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Echoes of Holy Cross belong firmly in past

IT is almost exactly 20 years since a loyalist blockade of a Catholic primary school in north Belfast shocked even hardened observers of Northern Ireland's troubled history.

Images of terrified children being forced to run a gauntlet of abuse under armed police guard brought international shame on the city and exposed deep divisions in a society emerging from conflict.

Two decades on, much progress has been made. While 'peace walls' still separate some communities and flags seek to mark out territory, our streets are largely peaceful and the overwhelming majority of citizens now look to a shared future rather than a toxic past.

This makes it all the more dispiriting that young children have once again become a target for those with only hate and fear to offer.

It emerged this week that those behind the first Irish language pre-school in east Belfast felt forced to ditch plans to open at Braniel PS in September.

Naíscoil na Seolta, which would have been a standalone, integrated unit housed temporarily on the site, is relocating after what was described a "social media hate campaign" by people unconnected with the school.

In a letter to parents, Braniel PS said it took pride in being a shared space for all and it was with great sadness that the decision had been taken.

The worrying episode follows attempts to intimidate members of a new GAA club in east Belfast following its formation last year.

But what has been encouraging is the outpouring of support expressed for the naíscoil since the story emerged.

Unionist leaders have also made supportive statements, although prominent Irish language campaigner Linda Ervine - who has been targeted personally with threatening posters - has told this paper they should go further and help find a permanent home for the new school.

All those with an interest in building a society based on mutual respect could also listen to the powerful public contributions of Braniel principal Diane Dawson.

Speaking of her "despair" at the hatred expressed by an admittedly very small group online, she also stated clearly that "not one word of the Irish language spoken weakens my unionism".

The mentality of anyone who feel threatened by two-year-olds in a school setting defies understanding.

What does provide great hope for the future is the leadership demonstrated by Ms Dawson, Ms Ervine and others as we attempt to leave Holy Cross and all other examples of intolerance and mistrust firmly in the past.

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