Schools targeted again

Catholic schoolgirls were terrorised as loyalist paramilitaries set fire to teachers' cars just yards from packed classrooms on Monday.

Our Lady of Mercy secondary school -- a Catholic school in the loyalist Ballysillan area of north Belfast -- was targeted as the campaign of violence against schools continued.

Two loyalists carried petrol cans into the grounds of the girls' school shortly after midday. They poured petrol over teachers' cars and smashed windows before setting the vehicles on fire. Six cars were burnt out and others damaged in the attack, and there were no injuries.

The school was attacked 18 months ago when up to 20 staff vehicles were smashed up by vandals wielding sledgehammers, but the latest violence shocked teachers and traumatised pupils.

One 11-year-old girl said: ``I smelt the smoke and started to panic. The teachers took us upstairs into the hall.

``I was crying, most in my class were crying. It was very frightening. I don't like them (the attackers), we haven't done anything wrong.''

The school was not closed but parents, fearful for the safety of their children, took them home, with young girls in tears as they were led out of the school gates.

A mother whose 14-year-old daughter attends the school said: ``Her safety is more important than her education. If anyone had of been standing near or were inside any of the cars - a life would have been lost.''

The latest incident comes just days after a bus carrying pupils from the Protestant Girls Model High School was stoned on the Crumlin Road, also in north Belfast.

Sinn Féin's Gerry Kelly appealed to those with influence in the loyalist community to help alleviate tensions.

Mr Kelly said: ``This is a completely unjustifiable attack. It has left both teachers and pupils distressed and shaken. There is no other reason for this attack other than blatant sectarianism and it is an attempt to target and intimidate the most vulnerable in the community.

``Schools are regarded by the vast majority of the community as revered and untouchable. Parents leave their children to school and believe it will be a safe and secure environment. Those responsible for these attacks are attempting to make this impossible.

``Attacks against schools, their pupils, and their teachers of whatever denomination are wrong. The recent escalation in the targeting of schools must cease immediately and they must be left as places of safety and education for our children.

``I am calling on all those with influence within the loyalist community including the UPRG and the Loyalist commission to do all in their power to bring these attacks to an end.''

Meanwhile, an attempt was made to burn down the predominately Protestant Ligoniel primary school on Monday night. Flammable liquid was set alight next to a wall of the assembly hall, but damage was slight.

Sinn Féin Councillor for the area, Eoin O'Broin, slammed the attack on Ligoniel Primary School. He said that those responsible will find no support whatsoever for their actions.

``If this attack came from the nationalists those responsible have brought shame on the community and will find they have no support whatsoever. I have been in contact with the head teacher of the school and reassured her of this.

And this morning, bomb disposal experts are examining a suspicious object in a County Tyrone school. Pupils at Dungannon Integrated College have been sent to the nearby Dungannon Leisure Centre while the bomb alert is dealt with.

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© 2003 Irish Republican News