A mob of loyalist bigots gathered outside the gates of a school in County Derry on Tuesday to jeer and hurl sectarian abuse at the President of Ireland, Mary McAleese, and her husband Martin.
Many wore Rangers football shirts and waved Union and Ulster flags while others shouted sectarian abuse including “F**k off home, republican scum”.
Others booed and shouted “No surrender” and “Fenian bastards”.
Despite the intimidation, Mrs McAleese successfully visited the primary school in the town of Coleraine.
School principal John Platt said the protest against the visit was orchestrated by an unnamed individual who was not from the locality.
“He is making all sorts of serious accusations and he has tried to move himself up the ladder of command [locally].” However, Mr Platt added: “The huge majority is not supporting him.”
Pointing to a group of onlookers standing apart from the protesters, he said: “These people over here tell me they are here to see the President and they are very keen to see her. They would love the President to go over to talk to them but obviously she’s not going to be able to because of these protest.” He also rejected complaints that he had called them “bigots”.
The presidential party stayed at the school for about 40 minutes, during which they were entertained by the school choir and met members of the board of governors, local representatives and teachers.
Ulster Unionist Assembly member and deputy Assembly speaker, praised Mrs McAleese. “She has done more to stretch out the hand of friendship across the divide over the years. I know that on July 12th every year for a number of years she has had a ‘mini Twelfth’ at Aras an Uachtarain. What more can she do to extend that hand of friendship?”
Meanwhile, nationalist residents and loyalist marching organisations have reached agreement over one of the most provocative parades of the marching season.
In previous years, serious rioting has erupted during the loyalist ‘Tour of the North’ Parade in north Belfast but it has now been revealed that a breakthrough has been made on this year’s march.
The agreement, which was brokered last night, will mean that the parade will not march past the republican Ardoyne shopfronts next Friday night.
The coat-trailing parade has been the scene of some of the worst sectarian violence in the past 30 years, including gun, blast-bomb and petrol-bomb attacks.
Talks have been taking place behind the scenes for some time but it has only been in the past few weeks when efforts have been stepped up ahead of this year’s parade.
Local priest and community leader Father Aiden Troy says it is good news for both sides.
“This is a real win-win situation. I think the people who want to march and walk can do so and the people in the Ardoyne will not have their roads closed. Both sides during the talks have had mutual respect and understanding.”
In recent months, clashes and sectarian violence have been a regular occurrence at the interface between the Ardoyne area and loyalist Twadell Avenue.
It is thought the deal over the Tour of the North could lead to talks taking place over other contentious marches ahead of the climax of the Protestant marching season on July Twelfth.
Sinn Fein north Belfast assembly member Gerry Kelly described the deal as a “good news story” for his constituency.
Elsewhere, there was a vicious sectarian attack on a man in County Down at the weekend.
A Downpatrick man was knocked to the ground and repeatedly kicked by assailants who also chanted ‘Fenian Bastard’, before he was blinded in one eye by the woman’s shoe.
The man has been blinded by a woman who stood on his head in stiletto heel.
Down Sinn Fein Councillor Eamon Mac Con Midhe condemned the attack and urged restraint.
“Those responsible have erected a number of sectarian flags and have been hanging around the bottom of Bridge Street late in the evenings for some weeks, fueled by alcohol, shouting at passers by and trying to incite trouble.
“I call on young people angered by this attack not to allow themselves to be incited into retaliation.”