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Thursday, 6 September, 2001, 14:22 GMT 15:22 UK
Ardoyne school dispute: Parents' dilemma
Security forces escorts parents and children to school on Thursday
Security forces escort parents and children to school
By BBC News Online's Jane Bardon

Everyone in Ardoyne seems to agree that it is a terrible thing when children get embroiled in the Troubles created by adults in Northern Ireland for more than 30 years.

Catholic parents trying to get their children to school safely past Protestant housing condemn loyalists for targeting their little ones.

And loyalists organising the protests blocking their route to Holy Cross Girls' Primary School in north Belfast say their quarrel is not with the children, but with their parents.

Each side says the other should be ashamed. But shame is something that seems to be in short supply.

Patricia McFall and her daughter Kierna
Patricia McFall: "She doesn't understand what is happening"
Jennifer McKernon, who was bringing her six-year-old daughter Chloe up through the lines of security forces and protesters to the school for the fourth day on Thursday, said: "It was very intimidating. They should be ashamed of themselves. These are only wee children."

Philomena Flood, whose daughter Erinn attends Holy Cross, said: "These children have a right to go to school.

"The Protestants are calling for dialogue. We gave them dialogue over the summer and this is the way we are being paid back."

Mixed emotions

The atmosphere on the Ardoyne Road was tense as the parents waited for the okay from the security forces to walk past protective barriers up to the school, but there was an air of defiance.

It has been very hard to cope with because whenever you are walking up there people are calling you names and throwing stones and stuff

Pupil Helen Boyle
When loyalists threw a blast bomb at the police as they led the children to the safety of the school the previous day, the faces of the small children were contorted with shock and terror.

But as the sun momentarily lit up the scene, where the heavy security presence was almost matched numerically by the media scrum, many of the little girls were smiling, as if eagerly anticipating the trip up the road.

Their parents looked grimly determined and buoyed up by the belief that they were in the right.

'We are being vilified'

Angie Boyle, who was bringing her ten-year-old daughter Helen up to the school, said many of the parents were angry that they had been portrayed in the media as using their children to make a point.

Angie Boyle and her daughter Helen
Angie and Helen Boyle: "We are being vilified for taking a stand"
"The parents are being vilified because they are trying to do what is right. But I can't let Helen see this evilness win," she said.

As the barriers moved across and the column of parents and children, flanked by police and army, made their way up the road, some of those who helped to create the barrage of whistles, horns and banging bin-lids were also children.

Four young girls wearing the blue school uniform of the nearby Protestant school stood on their front doorstep adding to the noise.

As television cameramen from international news organisations homed in on them, the girls blushed and giggled and blew all the harder.

Nearby, six camera crews were filming two Protestant women banging bin-lids on the ground.

The imitation of the Catholic community's 'hen patrol' neighbourhood warning system of the 1970s looked all the more out of place because the old tin bins have been replaced in Belfast by plastic 'wheelie bins'.

The broad-armed hard men standing behind them and the loyalist protest 'stewards' keeping the cameramen from getting too close, were the reminder that this was not meant to be farcical.

Divided opinion

The Holy Cross parents are still divided on what they should do in the face of the protests.

Parents were met by horn and whistle protest
Parents were met by horn and whistle protest
A principle is a principle, but some have been asking how you could do that to your own child?

The effect on children of running the daily gauntlet of protests on their way to school is incalculable.

Angie Boyle said she had been asking her daughter every morning which way she wanted to go to school.

They could take a longer route around which does not pass the protesting loyalists. But it includes a muddy bank, and also passes other loyalist areas.

"If we go round by the back entrance through St Gabriel's, we are still open to attack at the opening at Hesketh Road and at Wheatfield.

"And if we changed, they would just move the protest round the back."

Her daughter Helen said: "It has been very hard to cope with because whenever you are walking up there people are calling you names and throwing stones and stuff.

Dierdre McLaughlin with her daughter Laura and her friend
Dierdre McLaughlin: "I was concerned for my daughter"
"Sometimes it is very scary and you have to go home again.

"But I want to try the walk today to see how it goes. If it is bad, I'll not be doing it tomorrow."

Patricia McFall, who was carrying her three-year-old daughter Kierna to the nursery school, said she was also determined to keep using the front route.

She said: "Yesterday, when the bomb went off, she thought it was fireworks. She doesn't realise what is happening up here. She wanted to see the police Land Rovers this morning."

She added: "The other route is just as dangerous as this one. We were afraid of getting attacked coming back along the Crumlin Road.

"Yesterday when we went home that way, I did the quickest walk home ever. I was out of breath when I got home."

A parent brings her child to school shielded by the security forces
Tense walk to school for parents and children
Another mother told her child the protesters were blowing whistles to show that the protest was over.

"She said she wanted a whistle too," the woman said.

However, Dierdre McLaughlin took her daughter Laura, aged nine, to school on Thursday along the other route "for her safety and out of concern for my child's sanity".

"I took her along the Ardoyne Road on Monday, but I wouldn't do it again," she said.

"I ask her which way she wants to go to school. And she says along the Crumlin Road."

The parents see this as a simple issue. They want to get their children to school and they say they have no mandate to give assurances to the Protestant community that they will be able to live in mainly Catholic Ardoyne free from intimidation.

But they can also see themselves as part of a wider picture.

Angie Boyle said: "This is part of a wider campaign. This isn't about schoolchildren.

"It is focussing here now, but once it has run its course it will just move on somewhere else and someone else's children will be in the front line."

See also:

04 Sep 01 | Northern Ireland
Police attacked in Belfast clashes
02 Aug 01 | Northern Ireland
Arsonists target Catholic Church
31 Jul 01 | Northern Ireland
Loyalist violence threat to peace
04 Sep 01 | Northern Ireland
Church plea over dispute school
05 Sep 01 | Northern Ireland
Eyewitness: Bomb blast at school
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