Loyalists stage silent demonstration as police escort Catholics to school

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The Independent Online

The Belfast school dispute was marked by a second calmer day yesterday, with Protestants staging a silent protest when police escorted Catholic pupils to class.

Loyalists registered their protest by turning their backs on the Catholic girls and their parents as they made their way to Holy Cross primary school on the edge of the Ardoyne district. In what was seen as an encouraging development, a Catholic priest and some Protestant ministers led a group of Catholics and Protestants in a joint recital of the Lord's Prayer.

Both sides showed respect for the memory of a Protestant teenager whose funeral took place yesterday in another part of north Belfast.

Sixteen-year-old Thomas McDonald died on Tuesday, after being knocked down by a car in a flashpoint area. A woman has been charged with his murder. More than 1,000 people attended the funeral.

In Ardoyne, after an agreement was reached by clergymen, Protestants and Catholic parents observed a minute's silence before the daily walk to Holy Cross school.

The chairman of the school's board of governors, Father Aidan Troy, said after the cross-community prayer: "It's certainly a gesture but I don't know if it's a turning point.

"We were deeply touched by the young boy's death and when I asked the community for a minute's silence with the Reverend Norman Hamilton, they said go ahead."

Optimism that the dispute was gradually cooling was tempered, however, by a warning from a GP on the effects of the confrontation.

Dr Michael Tan said up to 15 pupils were "stressed out and distressed". He has been prescribing sedatives to relieve the symptoms and to help the children sleep.

The Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, John Reid, said children's right to an education had to be protected but a mechanism must be found for loyalists to air grievances.

Police last night found more than 60 petrol bombs and various weapons in an unoccupied house in the loyalist Tigers Bay area of north Belfast.