School protests will go on, say loyalists

 

Loyalists were tonight preparing to stage new school protests in north Belfast.

All sides hope there will be no repeat of the last week's events in Ardoyne Road, when terrified young girls ran the gauntlet of sectarian violence, including a blast bomb explosion.

Behind-the-scenes talks continued this weekend ahead of a meeting between the protesting residents and Northern Ireland Secretary John Reid on Tuesday although there was still no sign of direct talks between the divided communities in the district.

Church leaders today called for an end to the intimidation and one - Methodist president the Reverend Harold Good - appealed for the protests to be called off altogether.

But Anne Bill, spokesperson for Concerned Residents of Upper Ardoyne, said: "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."

She said the group wanted no trouble and said of tomorrow's 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."

Community and political leaders are currently considering proposals put forward by Dr Reid and the power-sharing executive on Friday.

Protestant residents have complained that the root of the protests has been the erosion of their community because of British government neglect and sectarian attacks by republicans from neighbouring streets.

The Northern Ireland Assembly is to debate a motion about the dispute, tabled by Sinn Féin's Gerry Kelly, tomorrow afternoon.

Tonight North Belfast MP Nigel Dodds welcomed the protesters' plan to remain silent as "significant".

Mr Dodds, a member of the DUP, added: "I am calling on everyone to act in a totally peaceful and dignified way.

"If anyone harbours any thoughts of violence, they should stay away, in keeping with the publicly expressed wishes of the local community."

Alban Maginness of the SDLP said: "Anything that de-escalates the nature and size of the loyalist protest is, in my view, very welcome indeed.

"I would hope that the protesters could not just be silent, but non-belligerent, both for the children and their parents."

The parish priest of Holy Cross and chairman of the school governors, Father Aidan Troy, echoed their words and claimed 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."

Earlier Church of Ireland Primate Archbishop Robin Eames spoke of the disgust felt by the vast majority of Protestants at the week's events.

He told BBC1's Breakfast with Frost: "We are utterly revolted by those scenes outside the school. There is a wave of revulsion across this province.

"From a church standpoint, I believe that we have two jobs. First of all to take the moral issue, the moral ground, which says that little children should never be subjected to this sort of attention.

"And secondly to make sure that the underlining causes of this, particularly in north Belfast, are now brought out and examined."

US President George Bush's special envoy to Northern Ireland Richard Haass will this week assess the state of the wider peace process with the threat of another collapse looming.

He is due to meet Dr Reid in London tomorrow before moving on to take other soundings from parties and officials in Dublin and Belfast.