17 January 2002 Edition
Organised sectarian attacks
Holy Cross used as pretext for loyalist rampage
BY FERN LANE
The roots of last week's serious rioting in north Belfast lie firmly in the ongoing scandal of sectarian persecution at Holy Cross school. Despite repeated assurances from loyalist community leaders and politicians that the harassment of pupils and parents would stop, the attacks began again from the very first day of the new term, Monday 7 January. Indeed, the head teacher of Holy Cross, Anne Tanney, telephoned the RUC the same day to inform them that that was the case, but it seems that she was ignored.
On Tuesday, as the intimidation escalated, the Chair of the Board of Governors of Holy Cross, Father Aiden Troy, spoke to a senior RUC/PSNI officer at the Antrim Road barracks. Again, the RUC/PSNI did not act. They also refused to take any action when a local mother was subjected to serious intimidation by a group of loyalist men only a few metres from the Land Rover they were occupying. When she appealed to them for help, she was told by one officer that he had not seen anything before he slammed the door.
Loyalists also claimed that on Tuesday, a parent or parents of Holy Cross children broke the window of a car belonging to a Protestant resident. Local nationalists say they are mystified by the assertion, because all the children and most of their parents were attending a pantomime at the time the attack is said to have taken place.
By Wednesday afternoon, the situation descended still further into serious violence, when another Catholic mother was physically attacked by three loyalist men as she walked along the Ardoyne Road, leaving her with a bruised face. The degree of orchestration by the UDA became more apparent when sirens were heard to go off in Glenbryn, following which a mob assembled and a car rammed the gates of Holy Cross. This mob then proceeded to attack the school, breaking windows and assaulting parents waiting for their children.
This time the RUC/PSNI did respond, not by confronting the loyalists at Holy Cross, but by blocking the Ardoyne Road and preventing any parents who were not already at the school from collecting their children, by now stranded in the midst of a loyalist attack on their school. The children were forced to leave school through the adjoining St Gabriel's and get on buses in order to get home.
Loyalist leaders, including Billy Hutchinson, told the media that the trouble had arisen when a commemorative plaque and wreath for a local taxi driver in the Hesketh Area was torn down (although subsequent television pictures showed the plaque to be undamaged and surrounded by flowers). Furthermore, the RUC/PSNI did not cite this incident as the cause of the ensuing disturbances.
At around the same time on Wednesday afternoon, another, similarly orchestrated mob emerged from the Hesketh area and began to attack nationalist homes, many of them occupied by pensioners, on the Crumlin Road. In response, a number of nationalists made their way towards the Crumlin Road in attempt to protect the houses only to see a man, armed with a shotgun, emerge from within the mob and begin firing at them. Three men sustained injuries; one, a 27-year old father of two, has pellet wounds in his thigh, neck, elbow and side. Another received serious facial injuries and is still in hospital.
Just after 4pm, a number of nationalists gathered outside the Library on Crumlin Road to protest at loyalist violence and RUC/PSNI inaction. Gemma Di Lucia, a local mother of two, was part of the protest when she was hit by a car in what she believes was a deliberate attempt to run her over.
She told An Phoblacht that the lone driver revved his engine loudly before skidding and driving directly at her, making aggressive gestures as he did so. Di Lucia was thrown onto the bonnet and then to the road, leaving her with badly bruised kidneys and traumatised enough to require sedation.
In the meantime, the RUC/PSNI was also engaged in what seems to be a new tactic of deliberately running down nationalists, particularly young men, when they mounted the footpath outside Delaney's shop, apparently targeting a 17-year-old youth, who sustained a broken ankle and a number of severe lacerations when he was hit. He was trapped under the vehicle, only receiving help when local people rescued him and took him to hospital.
Television news stations also began to report that children from the Protestant Boys Model School in Ballysillan Road had been escorted home after one boy had been hurt by a missile supposedly thrown by nationalists at a bus transporting pupils. Whilst this claim has not been disputed, it should be remembered that, after a number of similar claims by the school last year, the bus company involved, Translink, issued a statement denying any knowledge of such attacks and stating that the pupils on the bus had themselves caused damage to the vehicle.
Later on Wednesday evening, as serious rioting erupted, Fr Troy announced that he had been forced to close Holy Cross the following day because of fears for the safety of pupils at the hands of loyalist mobs.
After a night of serious violence on Wednesday night/Thursday morning, during which the RUC/PSNI fired around 30 plastic baton rounds at nationalists, injuring one young man, it was the turn of Our Lady of Mercy girls' school on Bilston Road, Ballysillan. The school has been attacked countless times over the years, but on Thursday around six men, armed with crow bars, hammers and guns, went into the school grounds, smashing up between 15 and 20 cars belonging to the school's teachers. Men with a gun and a rifle were reported t have been involved in the attack. Ballysillan is a UVF, rather than a UDA, stronghold and, given the extremely territorial nature of loyalism, there is a distinct possibility that the UVF were involved in this particular attack.
On Friday, after another night of rioting, a death threat to all Catholic teachers was issued by the so-called Red Hand Defenders, a cover name for the UDA, who claimed that teachers were now 'legitimate targets' for its murder gangs. On Saturday, 20-year-old Catholic postman Daniel McColgan was shot dead as he arrived for work. The murder was claimed by the UDA, which declared that all Catholics working in the public sector should now also consider themselves targets.
During the night of Sunday 13 and Monday 14 January, two further Catholic schools were attacked by loyalists. St Bride's in Derryvolgie Avenue South Belfast and St Patrick's High School on the Ballinderry Road in Lisburn suffered substantial damage when arsonists set fire to buildings at both schools.
There was, however, a farcical press conference by the UDA on Tuesday calling on the RHD to disband. Unsurprisingly, the RHD soon responded, announcing that it woul be stabnding down its members from midnight on Wednesday. The death threats against teachers and postal workers were later rescinded.
Family escapes bomb attack
A family from the Ardoyne area of North Belfast were lucky to escape death in a loyalist bomb attack on their car last weekend.
The family of four was driving along Duncairn Gardens when a bomb was thrown from the loyalist Tiger's Bay area at their vehicle.
According to the father, who was driving the car, the device exploded just yards from the side of the vehicle.
Although no damage was caused to the vehicle and none of the family was injured, the man says they were all suffering from shock.
The father, who didn't want to be identified, said he just put the boot to the floor to get away from the area as quickly as he could.
"My two sons Andy (14) and Ryan (11) were in the back," he said. "Andy is handicapped, and I just wanted to get away from the area. I was really worried about them."
The attack happened in an area notorious for loyalist attacks. On numerous occasions, loyalists from Tiger's Bay have come through the 'peace line' at Duncairn Gardens and Halliday's Road to attack Catholic homes.
McGuinness says unionist politicians must act
Sinn Féin Education minister Martin McGuinness convened an unprecedented meeting of teachers' unions and educational authorities on Monday to deal with the crisis facing schools given the resurgence of loyalist attacks in North Belfast and the resulting threats against teachers in Catholic schools.
The meeting unanimously agreed that the attacks were unacceptable and that schools should be considered inviolate. Calling for the threats to be lifted, the educationalists urged people in all sections of society to defend the right to education.
Speaking after the meeting, Martin McGuinness said: "Every child has a right to education. Teachers, pupils and parents must be free to travel to and from schools safe from harassment and there is an onus on everyone to defend that right. There are elements, particularly in the UDA, who are intent on orchestrating, creating and exploiting this situation. They have to be faced down."
McGuinness said that politicians from mainstreamunionist parties had been in denial about this sectarian campaign for too long. "They need to acknowledge what is happening and confront those responsible," he said.
Downing Street demo for Holy Cross
BY FERN LANE
A protest against the continuing loyalist attacks on the parents and children of Holy Cross School was held outside Downing Street in London on Monday 14 January by some of those who have been horrified by the images and stories coming out of north Belfast.
Around 30 protestors, bearing a 10-metre banner saying 'Stop loyalist abuse at Holy Cross', gathered outside Tony Blair's residence at the height of the evening rush hour. Those gathered also drew attention to loyalist attacks taking place on Catholic schools across Belfast and other areas and to the loyalist death threats made against Catholic school teachers and ancillary workers.
One of the organisers of the demonstration, Denis Grace, told An Phoblacht:
"We felt that it was time for people outside the north of Ireland to show their solidarity with the pupils, parents and teachers of Holy Cross and the other schools which have come under loyalist attack and to highlight the naked sectarian hatred which is at the root of such behaviour.
"We also wanted to counter the message coming through from most of the British media that there is some sort of sectarian tit-for-tat going on in Belfast, with Protestant schools supposedly coming under attack as much as Catholic schools. It's not true. We would condemn any sectarian act, but there is a world of difference between the occasional, spontaneous, individual act and the systematic, orchestrated campaign by loyalist paramilitaries which is being waged against nationalist schoolchildren and their parents."
MPs call for government action to end school attacks
A parliamentary Early Day Motion, expressing "extreme concern" at the situation in north Belfast, tabled by Labour MPs Jeremy Corbyn and John McDonnell, has won cross-party signatories, including former Conservative Shadow Secretary of State, Andrew Mackay. The motion, EDM 639, tabled on 10 January, states:
"That this House notes with extreme concern the violence which has erupted in north Belfast; condemns the attacks on the Holy Cross School and Our Lady of Mercy School; believes that the situation which resulted in the closure of Holy Cross School on 9 January for security reasons is intolerable and that there is no justification for attacks on schoolchildren; and further believes that the government and all political parties with influence in the situation should do everything in their power to bring these attacks to an end, to allow the school to be re-opened, to ensure the children are able to attend it in safety and to encourage dialogue as the only way forward to resolve grievances within the communities."
Canadian human rights group's concerns
The Montreal-based Centre for Rights & Democracy (CR&D), a human rights NGO created by the Canadian Parliament, has written to David Trimble and Tony Blair calling for immediate action to protect the schoolgirls of Holy Cross and find a peaceful solution to the crisis. This letter follows a previous letter last November, where CR&D president and former Solicitor General of Canada, Warren Allmand, said the attacks on the children constituted a violation of the UN Charter of Rights.
In further support for the embattled children and parents of Holy Cross, the Montreal Central Council of the powerful Confederation of National Trade Unions and the National Federation of Quebec Teachers will be writing to Trimble and to the Six-County teachers' unions urging steps be taken to end what they call "this intolerable situation".
These measures of support are part of a campaign organised by the Montreal Coalition for Peace in Ireland to raise international awareness about Holy Cross and the overall threat of intransigent loyalism to the peace process.