“Hey, hey, USA. How many kids did you kill today?”, “One, two, three four — we don’t want your bloody war,” the 500 or so Belfast schoolchildren shouted last week outside the U.S. consulate in the city center.
The tiny frames of the protesters made the riot-clad police officers look all the larger and more intimidating — but the children sitting down in the road didn’t appear frightened.
At one point, a young protester tried to clamber over the metal crowd barrier to get closer to the Consulate, protected by a row of police land rovers, and riot batons were drawn.
There was some screaming, some pushing and shoving, but no one was hurt, unless you count the feelings of the Police Service of Northern Ireland officers who heard the once familiar shout of “S.S. — RUC” ringing out down the street.
It was no surprise that the majority of school uniforms on view came from mainly Catholic schools. St. Louisa’s on the Falls Road and St. Dominic’s, where President Mary McAleese attended school, were prominent.
No surprise because Northern Ireland society has divided, yet again, on the usual sectarian lines with most nationalist politicians opposing the war in Iraq and most unionists supporting it.
David Trimble, the UUP leader, has been most the most vocal party leader supporting the decision to send in the troops. The Ulster Unionist leader said society had a duty to support the thousands of service personnel involved in the conflict.
“What the families in Northern Ireland would like to see the community rallying to their support rather than demonstrating against it,” he said. “I would therefore call on those who are contemplating participating in or organizing demonstrations to think again.”
His appeal was ignored by the thousands who attended a Belfast City Hall rally last Saturday and those attending silent vigils across Northern Ireland organised by the trade union movement.
Patricia McKeown of the Irish Congress of Trade Unions condemned Trimble’s comments. “It think it is an utter disgrace. The force of global public opinion is against this war. This is an immoral war and it is an illegal war,” she said.
The SDLP leader, Mark Durkan, said the war in Iraq was disastrous for those who have respect for international law. “The SDLP has opposed war out of concern for the damage it would do primarily in human terms but also the longer term political instability it could promote,” he said.
“It is clear to me that the European Union will have to pick up the pieces after the military intervention, as we did in Afghanistan last year. We must use our humanitarian capabilities and political skills to minimize the loss of life.”
The Sinn F