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Tuesday, 4 September, 2001, 12:06 GMT 13:06 UK
Eyewitness: A second day of fear
Children surrounded by RUC officers make their way to Holy Cross School
Under guard: Children protected by massive operation
By BBC News Online's Dominic Casciani in Belfast

Yesterday there was hatred and sectarian abuse. Today, the loyalist demonstrators had been pushed back - but there was just as much fear and tears as parents prepared to get their daughters to the Catholic Holy Cross School in Ardoyne.

On Monday evening, the parents of nationalist Ardoyne remained undecided on whether to risk running the gauntlet again or choose an alternative way of entering the school via a playing field.

I just don't want what I saw yesterday to happen to my daughter again

Ardoyne mother Geraldine McGrandley
By 8am the RUC had thrown up a cordon sanitaire along 500 yards of Ardoyne Road.

There was at least twice the number of armoured vehicles, officers in full riot gear and soldiers creating a channel leading from the Catholic side of the community, through the ostensibly Protestant area, ending at the school.

Earlier in the morning there were ugly scenes which resulted in one RUC officer suffering a broken collar bone after he was hit by a blast bomb.

A little girl clings to her mother in Ardoyne
Fearful: Second day back at school

As 8.30am approached, more than 100 parents gathered on the unofficial line that divides the communities.

There, Father Aidan Troy, chair of the governors at Holy Cross School and the RUC's commander on the scene walked 100 yards up the silent channel of armoured vehicles.

Father Troy peered into the distance of a surreal no man's land, looking for signs of dangers to the children.

Geraldine McGrandley decided that it was not worth the risk and she and daughter, Danielle, would go the other way around.

"Yesterday she was alright until we got halfway up," said Mrs McGrandley.

"Then the abuse got louder and I could do nothing to protect her. I just don't want that to happen to my daughter again."

The walkers

But at 8.45am, a group of about 60 parents decided that they were going to walk. In front of them, lay the aftermath of a night's rioting.

Little feet would be walking over hundreds of broken bottles, bricks and the remains of paint bombs.

A girl sits on a bollard near the cordon
Watching and waiting: Sitting by the cordon
Then they would be entering a corridor of armoured cars. For each child there were probably three RUC men.

If many of the mothers looked frightened, it was far worse for their children who now knew what to expect.

One little girl, a skinny little thing with chequered ribbons in her hair, clung to her father's arm for dear life, her nose buried deep in his elbow.

Another smaller one, carried by her mother, tried not to look up but could not help herself.

When she did, there was terror and total bewilderment in her eyes.

This was no way to start your second day back at school.

Second day of abuse

The security forces had forced the protesters much further off the road than on Monday.

But there are a small number of homes which back right onto the road next to the school and it was there that a small group of protesters stood.

We walked it because it's our right to get our daughter into school. We're not second-class citizens

Denise Donnelly

One woman carrying a baby in her arms screamed at those who passed her. "You're some f-ing mothers! You're some f-ing mothers! What kind of mothers are you to put your kids through this?"

On the other side of the road a man leaned out of his window, flicked v-signs at the parents and shouted: "You're the f-ing scum of the earth, all of you," before his taunts were drowned out by his own double glazing.

These were the protesters who had taken to the streets outside the school saying that republicans were using the children as cover to attack the Protestant community.

As the school gates approached some of the girls tried to start running. Some of the parents applauded as they passed the gates before being told to pipe down.

Denise Donnelly and her 10-year-old daughter Paulette were among those who walked the route.

"We walked it because it's our right to get our daughter into school. We're not second-class citizens. But she was in more of a state today than yesterday."

Ironically, in the middle of all this sectarianism, Mrs Donnelly works as a classroom assistant in an integrated school that teaches both Protestant and Catholic children.

"I just feel so very sad about this. The school I work in includes many children from Glenbryn [the Protestant part of Ardoyne].

"What do these scenes tell these children about each other's community?"

And while all of this was going on, it was not just the Catholic children who were suffering.

All over the area there were Protestant children who could not get to their school. It lies on the opposite side of the road from Holy Cross. There are no winners in what is going on in Ardoyne.

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