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Protestant Demonstrators Taunt Catholic Parents and Children - 2001-09-04


Protestant demonstrators have again taunted parents and children walking to a Catholic school in Belfast.

As happened on Monday, the protesters stood along a 300-meter route leading to the Holy Cross girls' elementary school. The school is located in a Protestant enclave in the predominantly Catholic area of Ardoyne in north Belfast.

Amid jeers and flying bottles, about 60 children were escorted by police in riot gear down the Ardoyne Road. For the youngsters, it was another frightening walk to school.

A mother who has two children at the school expressed her fear that the taunts of the protesters have left an unforgettable impression. "I have two children going to school, and for one of them this was her first day," she said. "And her first day, she will think everyday at school is like this. She does not have to experience that. She is three-years of age and it is just absolutely diabolical that the young people are allowed to shout what they shouted at our kids."

The protesters say they are demonstrating in response to attacks against the Protestant community by Catholics.

Local politician Gerry Kelly from Sinn Fein, the political wing of the outlawed Irish Republican Army, said dialogue is the only way out. "The answer to this is not to [stop parents from taking their children to school, but to find a way to stop people] who are blockading the school, to stop preventing 4-year-old girls up to 11-year-old girls getting into school," he said.

Some Protestant leaders, like Democratic Unionist party politician Nigel Dodds, said talks to end the school confrontation should start soon. But he also believes the Catholic parents are deliberately antagonizing the Protestants. "If people were not prepared to engage in exploitation and triumphalism, but would say, 'look, let us have a breathing space,' then we could try and get this sorted out," he said.

Amid the calls for talks between the Catholic and Protestant communities, at least one group is not joining in. A Protestant paramilitary group, the Red Hand Defenders, has warned parents and the police to stay away from the Protestant area.