By Anne Cadwallader
BELFAST — Children once more skipped, rather than cowered, on their way to school in Ardoyne on Monday morning after a negotiated suspension of the sometimes-violent 12-week-long loyalist protest outside Holy Cross school.
Catholic parents are hoping normalcy can return for the 220 5-to-11-year-old girls who attend the school after having endured almost three months of sectarian abuse and threats.
The loyalists agreed to end their daily demonstrations after obtaining assurances of extra policing and security cameras for their North Belfast neighborhood, which they said had been frequently attacked by republicans.
The Holy Cross protest has caused at least _3 million in police overtime and resources, with millions more likely lost in inward investment because of the images of screaming terrified children beamed around the world.
The human cost is inestimable. Some children are taking medication for stress, others are wetting their beds, and some parents report an increase in tantrums and a fear of anyone in uniform. One 9-year-old refuses to leave her home without her mother or father.
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As the chairman of the Holy Cross governors, Fr. Aidan Troy, put it, they are 220 “little heroines.” He also praised the determination and dignity of their parents.
“It’s been a trying time for everybody, even people who weren’t directly involved in the school,” he said. “It’s affected everybody in Ardoyne, not only here in Holy Cross but all the way up through Glenbryn. Hopefully, this is the beginning of a new and better life for us all.”
Talks brokered by David Trimble and Mark Durkan, the first and deputy first ministers at Stormont on Friday, worked out a deal that could foster community dialogue in an area plagued by sectarianism for the last 30 years.
The deal was supported by a majority attending a meeting of the loyalist Concerned Residents of Upper Ardoyne on Friday night and the practicalities hammered out at a face-to-face meeting at Belfast City Hall on Sunday between CRUA and the Right to Education Group.
The loyalist residents will get speed ramps, closed-circuit monitoring cameras and extra police patrols. There will be an unspoken onus on community leaders in Ardoyne to discourage any hotheads intent on sectarian taunting across the peaceline.
On Monday, the first day of the protest’s suspension, there were an unusually large number of men on the street and an unexploded pipe bomb was found in the backyard of a house adjoining the peaceline separating Ardoyne and Glenbryn.
One man shouted loudly at parents to “Walk on one side of the road only,” while a woman pushed a young mother who was walking her child up the road.