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14 March 2002 Edition

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Troops Out organise Holy Cross Mothers' speaking tour


Holy Cross parent Sharon McCabe is pictured with members of Cardiff City Council, Caerphilly Borough councillor Ray Davies, Maria O'Brien and Mary Millington

Sharon McCabe and Elizabeth Murphy, whose eight-year-old daughters go to Holy Cross School in Belfast, spent a hectic four days in England and Wales between 7-10 March as guests of the Troops Out Movement. The tour was part of International Women's Day (IWD) events. As members of the Right to Education Group, the women spoke about the loyalist gauntlet of hate their children had been forced to experience in insisting that they had the right to attend school.

McCabe and Murphy met with MPs and Assembly members in Cardiff; council leaders and city councillors in Birmingham, Cardiff and Coventry; and trades councils in Nottingham, Coventry and Birmingham. They were at International Women's Day festivals organised by Nottingham Unison and the West Midlands TUC in Walsall; spoke at a special meetings hosted by Birmingham and Coventry Irish Women's Groups; met with National Union of Teachers representatives in Birmingham and Coventry and NAS/UWT in Cardiff.

Their heartrending accounts of the abuse suffered by their children at the hands of loyalist intimidators moved audiences to stunned silence. Liz Murphy described in detail the nature of the nine weeks of abuse meted out last term and some of this term. The world was shocked by pictures of aggressive loyalists trying to prevent children going to school but the reality was even worse as the news media censored the worst elements. Liz herself was drenched with urine thrown by a loyalist woman. She said: "We have suffered verbal abuse, have been spat upon and had all sorts thrown at us - urine, faeces, stones, bolts, firecrackers, pipe bombs and even a grenade. Many of the parents have received death threats."

Sharon McCabe described the double horror of mothers harassing and intimidating children. "One loyalist mother appeared regular as clockwork to scream and gesture at our children," she recalled. "This woman's child, about a year old, was given a whistle to blow in derision when our children passed. What hope is there for that child being reared in hatred. He doesn't understand now but will grow to hate. This is tarnishing the next generation."

Both women spoke of trying to instil into their own children that Protestant people are not bad people but that the protestors are very bigoted and are doing it for political reasons. They talked of Protestant friends ringing to say how sorry they were, and even Protestant residents in the area of the school who were too afraid of the loyalist paramilitaries to speak out.

Sharon and Liz spoke of how people ask them "How can you put your children through that?" They reply that education is a right not a privilege and would they have expected Martin Luther King to stay at the back of the bus. "We are not second class citizens and the Good Friday Agreement is supposed to give us the right to live free from harassment," said Liz. " This is what we want, equality for our children."

Everyone who heard the women speak could not help but be moved by their story of a community's determination for their children's right to education and are pledged to raise the issue with the British politicians who signed up for the Good Friday Agreement.

The Troops Out Movement is launching a petition in support of the Holy Cross Children at the St Patrick's Day Parade in Birmingham. Anyone wishing to help should contact 0121 643 7542 or e-mail [email protected] PO Box 1032 Birmingham B12 8BZ

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