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1 November 2001 Edition

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You are not on your own

Solidarity for Holy Cross children and parents

As last week drew to a close, the parents and children of the Holy Cross school in North Belfast were looking forward to the weekend.

Not only did Friday, the last school day of the week, offer them some respite from the vicious loyalist campaign that has been waged against them since the pupils returned to school in September, it was also the start of a weeklong break for the Hallowe'en holiday.

Spokesperson for the parents' Right to Education group, Brendan Mailey, expressed the hope that the break would "open the window of opportunity for talks" and he renewed his appeal to the residents of Glenbryn. "Our door is always open," he said.

In truth, though, any offer for meaningful talks was dead in the water before it was made. Loyalist intentions were made very clear by their actions on Wednesday 24 October, when they blockaded three other Catholic schools in North Belfast.

Speaking to An Phoblacht, Sinn Féin councillor Margaret McClenaghan said loyalists blocked the Crumlin Road, trapping parents and children from Mercy Primary school returning to Ardoyne. The loyalist actions also prevented pupils from St Gabriel's Boys Secondary, also on the Crumlin Road, and pupils from Our Lady of Mercy Girls Secondary school off the Ballysillan Road from returning home.

"This was a clear attempt on the part of the loyalists to escalate the Holy Cross protest", she said. We can all remember the elderly resident of Glenbryn being interviewed in the first days of the protest asking, "why are there four 'Fenian' schools in this area anyway?"

Margaret McClenaghan added that despite the best attempts of the Holy Cross parents to enter into negotiations, the loyalist representatives have walked away and refused to talk. "They have also backtracked on agreements reached. It would now appear that loyalists are intent on upping the ante by blockading three more schools".

Sinn Féin councillor Gerard Brophy later revealed that a bus carrying some of the blockaded pupils along an alternative route was attacked by loyalists on Duncairn Gardens. "The fact that the RUC did nothing to stop the blockade on the Crumlin Road and then attacked nationalists when they arrived at the scene of the bus attack again underlines why the RUC, under any guise, will never be acceptable to the nationalist community," he said.

'Trick or Treat'

As the children gathered at the junction of Alliance Avenue and Ardoyne Road on Friday morning there was a sense of carnival. The children were dressed for their Hallowe'en party and it seemed were looking forward to it in anticipation.

Some of the parents also dressed up and Laurel and Hardy appeared to lend their support although their message to the loyalist protesters was a bit more political than what we are used to from the slapstick.

Needless to say, the Glenbryn residents could only enter the spirit of the day at the lower end of the scale. "Trick or Treat", shouted one man in his 30s as the school children and their parents passed by, a sick reference to the Greysteel massacre at the Rising Sun Bar in County Derry in 1993 in which seven people were killed by UDA gunmen.

The UDA death squad entered the bar and one shouted "Trick of Treat" at the Hallowe'en revellers before spraying the premises.

If there was any doubt about the intent of the loyalist who shouted at the children in the morning, that doubt was dispelled at lunchtime when a 'protester' waved a poster with "Trick or Treat" written on it. Depicted on the poster was UDA gang boss Johnny Adair, posing in front of a mural of the Grim Reaper he had painted on the Lower Shankill.

An interesting cameo to last week's events came in the way the loyalists demanded that residents shouldn't be allowed to take photographs of the 'protesters'. The issue arose after some parents, who are contemplating taking a civil action against the loyalists for incitement, carried camcorders and cameras. The loyalists tried to attack these parents and so, after meetings, the Right to Education group agreed not to film.

On Friday, one loyalist woman began shouting at the RUC in an attempt to get them to stop press photographers taking photos and in a scuffle that ensued a second loyalist was arrested. An Phoblacht has since been told that enlarged photos of Holy Cross parents are pinned up on the wall of the community centre in Glenbryn.

Holy Cross priest Fr Aidan Troy also made representations to the RUC after a resident was spotted filming the parents and children as they came from the school on Friday.

Sweets and flowers

In a show of solidarity, as the children and their parents came through the British Army barrier on Friday, they were greeted by a crowd of about 100 community activists from West Belfast. The children were given gifts of sweets and crisps, while the mothers were given flowers. This small act of solidarity let the parents, the children and the people of Ardoyne know they are not standing alone in the face of loyalist aggression.

Rally backs kids

That message of solidarity was repeated on Saturday 27 in Belfast City Centre.

Over 600 people from all across Belfast attended the rally at the City Hall which was addressed by Derry socialist Eamon McCann and 1960s civil rights campaigner Bernadette McAliskey.

Sinn Féin representative Gerry Kelly and Fermanagh/South Tyrone MP Michelle Gildernew attended.

Fr Gary Donegan, a curate from Ardoyne, and who with Fr Troy walks the school route every day with the children, also spoke.

Fr Troy, whose father Dan died at the weekend in Bray, County Wicklow, could not attend.

An Phoblacht
44 Parnell Sq.
Dublin 1

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