By Andrew Bushe
DUBLIN — The daily protests on the route to Ardoyne’s Holy Cross school have left President Mary McAleese feeling heart-broken and powerless she said after a visit to Belfast last week.
McAleese, a mother of three who is originally from Ardoyne, said that if history had been different, it could have been her children involved.
After her visit to the area she has no sense the dispute is near a resolution.
The sectarian tensions were much the same as when she lived there 30 years ago and she said a way had to be found to resolve the differences between the communities.
“Because if we don’t, there is going to be another 30 years of this and I don’t think that’s a great gift to give any child — the gift of 30 more years of the potential for hatred,” she said.
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For more than two months loyalist protestors have lined the route and hurled abuse as the children are brought to and from the school.
“It is worth remembering, this is the part of Ireland with the greatest density of sectarian killings bar none,” McAleese said. “It is a part of Ireland with the greatest movement of population, bar none, since the Famine.”
People all over the world could not believe that anyone would use children in this way.
“If you have something very powerful to say to the world, then you don’t use and abuse children in order to make that message heard. There must be better and more humanly decent ways.
“Some of the things that children have had to endure, the vilest of things that have been said to them, the vilest of language used. All of these things I have just been heartbroken by.
“They could be my children. If life had been different, if history had been different, I’d probably be still living there and my children would be going to that school.”
Parents had told her of a “terrible toll” the protest was having on them.
“I think back on my own family, who, 30 years ago, had just had enough and couldn’t face another day living there,” McAleese said.
She told RTE’s “This Week” program that her old family home was minutes away from the school and her mother and all her aunts had attended it. They left after the house was attacked by gunmen.
“Men came to my front door and emptied two machine guns though our windows because they didn’t want Catholics living on the corner that we lived on,” McAleese said.
“Some weeks before that they came, 30 of them, people from the neighborhood, and they picked up stones and they broke up paving stones and they put them through our windows.”