IRISH NEWS ROUND-UP, , 31.8.-3.9.2001


    It was the first day back at school in Belfast, Alabama.

Even by loyalist standards, the scenes were unbelievable - and unbearable.

In a gauntlet of terror, tiny young girls and their parents on their way to school for the first day were subjected to the most vicious sectarian intimidation and violence yesterday morning and afternoon.

Screaming the foulest comments, a hate-distorted loyalist mob bayed and howled in their open quest to terrify the children and their parents. Nearer the school, bottles and stones rained down on the children, some as young as four, who cried and clutched their parents in absolute terror. The fear in their eyes and faces is unmistakeable, the abuse indelible.

For the loyalists of Glenbryn estate, the presence of nationalists bringing their girls to Holy Cross primary school has become too much to bear. "Scum" is one of the few printable terms of abuse that they hurled at the children, like bricks. They believe they are better than Catholics.

The blockade and the gauntlet of abuse is likely to continue again today. Parents are considering whether to take a detour and bring their children to school through a back door.

Although it was Shauna McAuley's first day in Ardoyne's Holy Cross Catholic Girls School, it may also be her last.


After braving a barrage of terrifying sectarian abuse yesterday, little Shauna's mother vowed she would never take her daughter back. She will not relive the nightmare.


It began at 8:30am when Catholic parents gathered at the Ardoyne shops close to the sectarian interface they would soon cross. Among them stood the little girls.


Some sported pigtails, others clutched brightly coloured lunchboxes. Uniforms were cleaned and pressed for what should have been their big day.


The families knew there would be a loyalist protest, but none realised they would soon have to run what they later described as a "corridor of hate".


Army vehicles kept the majority of nationalist residents back at the top of Alliance Avenue, two or three hundred yards from the front entrance to Holy Cross Primary School.


An assortment of loyalist paramilitary flags flew overhead as Catholic parents took their terrified children to school for the first day of term.


Riot screens had been erected along the road to create a "safe corridor" to allow the children to go to school. The steel tunnel ran for around 200 yards - but stopped well short of the Catholic families' destination.


Only a line of RUC stood between the loyalist mob and their passing Catholic neighbours. It was not enough.


"Bastards" and "Fenian scum" were shouted repeatedly as loyalist spat at the parents and the cowering children.


One little six-year-old girl was reduced to tears when loyalist protesters labelled her "Dumbo" and called her a "big-eared bastard".


There were also calls of "Up the UVF" and "Go on the UDA" as bottles were hurled from across the road as the children and parents hurried through the school gates.


Parents cupped their hands over children's ears in a desperate bid to block out the verbal onslaught.


As missiles rained in, they struggled to shelter their daughters from shattering bottles.


But even when they reached the school, the children did not feel safe.


One mother described how schoolgirls hid under tables in their classrooms while loyalist protesters hurled stones, bottles and fireworks at the school gates from the entrance of the Glenbryn estate.


The aunt of one of the pupils suffered a head injury when she was struck with a milk bottle. She was taken to the hospital by ambulance and later received four staples to a head wound.


Within half an hour many parents, despite having just arrived, took their children out of the school as it came under further attack.


"Grown men and women were calling my children Fenian bastards and spitting on us," said one mother.


"My daughter didn't know what a Fenian was until she heard them shouting at us.


"I wouldn't take her back to the school now if I was paid. I would not be able to leave her there without worrying about her all day.


"What did a child of four or six years of age do to them? Nothing. We were told it would be safe, but no way was that safe - it was terrifying.


"When we were half-way up, I wanted to turn back but I couldn't because there were so many other parents and children being herded up behind me."


Nine-year-old Stacey McAllister's mother said: "Stacey did not want to go to school today. All last week, she was sick and had diarrhoea because she was terrified of going to school.


"She begged me not to make her go but I thought I had to, I had no idea it would be that bad. I will not let her go back to the school. I went through this in 1969 when I used to go to that school but this is far worse. It is unbelievable."


The chairman of the board of governors at Holy Cross said he had been horrified by the scenes.


Father Aidan Troy said: "I have been a priest for 30 years and I have never seen anything like this and I have been in trouble spots across the world."




Two women were treated in hospital for head wounds suffered at the gates of the school. Both criticised the RUC for not doing more to defend them.


Ardoyne grandmother Liz Donnelly was struck on the head with a rock.


"The police said they would protect us but as we got closer to the school, they said 'you have to go back, there's a mob coming'. Then as we turned to run, I just saw something out of the corner of my eye and I was hit. I'm not sure what it was but it came from the other side of the army jeeps.


"As a man helped me away, the loyalists were shouting: 'There will be a lot of you gone tonight'," she added.


Elizabeth McShane, received four staples for a head wound after she was struck with a milk bottle,


She said she feared for her life after being knocked to the ground at the school entrance.


"As I let go of my niece and turned at the school gates, I just saw a bottle coming flying at me and it hit me on the head," she said.


"The scariest thing was that when I was lying on the ground, all I could see was people throwing bottles and stones at me. They were trying to kill me as I lay on the ground helpless."




North Belfast Sinn Fein councillor Margaret McClenaghan hit out at the RUC for failing to clear a way for the children to leave the school in the afternoon, and allowing loyalists to pass through their lines and attack parents.


"From the outset the RUC have, at best, displayed a half-hearted attitude to dealing with the loyalists who were blocking the children's way to school. Their inaction this afternoon highlights the very real sectarian nature of the force. Their ambivalence in dealing with loyalists stands in sharp contrast to their treatment of nationalists in North Belfast."


Education minister Martin McGuinness spoke of his dismay.


"Every child should be able to travel unhindered to school and be educated in an environment where they feel safe and secure and ready to learn."


The minister gave his full backing to efforts to "maintain this basic human right" for pupils.


"No children should be fearful of going to school and I would encourage everyone with influence to work towards an immediate resolution of this problem."


The loyalist mobs, after a second night of violence across north Belfast, are back to take on the schoolchildren and their parents for another day.


Meanwhile, the anguish of the Catholic parents over what to do next for the is immense. They are being forced to choose between their children's welfare or their human rights. For many, it is an impossible choice.



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