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Monday, 5 November, 2001, 14:51 GMT
'Understanding' in Holy Cross dispute
Residents say an improved situation has been achieved
Residents say an improved situation has been achieved
Protestant residents involved in a dispute at a Catholic school in north Belfast have said they have reached an understanding with the police.

On Monday morning, police officers were not wearing full riot gear for the first time in the 11-week dispute outside Holy Cross Girls' Primary School in Ardoyne.

Residents from the Glenbryn area, where the school is situated, have been protesting because of alleged attacks by the larger Catholic community in Ardoyne.

Police have escorted the children each day
Police have escorted the children each day

The security forces have been escorting pupils past the loyalist protesters along the Ardoyne Road since the beginning of term in September.

On Monday, protesters stood away from police vehicles as children and parents went to the school.

There were no noisy horns which have previously greeted the parents as they returned from the school.

'Lawful and legitimate'

The Concerned Residents of Upper Ardoyne group said it held intensive meetings with senior police officers over the weekend.

Residents' spokesman Stuart McCartney said he welcomed recognition by the police that the protest was legitimate.

"We have endeavoured all through the week to try and remove the children from the equation. We are working with the police now to ensure that."

The full details of the understanding are unknown but the residents said they would be making every effort to ensure the protests were peaceful and that the situation was regularly reviewed.

Father Aidan Troy:
Father Troy: Welcomed change of attitude

Chairman of the school's board of governors Father Aidan Troy has welcomed what he called the "change of attitude".

But he said he was still worried about what was going on.

Isobel McGrann of the Right to Education Group said parents and children felt vulnerable because of the reduction in security measures.

"I'm not happy with the scaling down. The police should have sat down with both sides to talk about this," she said.

"I don't think the loyalists have scaled down their blockade. This is just an attempt to sanitise their protest."

Dispute

RUC Superintendent Robert Robinson said a number of proposals had been put forward by the protesters at the weekend and police had responded positively.

He welcomed the fact that Monday's protest had been peaceful but said his priority remained the safety of the children.

"We are here to do a job and make sure the children and parents get to school safely," he said.

"There were no officers in riot gear but we were in a position to react if there were difficulties."

The development came as pupils return to the school following the half-term break.

Efforts to find a resolution to the dispute over the pupils' route to Holy Cross have so far failed, but it was hoped an agreement could be found during the extended holiday.

The placard and whistle protest has been relatively peaceful in recent weeks, but it erupted into violence at the beginning of September.

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
The BBC's Kevin Conolly
examines the background to the anger of Protestants in North Belfast
Father Aidan Troy, Holy Cross board of governors
"I'm delighted that the residents have been talking to the police"
BBC NI's Rosy Billingham:
"Some of these children will be sitting their 11-plus exam this week"
See also:

15 Oct 01 | Northern Ireland
Dispute school extra cash criticised
15 Oct 01 | Northern Ireland
New move urged over school dispute
25 Oct 01 | Northern Ireland
Commission head meets RUC chief
12 Oct 01 | Northern Ireland
Buses offer to end school protest
14 Oct 01 | Northern Ireland
Priest likens Holy Cross to Afghanistan
11 Oct 01 | Northern Ireland
Peace wall for school dispute
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