22 November 2001 Edition
More trouble at Holy Cross as talks offer some hope
Loyalist thugs who abused a seven year old child on her way to Holy Cross school, yesterday 21 November, were described as, "the lowest of the low".
The child was on her way to school with her mother when the loyalists mocked the child by mimicking a child crying for its mother.
The mother hurried the child on to school to get her away from the gang but on the return journey she tackled the RUC/PSNI for allowing the loyalists to get so close to the children and their parents.
As she made her point, the loyalists continued shouting abuse. One loyalist woman then burst through the RUC/PSNI line to attack parents and was arrested.
During the exchanges a loyalist politician who was present told the parent in question "if you got the bus it wouldn't have happened". The loyalist gang around him cheered.
In a statement, the Right to Education Group said the situation has deteriorated greatly with protesters able to freely move around harassing children and parents. "We are yet again calling on the RUC/PSNI to review it's policing so loyalists will not be able to attack both children and parents."
This latest incident comes less than 24 hours after talks aimed at resolving the dispute were held in Stormont.
Parents and members of the Board of Governors from the Holy Cross met with David Trimble and Mark Durkan, the First and Deputy First ministers respectively, at Stormont on Tuesday 20 November.
Sinn Féin Assembly member Gerry Kelly who was at the meeting described it as, "a frank and positive exchange of views". Fr Aidan Troy also thought the meeting "went well".
A second meeting chaired by Nigel Dodds of the DUP who is MP for North Belfast, also took place in Stormont. Attending the meeting were loyalist politicians, RUC/PSNI representatives and NIO officials.
The Reverend Norman Hamilton from Ballysillan Presbyterian Church also attended. Afterwards he said, "there was a fairly focused discussion on quite a wide range of issues including personal and physical security".
Parent wins judicial review
On Monday, 19 November, Judge Kerr granted leave to apply for Judicial Review to the Holy Cross parent challenging the failure of the police and the Secretary of State to protect the children. The parent taking the case was granted anonymity by the court; anonymity had been applied for to protect not only the parent's life but also the life of her child.
The police and Secretary of State now have three weeks to file their defence to the case lodged by the parent. The case will then be reviewed by the Court to assess its readiness for final hearing.
The solicitor representing the parent said: "We hope that this case can be heard as quickly as possible so that the children no longer have to endure this suffering and appalling treatment. The best Christmas present for these children will be to go to school like every other child in Northern Ireland".
Stand up and be counted
BY LAURA FRIEL
It's time for public figures to stand up and be counted; that was this week's message from the parents and pupils of Holy Cross Primary School as the loyalist blockade continued.
Recently the parents' Right to Education Group and their supporters in Friends of Holy Cross have been lobbying public figures, organisations and church leaders to come out and openly support the children. Following pressure from parents, the children's charity NSPPC publicly called for the loyalist blockade to end.
The NSPPC said they were calling for an end to the protests "as the safety and emotional wellbeing of the children must be a priority over all other considerations".
Parents and their supporters have welcomed the NSPPC statement but remain critical of others. Last Monday, a meeting between members of the Right to Education and a representative of the Irish Congress of Trade Unions fared less well. In a statement issued after the meeting parents described themselves as "deeply disappointed" at the lack of support.
"We are particularly dissatisfied at the ongoing silence from this organisation. The issue is simple - either children have the right to attend school free from sectarian harassment or they don't. Where does the ICTU stand? We are calling on the ICTU to make its position clear and call for an end to the loyalist blockade."
Holy Cross parents have also been disappointed by the continuing failure of Bertie Ahern to stand up and be counted on this issue. Despite being contacted by parents and supporters, the Taoiseach's officer remains unwilling to make any comment on the Holy Cross blockade.
"I think it is despicable," commented a parent. "After all, our children are Irish citizens and have endured months of violent protest. If this was taking place south of the border, I am sure Bertie Ahern would not be so indifferent in his response."
Meanwhile, it has been revealed that a website supporting the children has received over 350,000 visitors since it was established at the beginning of November. The site, www.ardoyne.com, asks visitors to sign a petition supporting Holy Cross children's right to education free from intimidation.
Brendan Mailey said messages of support have been received from Russia, Japan, Australia and across the world.
UUP man abstains on Holy Cross
The UUP's Danny Kennedy this week chose to abstain rather than support a Sinn Féin motion of support for the Holy Cross children and their parents. Ironically, Kennedy represents his party on the Assembly's education committee.
On Monday evening, 19 November, a special meeting of the council, called for by council chair Davy Hyland of Sinn Féin, was held to hear a motion on the Holy Cross crisis.
At the meeting, a motion of support for the children and parents was proposed by Sinn Féin councillor Elena Martin and seconded by Sinn Féin councillor Pat McGinn. Other councillors speaking on the motion were Brendan Curran and Charlie Casey.
The council resolved that "to show our total opposition to this blockade this Council will send a cross-party delegation of councillors to visit the school, if invited by the Board of Governors and the parents, to walk the Ardoyne Road with the children and their parents."
The motion was passed with the support of Sinn Féin and SDLP councillors but unionist councillors abstained, including Kennedy.
A vigil was held outside the gates of the Council offices during the meeting by the newly formed Friends of Holy Cross support group to show solidarity with a delegation of parents of the children who were at the meeting.
The support group was formed the previous week in response to the ongoing loyalist blockade of children attending the Catholic primary school.
On Saturday, members of the group held a picket on Hill Street Newry and handed out leaflets to the public to highlight the plight of the schoolchildren. People out shopping took time out to ask questions and huge interest was shown in any future events planned by the group. Many people commented that it was appropriate that every area should make their feelings known and show some form of public support for the children. Mothers holding their own children by the hand said that they found it impossible to imagine how they would cope if someone was threatening their children every day. Everyone had huge admiration for the courage and strength shown by the parents in Ardoyne.
Sligo councillors to walk with Holy Cross kids
A delegation comprising members of Sligo County Council has agreed to a proposal to travel to Belfast to walk to school with the parents and children of Holy Cross Girls Primary school in an act of solidarity and to witness at first hand the true extent of the sectarian abuse that these young children have to endure.
Welcoming the decision of Sligo County Council to support his proposal, Sinn Féin Councillor Sean MacManus said it was "a very welcome development.
"It is of vital importance that the children and parents of Holy Cross know that their plight is not being ignored by politicians in this state. It is essential that other councils do as we are about to do and show solidarity with the children, show then their plight is not being ignored and show them that we will continue to highlight and publicise at every opportunity what they have to endure.
Bantry motion passed
Commissioner Anne O Leary was successful in having a motion passed at the monthly meeting of Bantry Town Commissioners in Cork calling for an immediate end to the loyalist blockade of the Holy Cross girls primary school.