Category: Archive

Protests greet new nationalist ministers

February 16, 2011

By Staff Reporter

By Anne Cadwallader

BELFAST — Two nationalist ministers in the North’s new power-sharing executive, the SDLP’s Brid Rodgers and Sinn Féin’s Martin McGuinness, have been subjected to loyalist abuse and pickets in the first days of their new jobs.

On Saturday, Rodgers, the minister for agriculture, was heckled in the mainly loyalist County Down fishing village of Portavogie. She was also pelted with eggs as she opened a new training center.

Northern Secretary Peter Mandelson condemned the attack. Deputy First Minister Séamus Mallon of the SDLP raised the incident with RUC Chief Constable Sir Ronnie Flanagan, who said that he would take all possible steps to ensure that ministers could go about their business without interference.

The protesters waved Union flags and banners reading "Portavogie supports Portadown Orangemen" in reference to Rodgers’s support for the residents of the Garvaghy Road.

Nationalist ministers were not welcome in the village, one of the protesters said. After the engagement, there was renewed verbal abuse and egg-throwing directed at Rodgers when she went across to the harbor.

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There were no Mandelson condemnations, however, of persistent loyalist protests against the new education minister, Martin McGuinness of Sinn Féin, who has hit out at what he says are "rejectionist unionists" who are "manipulating schoolchildren."

Since McGuinness took up his new post, hardline unionists have encouraged children to leave classes in Belfast, Carrickfergus, Newtownards, Ballymoney and Cookstown.

At Ballymoney, schoolchildren sang "The Sash" and "The Billy Boys" with its chorus, "We’re up to our necks in Fenian blood, surrender or you die." At that and other protests, UDA and other loyalist flags were carried and on one occasion damage was caused to a school where children did not walk out in protest.

McGuinness said, "The older people out there who are clearly instigating these protests need to consider whether or not they are doing these children any favors at all." He said the children’s "protests" were being organized by elements within the Rev. Ian Paisley’s Democratic Unionist Party.

"But they are not my enemies. . . . My job as education minister is to press on and try to give children the best education that I possibly can," McGuinness said.

In Ballymoney, one resident said: "At 12:30, a group stormed the town center. There they were in school uniform shouting sectarian abuse, saying no Fenian would teach them Irish and shouting what they would do with nationalist residents."

McGuinness, who returned to his old primary school in Derry, the Brow of the Hill school, for his first official school visit, said he had been greatly encouraged by the overall reaction from the people.

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