McGuinness seeks solution to Ardoyne impasse

 

Sinn Féin's Martin McGuinness today said he was anxious to see a solution to the situation in Ardoyne.

"Very young children do have the right to go to school free of sectarian threat and intimidation and abuse," said Mr McGuinness, the Mid Ulster MP.

"But the reality is that our responsibility, after looking at the terrible events of last week, in which new depths were plumbed, is to try to arrest the situation, try to deal with the difficulties and face up the responsibilities that political leaders on all sides have to get a resolution to this terrible situation," he told Sky's Sunday with Adam Boultonprogramme.

Mr McGuinness voiced pessimism about the state of the peace process, saying it would take a miracle to get it back on track.

"I do think it will take a miracle. If we look at Tony Blair's handling of all of this in the course of recent times, we can clearly see the absolute failure on his part to encourage the Unionists to make their peace with the rest of us and to build the new way forward."

David Burnside, the Ulster Unionist MP for Antrim South, acknowledged that the situation in Ardoyne had tainted Ulster's image.

"I hope in north Belfast, which is a powderkeg, we can get that sorted out," he told the programme.

Asked whether it had been a bad week for Unionists Mr Burnside, a former public relations executive, acknowledged: "If I was creating a public relations disaster to broadcast around the world I would manufacture something like that."

On the state of the peace process, he argued that Sinn Féin had to be excluded from the executive.

"The Unionist community supports a power-sharing executive at Stormont. I do not believe it can continue with Sinn Féin in that executive," he said.

Loyalist residents said later the protests would continue tomorrow. Anne Bill, spokesperson for Concerned Residents of Upper Ardoyne, said: "It will be peaceful. There will no noise while the children pass."

Protestant residents complain that the root of the protests has been the erosion of their community because of Government neglect and sectarian attacks by republicans from neighbouring streets.

Ms Bill signalled that the proposed package put forward by Dr Reid and the power-sharing executive on Friday could provide a resolution.

But she added: "The issues haven't gone away that made people want to protest in the first place.

"They have seen that the only way they can get people to listen to them is still to protest. It will be quiet for the children because the children aren't the issue. It is the adults and some of the parents who have been involved in some of the hassle."

Asked about the appeal by the church leaders, she said: "I would say to them, come and speak to the people of Upper Ardoyne before they make their statements.

"They don't know what the people in Upper Ardoyne are saying, they are taking the images off the TV and newspapers."

The Parish Priest of Holy Cross and chairman of the school board of governors, Fr Aidan Troy, said: "I'm hoping that Monday follows Thursday and Friday's de-escalation of the protests.

"Friday was less stressful, less traumatic, much better - the less the children hear of language, sectarian taunts, the better.

"I also recognise that if people want to conduct a peaceful, silent protest, then in our society that is acceptable.

"But it is not right to have it with so many police and Army - who are doing a super job - because of the threat of more is always there.

"A peaceful protest is acceptable as long as the threat of any form of violence and intimidation is gone."

He said the days ahead provided a great opportunity for both communities.

He added: "We must not forget the urgency of getting the children back to school in peace and quiet.

"The children are nothing to do with it. This is an adult concern."

PA