20 September 2001 Edition
Holy Cross parents urge dialogue
BY LAURA FRIEL
Brendan Mailey, the spokesperson for the parents Right to Education Group, sits in an Ardoyne community centre and urges dialogue and reconciliation.
``We need to talk, the residents of Glenbryn need to sit down with the parents of children at the Holy Cross School and come together to resolve this situation,'' says Brendan, ``dialogue is the only way forward.''
But so far all approaches towards the residents of Glenbryn have been rebuffed or ignored, not just by the residents themselves but also their political representatives.
``We written and faxed the local unionist MP Nigel Dodds and DUP councillor Nelson McCausland but there has been no response,'' says Brendan. ``The silence is deafening.''
Rejecting the Holy Cross parents' request for dialogue during a speech in the Assembly, DUP leader Ian Paisley dismissed the call with a derogatory comment in reference to Brendan Mailey, a former republican POW.
Meanwhile, schoolchildren attending Holy Cross Primary School continue to be the focus of sectarian outrage by loyalist protestors in Glenbryn. Adverse media coverage moderated the tactics of the participants in the blockade but the ordeal of walking through a hostile and unpredictable crowd along a route lined with military hardware continues. Despite calls for an immediate end to the loyalist blockade of the school in the wake of the attacks in America, the Glenbryn residents insisted that their protest would continue.
Less than 24 hours after the US outrages, loyalist respect for anything other than their own sense of grievance was far from evident. ``Now the Americans have their own problems, there will be no more money for you Fenian bastards,'' shouted some of the crowd as parents returned from leaving their children to school. Whistles and horns were blown.
``The strength and intensity of abuse was very disappointing especially in the aftermath of the American tragedy,'' said local priest Fr. Aidan Troy. ``There were also threats to some of the parents that they were known and would be shot,'' he said. ``If we are going to teach children to live in a peaceful society, we have to stand up against intimidation.''
The blockade resumed on Monday morning with over a hundred loyalists carrying flags and banners confronting Holy Cross pupils as they walked to school with their parents. No longer caught in the glare of global media attention, the RUC moved to curtail international scrutiny even further by refusing access to human rights observers who had been accompanying parents and pupils to and from Holy Cross School.
``Given the depth of human rights abuse surrounding this dispute, the role of international observers in this situation is absolutely crucial,'' said local councillor Margaret McClenaghan.
On Tuesday, the blockade continued as parents of the Holy Cross children met with British Secretary of State John Reid. This followed a meeting with Glenbryn residents which Mark Coulter, a spokesperson for the protesting residents, described as ``a useful discussion'' but warned that the blockade would continue.
Brendan Mailey described the meeting with the British minister as ``low key''. ``John Reid accepted that face to face talks were the only way forward,'' he said.
``We want to talk to the residents of Glenbryn, we want to talk to their political representatives but so far we have been stonewalled. If the blockade was lifted it would enhance any talks process but we are willing to talk without preconditions.''
``Dialogue poses no threat. During the last 30 years of struggle the nationalist community of Ardoyne has developed strategies and skills which have enabled us to effectively challenge social deprivation and other issues affecting this community. We would be willing to share that expertise with the Glenbryn community and deal with issues that unite as well as those that divide us.''
A day later and the loyalist protestors are threatening to escalate the blockade after a number of loyalists were arrested after scuffles with the RUC. ``The mood in the area is very angry,'' said the PUP's Billy Hutchinson.
``The residents of Glenbryn are caught in a contradiction of their own making,'' says Brendan Mailey. ``On the one hand they claim that they are protesting because no one will listen to them but on the other hand they are refusing to talk.''
Glenbryn rewarded for bigotry
North Belfast Sinn Féin Assembly member Gerry Kelly has said that an £8.7 million investment announced by Social Development Minister Maurice Morrow for the Glenbryn area will be perceived as a reward for bigotry. The announcement came as loyalists threatened to escalate their sectarian blockade of Catholic Holy Cross Primary School.
There are a number of areas in North Belfast that urgently need investment and regeneration. Glenbryn is just one of a number of areas which includes Ardoyne, Ligonel, the New Lodge, Bawnmore and Whitewell.
``The perception will be that Glenbryn is going to benefit from a £8.7 million urban renewal scheme, an amount equivalent to the full Urban 2 money provided for the whole of North Belfast, as a result of the sectarian blockade of schoolgirls going to Holy Cross,'' said Kelly.
Highlighting the fact that of the 1,800 people currently on the housing waiting list in North Belfast, 1,700 of them are nationalists, Kelly continued.
``The fact that three out of four areas in North Belfast approved by DUP Minister Maurice Morrow for the urban renewal scheme are loyalist, challenges the minister's announcement that this will send a ``positive message to everyone in North Belfast.
``Maurice Morrow has pledged himself to listening to people and engaging with the community. Nigel Dodds, the local MP, has pledged to represent the interests of everyone,'' said Kelly, ``yet both are members of the DUP, both supported a Protestant Community Forum as opposed to a less sectarian, inclusive forum with political representation.''
Zero tolerance for harassment of children
Sinn Féin's Cathy Stanton says that republicans will not tolerate any harassment of children attending school in the Limestone Road area of North Belfast.
Stanton was speaking after an incident on Monday afternoon, 17 September, when Protestant primary school children and their parents, coming from Currie Primary school, were attacked by a number of nationalist youths. According to reports, bricks and golf balls were hurled during the incident.
On Tuesday, Stanton said Sinn Féin activists accompanied her to the Limestone Road near the school to ensure that a repeat of Monday's incident did not occur.
``Any incident which places schoolchildren or their parents at risk is reprehensible,'' said Stanton. ``The children attending Currie Primary school have the same rights and entitlements as those attending Holy Cross Girl's Primary school. All children must be allowed to go to and from school without fear of harassment or intimidation. There is an onus on all public figures to safeguard these rights and entitlements.''
The Sinn Féin assembly member for the area, Gerry Kelly, also criticised those involved in the attack.
``Irrespective of the circumstances, there is absolutely no justification for any incident which places schoolchildren or parents collecting their children from school in danger,'' said Kelly.