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Flags erected outside Catholic school picketed in 2001

Published 18/12/2012

UNION flags have been erected outside Holy Cross Girls Primary School - the scene of a bitter loyalist protest a decade ago which made headlines around the world.

Flags were also flying yesterday outside two other Catholic girls' schools within a small area of north Belfast as the dispute over the removal of the Union flag at the city hall intensified.

Our Lady of Mercy Secondary School at Bilston Road near Ballysillan was adorned with flags, as was Mercy Primary girls school on Crumlin Road.

A Union flag flew at the mainly nationalist end of nearby Oldpark Road as loyalists made it clear they no longer supported a cross-community flags protocol implemented in 2005.

The Irish News revealed last week that loyalists would pull out of the initiative which restricted the flying of flags to certain dates and kept them away from interfaces.

Last night a DUP spokesman blamed developments at the city hall which he said had "caused deep resentment amongst the unionist community in Belfast".

"One of the consequences of this has been an increase in the flying of the Union flag in unionist areas, both from private properties and from public fixtures," he said.

There are fears that the development will lead to heightened tensions in the area.

A spokesman for the NIO said Secretary of State Theresa Villiers would "continue to use her influence to work with local politicians and the PSNI to move this matter forward".

Police said they were aware of the issue and "are working with the local community in an attempt to find a solution". A spokeswoman for the Department for Regional Development - which has responsibility for lamp-posts - cited a "multi-agency protocol for flags in public places".

"The protocol recognises that an effective resolution to the flags issue is more likely to be achieved through the cooperation of local communities," a spokesman said.

"In doing so, Roads Service also has to take account of the possible risk to its workers in removing flags and emblems."

Tony McCusker, chairman of the Community Relations Council, said: "The use of flags for sectarian purposes is always wrong."

He said the flags protocol needed to be addressed "proactively with the support of communities and their representatives".

During the Holy Cross dispute of 2001 riot police had to escort schoolgirls and their parents past hate-filled protesters on the journey to the Catholic school through the Protestant Glenbryn estate.

Loyalists claimed they had picketed Holy Cross after a parent attacked a man putting up a loyalist flag on a lamp-post opposite the school.

Urine-filled balloons were pelted at the little girls.

At one point a blast bomb was thrown at the pupils and their parents. ■ PROVOCATIVE: Flags flying outside, from left, Holy Cross Girls' Primary School in Ardoyne, Our Lady of Mercy Secondary School near Ballysillan and Mercy Primary Girls' School on Crumlin Road PICTURES: Mal McCann ■ HORROR: Parents shield their children as a blast bomb explodes in Ardoyne, north Belfast, during the Holy Cross dispute of 2001