aware that this ordeal will not only be faced by some of the most vulnerable and defenceless members of this community but that they will be facing it alone. Cut off from their own neighbourhood, parents and pupils are now totally dependant for their protection upon the discredited RUC and a hostile army of occupation. Some of those left behind are already tearful, and everyone is afraid.
A threat against Catholic parents, issued the night before in the name of the Red Hand Defenders, adds to the tension. Just minutes earlier, the sound of an explosion ripped through the air as a blast bomb was thrown further along the Ardoyne Road. From behind the cordon, another blast is heard and within minutes a number of ambulances begin to arrive.
Unable to see or communicate with their relatives, people in the waiting crowd begin to panic. Fathers, who had been persuaded it would be less provocative if they stayed behind, scramble onto the top of armoured cars and Land Rovers in a desperate attempt to find out what is happening.
News filters down that the children have arrived at school unhurt and the crowd settles. Now all we have to do is to get them home safely when the school day ends and then tomorrow the process starts over again.
Day three, Wednesday, and the British Army and RUC are out in force again. As parents and children make their way along the Ardoyne Road loyalists gathered at a junction within the Glenbryn estate throw a pipe bomb, packed with shrapnel. Falling just a few feet short of its intended target, the bomb explodes, injuring four RUC officers. A mother screams, ``Oh God, Oh God,'' and runs, dragging her terrified child away from the junction. Other mothers and their children cry out and begin to run.
Fr. Troy stands at the junction, arms raised as he tries to calm traumatised parents, now terrified for the safety of their children. The scene is one of hysteria and panic. ``This is carnage,'' says Fr. Troy. ``It is beyond belief.''
Inside the school grounds, teachers try to comfort pupils and parents. ``This is attempted murder,'' one tearful mother says. `` They tried to murder babies and the mothers of babies today.''
``It was absolute chaos,'' says Philomena Flood, who was walking with her seven-year-old daughter Erin when the attack took place. ``There were children everywhere and we were trying to grab our own and get to school.''
Outside and amidst the ranks of loyalist protestors, John White of the Ulster Democratic Party and Billy Hutchinson of the Progressive Unionist Party both condemned the attack. ``I am totally ashamed to be a loyalist today,'' says Billy Hutchinson, calling for the loyalist protest to end.
``It was disgraceful that any situation should come to this,'' says John White choosing his words carefully, before accusing the RUC of ``attacking innocent people''.
For decades, northern nationalists have been forced to run the gauntlet of sectarian hatred, but in the words of Minister for Education Martin McGuinness, the time when nationalists will sit at the back of the bus or go by the back door are gone and gone for good. If the Good Friday Agreement is to mean anything it has to mean an end to sectarian harassment and discrimination, and for the little girls of Holy Cross, the right to walk to school unmolested.
Little Rock Central High School: 1957
The 1957 crisis at Little Rock Central High School began when Arkansas National Guard troops, under orders from Governor Orval Faubus, blocked entrance to the school for black students in September 1957.
After the US Federal Court ordered the troops removed, the black students entered Central High and completed the school year. Later, Faubus temporarily closed all city high schools, but the tactic failed and in 1959 the first racially integrated class graduated from Central High.
Elizabeth Ekford, one of nine black students chosen to begin the integration of Central High, was initially blocked from entering school on the first day of classes in 1957 by Arkansas National Guardsmen. She is pictured walking walks to her bus stop through a jeering mob after she had been blocked from entering school.
Adams calls for end to Holy Cross picket
Sinn Féin President Gerry Adams, commenting on Wednesday on events at Holy Cross primary school said:
``There can be no excuse or justification for the sectarian abuse and violence directed at the children and their parents as they try to make their way to school.
``Children have a right to education and a right to travel to and from their school free from threat and intimidation.
``The blockade of the school and the loyalist protest should end now.
``The picket on Holy Cross primary school is being fuelled by elements of the DUP and the violence is from the UDA and is based on pure sectarian hatred.
``Sections of the media have sought to present this issue as one of `each side as bad as the other'. This is not true.
``There is an orchestrated sectarian campaign of bomb attacks, intimidation and gun attacks against Catholic families and businesses and sports bodies and churches and now schools.''This is a disgraceful situation that demands the strongest criticism from political leaders, church leaders, and civic society.''
Assembly to debate right to education
The Assembly will debate a motion calling for support for the right to education of schoolchildren attending the Holy Cross Primary School in North Belfast on Monday 10 September at its first session after the summer recess.
Commenting on the motion, which he proposed, Sinn Féin North Belfast Assembly member Gerry Kelly said:
``It is important that now people from across the political spectrum have urged a resolution of the disgraceful situation in North Belfast that the Assembly supports the basic right to education.
``A cross party message from the Assembly will send out a very clear message to those loyalists who are targeting school girls as young as four for sectarian violence and intimidation, that this is not acceptable and that it is not the way to tackle the deeper issues.
``I would call upon all the political parties to support this clear call for basic rights to be upheld.''
And Sinn Féin Education Spokesperson, West Tyrone Assembly member Barry McElduff has said that he will urge the Education Committee to issue a statement on the situation at the Holy Cross Girls Primary School when it meets this Thursday.
``As part of the structures arising from the Agreement it would be important that the Education Committee take a stand on the right to education of these young school children,'' he said.
``The right to education is not negotiable. The demand for these children to be cowed should be treated with the contempt it deserves. They are entitled to be treated with dignity and equality, they are not second class citizens.
``Loyalists in Glenbryn should be given all the encouragement possible to enter into dialogue. The education committee can send that encouragement. Hopefully a cross party visit to support the school children, parents and staff at the Holy Cross Girls Primary School can also be arranged.''
Democracy and loyalism are irreconcilable
BY MÍCHEÁL MacDONNCHA
There can be reconciliation between people in Ireland. But there cannot be reconciliation between Irish democracy and the scourge of loyalism, whether it masquerades as a `cultural tradition' or shows its true face as it did in North Belfast this week
In his book, `Travels with Charley', the great American writer John Steinbeck described the naked hatred of Southern white racists as they screamed obscenities at a little black girl whose parents dared to send her to a formerly `whites only' school in New Orleans in 1960:
``The big marshals stood her on the curb and a jangle of jeering shrieks went up from behind the barricades. The little girl did not look at the howling crowd but from the side the whites of her eyes showed like those of a frightened fawn. The men turned her around like a doll, and then the strange procession moved up the broad walk toward the school, and the child was even more a mite because the men were so big.''
I was reminded of these words when I saw and heard the sickening assault on children in North Belfast this week. Their faces distorted with hate, their lips dripping with foul abuse, a loyalist mob reduced primary school pupils to tears as their parents brought them to school.
If this were not enough, it was compounded by some of the initial media coverage. The line from Sky News was that the children were ``caught in the middle of a row between Catholics and Protestants''. We were told it was an ``inter-community conflict'' and there were people ``on both sides'' who did not want negotiations.
Then from Montrose came the News at One on RTE Radio. Billy Hutchinson of the PUP was given the softest of interviews by presenter Seán O'Rourke and went unchallenged when he declared that what they had seen that morning was a ``display of republicanism''! Republicans were to blame again. Not once did Hutchinson offer criticism or condemnation of the bigots - his constituents - who taunted children and, much worse, Seán O'Rourke did not ask him to offer any.
The Ardoyne children's tears were tears of fear but the cry of that mob was a cry from the rotten heart of loyalism. Let us put all the nonsense aside. It is not sectarian to tell the truth. And the truth is that loyalism is sectarianism and unionism is its political expression. This is not a culture or a tradition; it is a reactionary political force, a force which must be defeated if democracy is to flourish.
As the children ran the sectarian gauntlet, Paisley and Trimble were meeting to coordinate their opposition to changes in policing. The British government's policing plan falls short of Patten but it is still too much for the unionist leadership. The London and Dublin governments have allowed unionism to reduce the tide of change to a trickle and the politics of progress is mired in a swamp.
Both governments should remember that the white racists who ruled the Southern states, their brethren in South Africa, and the landlord class who once ruled all Ireland did not give up their privileges willingly. They had to be forced one way or another.
There can be reconciliation between people in Ireland. But there cannot be reconciliation between Irish democracy and the scourge of loyalism, whether it masquerades as a `cultural tradition' or shows its true face as it did in North Belfast this week. The bigots must be shown that change is not only inevitable and irreversible but rapid and irresistible.
The foulest abuse outside that school in New Orleans in 1960 was reserved for the white parent who dared to break the racist boycott and send his child to class with `niggers'. The words of the mob were ``bestial and filthy and degenerate''. They filled Steinbeck with ``a shocked and sickened sorrow''.
When will ordinary people and leaders from the unionist community come out and stand with the children of Holy Cross School?