December 12, 2001 1 min read

Relative Peace

Roman Catholic girls who attend the Holy Cross Girls Primary School in Belfast, Northern Ireland, are walking to school in relative peace, now that nearby demonstrations have been called off.

Since the beginning of the school year in September, Protestants in the city’s Ardoyne area, who maintain they have been the targets of bias and abuse by Catholics, began protesting on the road the students take to school, according to Norman Hamilton, a Presbyterian minister at a nearby church. (“Foreign Exchange,” Oct. 10, 2001.)

Protestants in the area called off the demonstrations late last month because of recent changes that government and police officials made to address those concerns.

They have agreed to provide counseling to the schoolchildren at both Catholic and Protestant schools in the poor community, revamp roads in the Protestant neighborhoods to prevent traffic jams, and install such extra security as bars or wire mesh on the windows of houses belonging to Protestants.

Local Protestant residents and activists said the protests brought more progress and improvements in just three months than they had seen in the past 30 years, according to local news reports.

But the violence directed at the elementary schoolgirls during the protests captured international attention and outraged even those who have grown accustomed to the age-old conflict between Catholics and Protestants in Northern Ireland.

The recent protests took place on a road Catholic girls and their families walk each day to get to Holy Cross Girls School. The demonstrations grew so violent that police escorted the children to school daily for 12 weeks, and formed a barricade between the demonstrators and the students.

Protestors threw feces, urine, bottles, and even a pipe bomb at the youngsters and their families as they walked through a Protestant neighborhood to the 130-student, publicly run Catholic school that serves girls between the ages of 4 and 11. Several police officers were injured in the bombing.

Now, the vast majority of demonstrators have left the site, according to the Rev. Gary Donegan, a priest at the school.

In an interview last week, Father Donegan said he had observed that conditions on the road had settled down, even though seven armored police vehicles were still stationed there.

“It’s a very volatile situation we live in here,” he added.

—Michelle Galley

A version of this article appeared in the December 12, 2001 edition of Education Week