From Socialist Voice, No. 39, September 2001.
Transcribed and marked up by Ciaran Crossey.
Proofread by Einde O’Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).
Most people have been taken aback by the ugly scenes outside Holy Cross school. Some tried to excuse what was happening by saying there are underlying issues that must be dealt with.
It is true that there are grievances on all sides. On one side, there is the plain and obvious fact that the UDA in the area have long abandoned their ceasefire and, perhaps along with other dissidents from loyalist groups, are behind the incessant pipe bombings and other attacks on Catholics. There have also been attacks carried out by sectarians from the other side on Protestants, especially those living in vulnerable interface areas like Glenbryn.
Yes, there are underlying issues; not least the poverty suffered by both sections of the working class in what is one of the most deprived areas of Northern Ireland. But the young children going to Holy Cross have not caused these problems. Five and six year olds do not know whether they are Catholic or Protestants, let alone know what the conflict in the North is all about.
There is no justification for the attempt to prevent young children going to school or to stop their parents taking them by the quickest and most convenient route. As for the hurling of sectarian abuse, spitting or throwing blast bombs in the direction of these children, this is beyond contempt.
The protest should be called off. Parents have the right to take their kids to school without being subjected to all this. If the protests continue, whether parents will continue to walk their kids through a cordon of riot police, listening to the jeers and whistles of protestors, is a matter they must decide. No organisation outside can advise them to give up their right. But similarly, no organisation can insist that they must put their children through something that might have a long-term damaging effect on them on the point of some “principle”.
The problem now is that attitudes are visibly hardening on both sides. Trade union and genuine community activists need to intervene to press for a drawing back before something happens that could spread this conflict to other areas and other schools.
The teachers’ unions in Holy Cross and the nearby Wheatfield primary should meet to discuss at least token strike action, given that teachers are being asked to work under impossible conditions.
Other workplaces in the area should be approached for support. Social work staff in the nearby Everton complex were called out by the local NIPSA branch earlier this summer when trouble in the area made it dangerous for them to continue to work.
Community activists, along with representatives of the local workplaces, should come together in a local forum to discuss how to stop the sectarian attacks and intimidation from all sides. This means pressure, especially from the Protestant community, on the UDA to call off their attacks. It also means Sinn Fein recognising and acknowledging the sectarianism is not all against Catholics but that there is a serious problem of attacks on Protestants.
Acting together the communities could try to stamp out sectarianism and let people live and move about the area in peace. But so long as poverty and deprivation remain, the basis for sectarianism will remain also. There is a need to bring together both communities to struggle for the regeneration of the area, for jobs, decent wages, proper facilities, and so on. Rather than two deprived communities being at each other’s throats it would be far better if they struggled together against poverty and for a better life.
Last updated: 27.10.2012