Peace prevails at Belfast schools but tensions persist

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The Independent Online

Relative peace prevailed in north Belfast's schools yesterday after another troubled night of rioting in which 30 police officers and three soldiers were injured in and around Ardoyne.

Relative peace prevailed in north Belfast's schools yesterday after another troubled night of rioting in which 30 police officers and three soldiers were injured in and around Ardoyne.

Persistent rain, and perhaps a sense in some quarters that it was time to draw back from the abyss, combined to provide an unexpectedly incident-free day but tension remained high.

There was much relief when loyalists kept their word and made no attempt to restart the protests that caused such ugly scenes last year. It meant the Catholic children of Holy Cross primary school, the focus of the original disturbances, had uneventful journeys to school.

The school had been closed on Thursday in the hope of providing a cooling-off period.

The authorities said a CCTV system is to be installed on the Ardoyne Road, the route taken by the children each day. A Northern Ireland Office spokesman said: "We have asked the police to proceed with the temporary system. It will be in operation by next week and will help the police identify disturbances at an early stage."

This week's disturbances are believed to have been sparked by a relatively trivial confrontation between a Protestant woman and a Catholic woman that quickly escalated into serious disturbances.

Elsewhere, there was no repeat of the incidents which, on Thursday, had upset children attending both Catholic and Protestant schools. During the day, meetings went on involving education minister Martin McGuinness, teachers' unions and others involved in education.

Thursday's events at a Catholic school, when masked men damaged cars with iron bars, were described by Tom Gillen, of the Irish Congress of Trade Unions, as "very sinister and disturbing". Mr McGuinness said teachers were doing "heroic work against a terrible backdrop". He appealed to community leaders and politicians "to weigh in behind our education community to give them the vital support that they need".

A senior police officer said: "Maybe this could be a turning point and everybody realises the need for calm. There is still the potential for more trouble, but at least we have been given some sort of breathing space."

The moderator of the Presbyterian Church, Dr Alistair Dunlop, said after visiting Protestant schools that life in the area had to continue as normal. He added: "I think it's important that we all do what we can to keep things normal so that we can begin to move through this."

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