ic NorthernIreland - Northern Ireland News

On the Brink Sep 30 2003

By Richard Sherriff

TENSION turned to confusion, then renewed anger and farce yesterday as police laid on a show of strength to protect schoolchildren in north Belfast - only to find out that the buses carrying them had been rerouted.

After demands for increased security in the wake of last Friday's attack on students from the Girls' Model, additional manpower and vehicles were drafted onto the Crumlin Road for the children's homeward journey yesterday afternoon.

An arson attack on teachers' cars at the nearby Our Lady of Mercy Primary School had increased tension in the area and a crowd gathered close to the Ardoyne shops as parents waited in Twaddell Avenue on the opposite side of Crumlin Road for the children to arrive.

When they didn't, the parents became increasingly confused but that turned to anger when the school principal arrived and informed the parents that David Cargo, chief executive of the Belfast Education and Library Board, had made the decision to redirect the buses via the Antrim Road.

The incident clearly angered and embarrassed the police who were also left in the dark over the move.

Later, a statement from the education board said the decision was a "one-off measure taken with the health and safety of pupils in mind", but it was dismissed by North Belfast MP Nigel Dodds as "a shambles".

"We had all these police on duty and they weren't even told. When I first heard this I have to say I was sceptical but I'm now satisfied that they didn't. The police had made arrangements, those had been communicated to parents and they should have been stuck to."

Speaking in Twaddell Avenue as they waited for news, one mother, Eileen Morrison, said parents had no idea where their children were. A rumour that one bus had been stoned on the Shore Road increased their anxiety.

"They are rerouting the children from one flashpoint to another flashpoint with, as far as we know, no protection. It's a farce."

Nodding towards PSNI Inspector Steven Knowles, who attended Sunday night's meeting with parents, Mrs Morrison added: "The protection we were promised is on the ground. Now that man is on the phone trying to find out what's going on."

Independent unionist councillor Frank McCoubrey said the decision to reroute was a "disgrace".

"They hadn't even the courtesy to phone up these parents and tell them what was happening," he said.

Adding that the police had been embarrassed through no fault of their own, he said: "They put whatever resources they had in the area to try and prevent any more attacks on the kids and then they weren't needed."

Apart from upsetting parents and wasting police resources, Mr Dodds said the board's decision sent a dangerous signal to those whose aim was the disruption of normal daily life.

"I spoke to the chief executive of the board and it transpires that, after what happened at Our Lady of Mercy, the decision was taken to have the girls' buses go down the Antrim Road.

"I have to say that this is a very dangerous sort of move because what that says to bully boys and people that are out to cause trouble that basically they are winning."

Referring to the wider issue of the police resources needed to provide adequate protection for the children, Mr Dodds said there should be no debate.

"I don't think it's a question of if they can; they have to. There is palpable anger in the community because what people see is an inequality of police reaction and response to these incidents.

"They compare and contrast what was done at Holy Cross, when there were dozens of police Land Rovers every day and the Chief Constable made it clear that whatever resources it would take would be provided.

"If resources can be found in one case, they can be found in the other."


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