Northern Ireland news

Loyalists blamed after security alerts at school and Sinn Féin office in north Belfast

Police search inside the grounds of Holy Cross Girls' School in north Belfast. Picture by Hugh Russell
Brendan Hughes

LOYALISTS have been blamed for security alerts at a primary school and Sinn Féin constituency office in north Belfast.

Police received reports at about 12.45pm that two suspicious devices had been left near Holy Cross Girls' School on Ardoyne Road and Sinn Féin's Antrim Road office.

Searches were conducted in the Antrim Road and Ardoyne Road areas but nothing was found. No roads were closed and no homes or businesses were evacuated.

PSNI inspector Philip McCullagh said: "Whilst at this stage both incidents are being treated as hoaxes I would urge the public to be vigilant."

Sinn Féin MLA and Policing Board member Gerry Kelly - who was yesterday warned about a threat to his life from dissident republicans - condemned those behind the security alerts.

He said police told him they believed in this case loyalists were to blame.

"I was in our constituency office on the Antrim Road when the PSNI contacted me to say they had reports of an explosive device being left in the grounds," he said.

"The targeting of a primary school in this way is despicable and regardless of whether there was a device or not the disruption and anxiety it will have caused to young children and staff must be condemned.

"The police have told me that they believe it was loyalists who were responsible for both incidents.

"They are trying to drag our society back and trying to deter public representatives from their work but they will not succeed."

SDLP deputy leader and North Belfast MLA Nichola Mallon said: "Reckless attacks like these offer nothing but disruption and anxiety.

"Those responsible for orchestrating this have nothing to offer the people of North Belfast and they must get off the backs of the local community.

"I am confident the people of North Belfast will stand together to face down these thugs."

Police urged anyone with information to phone them on 101, quoting reference numbers 817 or 831 of 12/02/20, or call Crimestoppers anonymously on 0800 555 111.

The alerts follow a spate of intimidating incidents in recent days.

Anti-police recruitment posters were erected in parts of Derry showing Peadar Heffron, a Catholic officer seriously wounded in 2010 by a dissident republican bomb.

On Tuesday, Sinn Féin vice-president Michelle O'Neill revealed she had been told by the PSNI that it had received intelligence of a plan by dissidents to attack both her and Mr Kelly.

It followed the Deputy First Minister and and Mr Kelly last week attending a police recruitment event as the PSNI seeks to attract more people from a Catholic background.

Holy Cross Girls' School was at the centre of a sectarian dispute in 2001 when loyalists protested against the Catholic schoolgirls walking through their area.

Footage and images of the primary school pupils clinging to their mothers as they ran the gauntlet of police lines were beamed across the world.

In 2017, staff had to be evacuated from the school following a hoax bomb alert.

It followed kerbstones at the entrance to the school being painted red, white and blue in what was seen as an attempt to raise tensions.

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