BELFAST, Northern Ireland, SEPT. 5, 2001 (Zenit.org).-Protestant and Catholic church and political leaders joined a chorus of outrage today after Catholic girls left school through a heavily policed safety corridor because of sectarian protests, the AAP agency reported.
Catholic schoolgirls, some as young as 4, faced their second terrifying trip to the Holy Cross Primary School in 24 hours, as police fought off mobs of angry Protestants hurling rocks, fence poles and flowerpots in their path.
Catholic and Protestant church leaders in Northern Ireland condemned the violence directed at the schoolgirls.
“No society has the right to deny young children access to education, and it is tragic beyond words to see that the troubles of our community now affect young children of schools in north Belfast,” said Church of Ireland Protestant leader Archbishop Robin Eames.
The Catholic bishop of Down and Connor, Patrick Walsh, admitted feeling a sense of “revulsion” at the violence which has engulfed the Protestant area.
The violence continued for the second day despite increased police presence and a protective line of 70 army Land Rovers forming a 400-meter safety corridor to the school, the day after a mother and 21 police officers were injured in open street fighting.
Earlier today, a police officer was injured when a bomb exploded in the nearby Glenbryn Parade where a crowd of 150 screaming Protestants had gathered, AAP said. He was rushed to hospital with a broken collarbone, while police drove back the crowd.
Anne Tanney, the head teacher at the school, said some of the girls arrived in “a terrible state of panic.”
“I´m really horrified and disgusted that this kind of thing could happen to children,” she told the Associated Press. “To think that someone would throw a blast bomb is unbelievable.”
The current unrest comes at a delicate stage in Northern Ireland´s troubled peace process, as the province´s main parties decide whether to endorse police reforms proposed by the British government, a key issue in the peace process.
The primarily Catholic republicans and nationalists want to unite Northern Ireland with the Irish Republic, while mostly Protestant loyalists and unionists back continued rule by Britain over the province.
A series of similar protests by loyalists were held in June because of alleged attacks on the Protestant community in the area.
The Holy Cross school is situated near the small Protestant Glenbryn enclave in the mainly nationalist Ardoyne area.
The Ulster Unionist leader, David Trimble, said the scenes at the school were appalling and totally unacceptable and called for a special forum to be established in an effort to end the protests.
Northern Ireland security minister Jane Kennedy called on the local communities to resolve their differences by peaceful means. “There is absolutely no grievance that can justify that kind of behavior,” she told BBC Radio 4´s The World at One program.