Catholic parents urged to change route after school violence

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The Independent Online

Pupils at a north Belfast Catholic primary school were expected to return to school today despite the violence which plagued the start of the new term.

The governors of Holy Cross School urged parents to take their children by an alternative route today after a Protestant mob attempted to prevent parents taking their children through a loyalist area yesterday.

The disorder in North Belfast continued late into the night after rioting erupted between rival gangs of nationalists and loyalists.

Police said a crowd of 200 people had gathered in the Ardoyne Road area during the evening, hurling petrol bombs, bricks and bottles at each other, as the sectarian violence that has plagued the north of the city throughout the summer reignited.

Unionist politicians blamed republicans for orchestrating the violence which broke out in the Ardoyne, Limestone Road and Whitewell areas.

But Sinn Fein blamed the largest loyalist paramilitary group, the Ulster Defence Association.

A police spokeswoman said several officers had been injured but the extent of their injuries were not yet known.

Brendan Mailey, spokesman for the Right to Education Committee, said about 150 parents listened attentively throughout the two–hour meeting with the governors of Holy Cross School last night.

"I think most parents will wait until the morning and see what the situation is before making up their minds. That is what I'm doing myself," he said.

"The committee is not there to direct parents in what they should do. We will always leave that decision to the parents."

Earlier, the governors said they would be recommending that the children use the back entrance to the school, avoiding the loyalist Glenbryn area.

The chairman, Fr Aidan Troy, said: "If tomorrow morning a little girl was hit with a bottle, as I was nearly hit this morning, and somebody said to me 'Did you not say anything?', I don't think I could hold my head up."

Mr Mailey said many parents used the meeting to vent their anger at the loyalist protests and the response of the Royal Ulster Constabulary.

"They were saying how bad the RUC's so–called protection was. They compared it to July 12 when two Orange bands walked down the road and nationalists were batoned off the streets.

"We have to say that the parents do not want the RUC batoning people off the road. They want discussions on how to resolve this issue."

The RUC also came under criticism from loyalists who claimed heavy–handed policing had exacerbated the situation.

But RUC Chief Constable Sir Ronnie Flanagan brushed aside the complaints, vowing that his officers would be on hand today to do everything possible to ensure that the children get to school.

The meeting followed a sinister warning from the Red Hand Defenders to parents to stay away from the area today. Police were also threatened by the loyalist terror grouping.

Nationalists said loyalists started the violence but Billy Hutchinson, an Assembly member for north Belfast who represents the loyalist Progressive Unionist Party, claimed the trouble began when nationalists attacked a community centre, causing a full scale riot.

"The police are allowing republicans to carry out attack after attack on the Protestant community," he said.

In the Whitewell Road area, North Belfast MP Nigel Dodds of Ian Paisley's Democratic Unionist Party said he saw petrol bombs and blast bombs being thrown by nationalist mobs into the loyalist White City Estate.

A police spokeswoman confirmed that a pipe bomb had exploded in the garden of a house in Serpentine Road.

Mr Dodds said: "I'm putting the blame fairly and squarely on Sinn Fein/IRA. The police need to be tackling those responsible for the violence instead of watching what is going on."

Sinn Fein MP Martin McGuinness said UDA attacks on the Catholic community were designed at provoking the IRA into retaliation and accused unionist politicians of fuelling its campaign.

"It is no coincidence that the upsurge in loyalist attacks and threats directed at republicans and nationalists has coincided with David Trimble's agenda to collapse the political institutions," he said.