[A-List] UK state: Northern Ireland: so called sectarianism.
brendan.holland at ntlworld.com
Fri Mar 19 14:33:12 MST 2004
On the Holy Cross disgrace some years ago, and in the midst of a media tidal
wave at that time saying, "both sides are as bad as the other", was this gem
tucked away in the education section of The Guardian. One point, there have
never been any "similar nationalist protests" unless the writer is referring
to the brutal wading in of the RUC at any nationalist protest...........
At the mercy of the mob
Two years ago the world watched in horror as loyalists terrorised Catholic
schoolgirls at Holy Cross school in Belfast. Now one mother forced to flee
her home after death threats is suing the authorities for failing to protect
the children. Beatrix Campbell reports
Monday December 1, 2003
"Why are you writing about Holy Cross?" demands one of Belfast's more
modernising Presbyterians, the Rev John Dunlop. "There's a danger of keeping
this thing alive."
Two years ago this month, the girls of Holy Cross primary in north Belfast
finally went back to school unassailed. The five-month blockade of the
school by angry Protestants, during which time the Catholic schoolgirls and
their parents had to fight their way past men swathed in Rangers scarves
calling them "fenian whores", was over.
But Holy Cross is not over. Ronnie Flanagan, the former chief constable of
what was then the RUC, and the Northern Ireland office are being sued by the
mother of a Holy Cross pupil, who was forced to flee her home during the
dispute after receiving loyalist death threats. She has submitted evidence
to a judicial review, arguing that policing of the conflict was passive and
discriminatory compared to the way similar nationalist protests have been
policed. Judgment looms. Holy Cross doesn't die.
Nothing quite like it had happened before. Yet little has revealed so much
about the Troubles. Why did the protesters keep at it, day after day, though
it ruined Unionism's reputation around the world? Why did polite society let
them continue? And why was there apparently so little solidarity shown to
the children by church or state or civil society?
Legend has it that on June 19 2001 two UDA "wee fellas" were up a ladder
hoisting loyalist flags on Ardoyne Road for the Protestant's summer marching
season, when Republicans drove at them and knocked them off. There was a
riot, so the story goes, which led to the blockade and the five-month siege.
But according to one loyalist woman who says she saw it all, "it's lies,
they didn't drive at the ladder". Gail Blundell is from Glenbryn, the
loyalist estate in which the school is situated. She says that parents began
arriving at around 2pm to collect children from Holy Cross. The car drove
on, she says, and the UDA lads threw the ladder at the back window of the
car. It screeched to a halt, the men got out, and instantly there was
fighting; "All hell let loose."
When the RUC arrived, Blundell says, she approached an officer. "I said,
'I'm a witness!' He got his notebook out, took the registration number, he
walked across to the officers and ignored me. I still find it very hard to
believe of somebody who's supposed to be there to protect my community."
Billy Hutchinson, a local loyalist politician, arrived swiftly. Though he
blamed Catholic "incursions into the area, using the school as a cover", he
tried in vain over the next few months to persuade the protesters to come up
with a clear negotiating strategy.
What did little girls have to do with Protestant grievances? "Nothing," says
Jim Potts, a community volunteer from Glenbryn. "It is the parents we have
the problem with." Unionists argued that Catholics were using the school run
as a cover to attack local Protestants. The whole problem was compounded by
loyalist insecurity: Catholic Ardoyne is thriving and overcrowded, while the
Protestants of Glenbryn are in numerical decline as they evacuate to the
suburbs and small towns.
The police refuse to release breakdowns of the relative crime figures in
loyalist Glenbryn and Catholic Ardoyne. "We don't get into that," says a
police spokesperson. "The police are not involved in blaming one side or
But in the summer of 2001 assistant chief constable Alan McQuillan received
intelligence that the UDA had weapons and bombs "and intended to use these
against the police and nationalists". He had intelligence that loyalist
paramilitaries planned to "exploit community tensions to murder RCs or
In September 2001, as the school resumed after the summer holidays, the
violence exploded, and a pipe bomb was thrown into the crowd. Hutchinson
said he was ashamed and appalled. But the Paisleyite MP Nigel Dodds argued
that loyalists felt unheeded and "didn't care any more". Unionists opposed a
resolution from the Northern Ireland Assembly supporting the Holy Cross
pupils' right to an education.
"What galled us was politicians saying, 'You have to understand why the
protesters are so angry', while they were doing such vile things," says
Linda Bowes, a mother from Ardoyne. "They had a right to protest," adds Lisa
Ervine, also from Ardoyne, "but not against kids. Why didn't they take their
protest somewhere else? They should have gone to Stormont or City Hall. Our
children had nothing to give them."
The Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission (HRC), set up under the Good
Friday Agreement, decided in November 2001 to support the legal action
brought by the mother fleeing from death threats. But some commissioners
mutinied, including the leader of the Methodist Church, Harold Good, and
Brice Dickson, the chief commissioner. Shortly afterwards, they secretly
wrote to the increasingly discredited Flanagan assuring him that they did
not support the legal action against him. This caused mayhem at the HRC, and
three commissioners have since resigned.
Good says he felt "unreserved abhorrence" at the blockade, but refused to
align himself with the children. "To become a champion of one side or the
other, well, you'd have to be very careful about that." Dunlop agrees. "You
don't, I suspect, appreciate the profound sense of insecurity on the
loyalist side," he says. Asked why no one stopped the blockade, he says, "I
don't know in what sense it could have been stopped."
Father Aidan Troy, the chair of Holy Cross governors who faithfully "walked
the walk" with the children every day of the protest, dismisses this as
"easy and lazy thinking". But even he could not persuade his superiors in
the Catholic church to join him in walking with the mothers and daughters
who, he believes, "acted with total integrity - I'll carry that knowledge to
But what of the girls themselves? Bowes says that her daughter Amanda, who
now attends North Belfast's only Catholic girls' grammar, was determined.
"If she'd said, 'I don't want to go,' we wouldn't have gone. I took my
strength from her. She believed she'd done nothing wrong. And the teachers
were the unsung heroines - some of them faced death threats, too."
The children were reassured, too, by the most famous Protestant on the
planet, Nobel peace prize winner, Archbishop Desmond Tutu. He went to the
school in November 2001 and told them how lovable they were and that Jesus,
too, had been scorned and spat at on his way to the crucifixion. Protestant
church leaders didn't like it, some vehemently opposed the visit. "It was
daft," says Dunlop, "he should never have gone near the place." Outsiders
didn't understand, they thought. They regarded the Holy Cross mothers as
reckless - or worse, as Republicans.
When Northern Ireland's First Minister David Trimble finally decided to
visit the school, it was the beginning of the end. The protesters were
persuaded to accept a regeneration deal for Glenbryn. But two years on the
question remains: why was no one with any power prepared to take the side of
a group of small Catholic schoolgirls?
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