Loyalists face court over school blockade

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Loyalists blocking Catholic children and parents from walking to a Belfast school were threatened with legal action on Tuesday.

Six weeks after the stand-off began on 3 September, governors at Holy Cross primary school in the Ardoyne area of north Belfast warned that they were considering going to the High Court. Father Aidan Troy, the school board's chairman, said: "We are seeing 220 children being physically, emotionally, and spiritually abused. That is not good enough. I am watching them deteriorating before my eyes."

The head of the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission, Bryce Dickson, is today due to accompany pupils from the Ardoyne as they walk to the school, in the neighbouring, and largely Protestant, Glenbryn area. A spokeswoman for the commission said: "He wants to look at the situation for himself."

Since the protests erupted outside Holy Cross, parents and children have had to be given police protection as they make their daily journey to school. Demonstrators have thrown bricks and blast-bombs and screamed abuse. Eleven pupils have since been withdrawn from the school.

The clashes have erupted at a point where Protestant and Catholic housing areas meet. Protestants claim they are retaliating because members of their community were threatened while shopping in Catholic streets.

Although the atmosphere has cooled in recent days, intensive talks to resolve the conflict have failed. At the same time, political leaders have stepped up attempts to save the Northern Ireland peace process from collapse.

Tony Blair broke off from war preparations to hold talks in Downing Street with the Sinn Fein leaders Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness. Mr Adams, who later flew to Dublin for discussions with the Irish Prime Minister, Bertie Ahern, said the meeting had been useful. "We've got a lot of work to do and that depends on how collectively we can take our responsibilities," he said.

But with little sign of a breakthrough, the incoming leader of the Social Democratic and Labour Party urged Republicans to make a move on disarmament. Mark Durkan said the situation called for actions rather than words. "Sinn Fein need to move beyond the spiel and doublespeak in relation to the issue of decommissioning," he said.

"We can't, three and a half years on from the Agreement, still talk about the silence of the guns and make noises about decommissioning."

The Ulster Unionist leader, David Trimble, has threatened to withdraw his Ministers from the power-sharing Stormont executive because of the IRA's failure to disarm.