13 September 2001 Edition
BY ROISIN DE ROSA ([email protected])
``Over the 30 years of conflict, our area has never witnessed scenes of such sectarian hatred.''
Isobel McGrane spoke of how she walked to school that morning with her seven-year-old child through the narrow gauntlet between RUC men in the heavy black space suits `policing' racism, allowing it to exist. She was visiting Dublin last week to speak at a meeting in Liberty Hall last Wednesday. She and two Sinn Féin councillors, Margaret McClenaghan and Eoin Ó Broin, both from North Belfast, came to explain to Dublin people just what had been happening in Ardoyne over the previous few days, when loyalists abused and spat at little children as they made their way to school.
``The RUC, they didn't protect us,'' she said. ``This morning, the UDA threw a bomb; it was aimed at our children, and their right to education.''
Isabel McGrane told the story of going to school with her child on Monday, Tuesday and that morning. She talked of the failed efforts over seven weeks to resolve the situation.
Margaret McClenaghan put Ardoyne in the context of the continuing attacks on Catholics. She listed many incidences of pipe bombings, of attacks by hooded UDA men, where the RUC and British troops just sat by and did nothing.
Eoin Ó Broin, Sinn Féin representative for the Oldpark area, discussed with great clarity the political background to what is going on. ``Our area, which suffered over one fifth of the casualties of the war, is a patchwork quilt of some 26 interfaces, all with 30-foot walls and segregation. These Protestant working class areas on our borders are experiencing increasing unemployment. Some are leaving. They see themselves as communities under siege. They want segregation, separation, high walls across the interface.
``Political parties like the DUP have built support on fear, fear which is whipped up through the politics of blame. Nigel Dodds, a most sectarian politician, swept in with a large vote, on the basis of fear that what is happening to these communities is the result of the peace process and all change amounts to concessions to republicans.
``This has left little space for progressive community activities to build strength or for any politics that says to their people that the Good Friday Agreement is good for all. The Equality agenda, the Human Rights Commission and so on are all flagged up as just concession to republicans. This has left a political vacuum, which has led to a huge sectarian hatred. It has meant 200 pipe bombs over six months. It is nationalists under attack.
``Unionist political leaders act only within the space allocated by the British government. By suspending the Agreement, the British sent out a clear signal to unionists that they can slow the rate of change, the rate of implementation of the Good Friday Agreement. In this way, the British are directly responsible for the current pogroms.''
``Loyalists have said that these events have nothing to do with the schoolchildren going to school, that republicans were actively engaged in putting them out of their houses. At the talks, they didn't want to discuss the school. Then they did want to talk about the school. In the end, they promised to call off the protests if we agreed to go in through the back of the school.''
But as the posters at Wednesday's meeting proclaimed, ``we'll not be riding in the back of the bus, we'll not be going to the back of the school no more.
``We need your help. We need you to use what small influence you have, to write letters of support to the parents. We want solidarity action, we want you to write to the mothers and kids so they know they are not alone. People in the meeting followed up with many suggestions of what could be done to help.''
Eoin Ó Broin finished his address, reminding people of Harryville: ``If you don't use what little strength each of you have then, like Harryville, this will go on for months. Each of us has very little strength, but together, all doing little things, it adds up to a strong force.''
Sinn Féin Councillor Sean Crowe chaired the meeting and expressed the disgust of Dubliners at the scenes witnessed. ``We cannot stand idly by and watch the faces of terrified children run the gauntlet of sectarian hatred and do nothing,'' he said. ``We urge people to write to the papers, to their TDs, to the Dublin government and to trade unions. We would also urge them to make phone calls to the media, to stand with us tomorrow at the GPO and pile the pressure on unionist leaders and the British government to force an end these protests.
``This is not about politics, it is not about `turf wars' or `tribal conflict'. It is about human rights. It is about the rights of five-year-old children to go to school without being called Fenian scum and having blast bombs thrown at them. It really is that simple.''
Holy Cross: The lies behind the truth
BY LAURA FRIEL
A well known BBC news presenter stood alongside British Army armoured vehicles along the route to Holy Cross School, the Catholic primary school at the centre of a loyalist campaign of sectarian intimidation.
During on the spot interviews, the seasoned television journalist questioned Catholic mothers and their children who were about to make another perilous journey through the loyalist Glenbryn estate to school.
Ignore the evidence of your own eyes and remember the loyalists and residents baying in a mob were the real victims, or so they would have us believe
In the wake of four days of sectarian abuse and violence, as loyalists attempted to intimidate and degrade Catholic parents and their children, some as young as four, by a combination of vile verbal abuse, death threats and pipe bomb attacks, the journalist's approach was polite but insistent.
The tone may have been moderated, but the melody was still the same. Just why were Catholic parents, particularly those genetically predetermined nurturers, the mothers, persisting in walking their children to school along the Ardoyne Road?
Either these parents were too stupid to appreciate the threat (working class), too indifferent to care for their children's safety (dysfunctional), too impatient to get one over their Protestant neighbours (bigots), political fanatics who would do anything to make a point (republicans) or racial inferiors for whom normal human relationships were an anathema (Irish).
In this, the BBC reporter adhered to the wider media's unspoken subtext of interviews and commentary throughout the week. Returning to the studio link, the journalist was prompted to commentate on the issues by the programme presenter. Reinforcing the notion that there was an alternative `safe' route and commenting onthe fact that so many of the children's parents seemed unable or unwilling to make that choice, the presenter asked, ``why don't the RUC lock the front gates and impose the alternative''?
It was a simple enough question, and given the coverage, an apparently reasonable suggestion. In contrast to the question, the answer was astounding. Pausing for only a moment's intake of breath, the BBC journalist responded. ``The RUC have decided this is a human rights issue,'' came the literally breathtaking reply. A human rights issue!
In an unexpected moment of shared clarity, the whole edifice of British propaganda, that had dominated coverage of the Holy Cross situation all week, momentarily crumbled and beneath the dust we could just make out the truth behind the lies. Of course, the BBC journalist had unwittingly fallen into making this disclosure.
A week of fearful, tearful and terrified Irish Catholic children and their stoical parents had not squeezed out one drop of sympathetic understanding or human empathy but an implied criticism of the RUC and the reporter threw caution to the winds and blurted it out. The irony was not lost on northern nationalists.
Neither was the way in which many media reports uncritically mirrored the propositions presented, sometimes as straightforward abuse or often by way of retrospective justification, by the loyalist blockaders.
On the first morning of the new term, as Catholic mothers escorted their children though a barrage of stones, bottles, fireworks and sectarian hatred, loyalists had labelled them ``whores'' because ``only sluts would drag their children through this''.
The overt abuse was of course discredited and discarded but theme was adopted with enthusiasm by the media. Repeatedly, the mothers of pupils walking to Holy Cross School were hauled up before the cameras for their status as `fit' parents to be questioned.
Even the undoubted trauma suffered by children, some little more than babies, inflicted upon them by loyalists, was utilised as a stick to beat their parents with.
``Keep the kids out of the frontline insisted `straight talking' Lynda Gilby of the Sunday Life. ``Will you ever forget them? Those flower-like faces, pale and frozen in fear. Or contorted with terror as they walked, were dragged or half carried through a corridor of vile, spitting venom.
``Understandable, perhaps, to take your little girl through that on day one, when you didn't know what quite to expect. But to put her through the horror a second, a third and a fourth time?'' continued Gilby.
``How could anyone subject their precious, vulnerable child to the likes of that just to prove a point? In my book they have been subjected to child abuse - from both sides.''
In her column, Gilby merely repeated the less sophisticated but similar analysis offered by imprisoned loyalist killer Johnny Adair, who was afforded headline news on the front page.
Entitled ``COOL IT!'' the `exclusive' told us that Adair had ordered ``UDA `terror bosses' to `STAY OUT' of the Holy Cross crisis.'' Unfortunately, the dramatic headline and use of the upper case is somewhat undermined further down the page, when Adair admits, ``I can't speak for the UDA''.
But never mind, on one point at least the interview is consistent with the newspaper's line. ``I have to say the parents are responsible,'' says Adair. ``I wouldn't bring my four- or five-year-old children up through a gauntlet of hate.
``As much as people would lay the blame on the loyalists, the parents were responsible.'' Adair's words are left unchallenged by the interviewer.
For some journalists, the decision to send a child to a Catholic school at all, even in a situation where state schools are universally Protestant, loyal and demonstrably dangerous for nationalists, is tantamount to being a bigot.
Writing of two families, Liam Clarke oin the Sunday Times described them as having ``taken a stand against sectarianism by sending their younger children to Hazelwood, a religiously integrated school a few miles from Holy Cross''.
Like many of his colleagues, Clarke goes on to utilise the negative connotations attached to the loyalist Drumcree protest by portraying Catholic schoolgirls walking to school as parallel to a triumphalist Orange parade being forced through a nationalist area.
``Violence is always ready to well up again over seemingly petty issues such as the path of Orange demonstrations, the route children take to school,'' wrote Clarke. Orange and Green, we're back to the fighting Irish and their incomprehensible predisposition to start a row in an empty room.
It's a cosy position for a journalist writing in the British press. `They are all as bad as each other and it's nothing to do with me' is a proposition easier to live with than the possibility that having established a sectarian state, for the last 30 years the British have been working flat out to maintain it on behalf of the bigots.
Or more accurately, sectarianism is integral to British occupation and the scenes of loyalists attacking children outside a Catholic primary school are just the worst excesses of a fundamentally flawed body politic.
Of course, the notion persistently peddled by the media that the problem of getting children from the nationalist community to school at Holy Cross can be solved by simple rerouting, is also based on an uncritical adoption of another excuse used by loyalists laying siege to the Ardoyne Road.
There is no viable alternative route. Yet despite this, the media spent hours discussing it. In the words of Belfast's Newsletter: ``It is natural that parents should be offended by the idea that they cannot take their children to school by their `traditional route' but as people in other situations have discovered, traditional routes count for very little in Northern Ireland.''
Having evoked their grievances over Drumcree, the editorial continues, ``there is a means by which the children could attend the school without having to endure scenes for which no young mind could be properly prepared. Surely their peace of mind is more important than any point of principle?''
There is a route of sorts, but it involves a lengthy detour that includes crossing rough ground and football pitches belonging to another school before reaching the grounds of Holy Cross. It is impossible for disabled people, of which there are a few, to take their children to school via this route, as it is also for mothers with younger children in pushchairs or buggies, of which there are many.
In fair weather, the route is difficult for everyone, in foul, it would be impossible for almost anyone. And as the school principal, Anne Tanney, pointed out, there is no back door.
The notion that this `alternative' is somehow `safer' is also a misrepresentation. It is true that on occasions when loyalists have attacked the front of the school, pupils and teachers have escaped through the back. But there are other occasions when loyalist attacks have been mounted on Crumlin Road.
Indeed, within the Glenbryn estate, the loyalist Heskett Road, the scene of some of the worst loyalist attacks on Catholics using the Ardoyne Road this week, runs at the opposite end out onto the Crumlin Road.
On the Crumlin Road, Catholics are further away from the sanctuary of their own neighbourhood and just as vulnerable to attack from loyalists in Glenbryn and other loyalists from the Glencairn estate.
The next myth peddled by loyalists and repeated by the media was that this was not a protest against Catholic children. We had all misinterpreted those appalling scenes of grown men and women screaming abuse and pelting missiles as children and their parents walked past on their way to Holy Cross school.
It's the parents that the loyalists had in their sights, those republican murderers who were using the excuse of walking their children to school as a cover to plan attacks on their Protestant neighbours.
The Newletter was less paranoid, but the point was the same. ``There is a growing pupil awareness that, in the Ardoyne situation, extreme republicans are prepared to use innocent children in pursuit of a narrow sectarian agenda.''
And all that sectarian abuse, well that was just `in the heat of the moment' stuff that should not be taken too seriously. The crowd were only mimicking the words of a popular American song when they substituted the word `Dog' in the lyric and chanted ``Who let the Taigs out..? Who..? Who?'' as a little local colour. And everyone shouts ``Fenian whore'' when they get a bit upset.
And anyway, it's nothing to do with the children or the parents. The blockade took place ``because residents in a loyalist enclave could find no other way of attracting attention'', suggests the Newsletter.
``It is a shame that they felt compelled to use such objectionable tactics,'' to highlight ``their plight as an isolated, victimised and forgotten community.''
And now we really know how to interpret those scenes of violent confrontation with full-grown loyalist men and women hurling sectarian hatred at tearstained and terrified Catholic schoolgirls and their mothers.
Ignore the evidence of your own eyes and remember the loyalists and residents baying in a mob were the real victims, or so they would have us believe.
Holy Cross and human rights
BY MARK THOMPSON (RELATIVES FOR JUSTICE)
The right of children to be educated is a fundamental human right guaranteed and enshrined in international law. It is the duty of states and sovereign governments to ensure that this right is fully realised.
Rather than speaking out, it would appear that many politicians and some church leaders are reluctant to face up to what is actually happening, thereby contributing to the protest's continuance and the victims becoming scapegoats
The right to protest is also a human right. However, in the Holy Cross Primary School situation the right to education of children by far outweighs any right to protest. There is no balancing act or competing rights in this particular instance. In fact, the protest is immediately illegal once it became violent. Further to this, there is also a fundamental failure on the part of the state to take appropriate measures both to ensure the safety and welfare of the children and their parents, as well as the right to be provided with safe unhindered passage to their place of education. On this basis alone and under public order/safety concern, the decision NOT to deem the protest illegal could be judicially reviewed.
Setting aside international human rights conventions, i.e. The Convention on the Rights of the Child, ICCPR, and the ECHR, - the Good Friday Agreement states clearly that everyone has the right to live free from sectarian harassment and intimidation. And those who support the Agreement now must defend in an unqualified way this part of the Agreement as well as the international obligations.
What is also called into question is the nature of the policing tactics employed in this particular situation. In many past instances, the RUC have simply opted for Public Order laws to reroute marches and curb assemblies.
Recently in Ardoyne, excessive measures were taken to allow loyalists, some of whom are involved in the Holy Cross protest, to march past the nationalist part of Ardoyne en route to and also returning from their main Orange march. Almost 50 plastic bullets were fired, water cannons were used, deliberately destroying property, and people were badly beaten. Far from advocating similar measures, this merely highlights the double standards continually employed by the RUC. There has always been an inherent failure on their part to function impartially and this itself lies at the core of our wider problems.
Not for one minute wanting to draw comparisons between sectarian adult organisations and children going to school, but many observers are noting that emergency laws and policing methods usually employed to facilitate rerouting marches and curbing assemblies, are conspicuously absent from this situation.
What this raises is why and who benefits from this on-going policing tactic? One could be forgiven for saying that the situation is being deliberately manipulated by the RUC to provide a focus on the `unenviable role' that they have in the `middle' of all this. Of course the alternative view to that continual soundbite is why not act to move an illegal protest? Why allow very sinister paramilitary elements, who previously telephoned bomb warnings to the school, within such very close proximity to children, especially after missiles and a bomb were thrown? Why is this risk continuing? Is this tactic more about the positioning of the RUC as `hopelessly in the middle of two irreconcilable forces' for propaganda purposes? The reality is that this current approach fits perfectly into the type of PR the RUC have always tried to peddle. In any other society this protest would have immediately been deemed illegal and appropriate measures taken to prevent it from continuing.
There has also been much ado about the responsibility of parents entering the school. This too, along with unfounded allegations of being manipulated, is decentralising the focus from both those protesting and the policing tactics. Rather than speaking out, it would appear that many politicians and some church leaders are reluctant to face up to what is actually happening, thereby contributing to the protest's continuance and the victims becoming scapegoats. Others are silent. What is particularly depressing is that some even try to excuse the protesters. Attempts to set this protest in such a context are as equally repugnant.
To reiterate - the right to education is a non-negotiable right and attempts to draw parents into forums or talks create the false impression that this right can be negotiated. Any such proposals must be the task of community leaders and politicians, not parents; their issue stands alone, the young pupils are the victims and should no longer be held hostage. If this were happening to minorities in Britain or elsewhere it would not be tolerated. It would appear that the sectarian state is still very much alive.