Northern Ireland

Holy Cross school dispute: Ex-pupils awarded compensation

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Media captionThe identity of the claimants has not been revealed

Three former Catholic schoolgirls have received compensation for having to walk through loyalist protests on their way to primary school 15 years ago.

The ex-pupils were caught up in a violent dispute outside Holy Cross Primary School in 2001, which made headlines around the world at the time.

The Department of Justice confirmed the payments after a Freedom of Information request from the Belfast Telegraph.

The DoJ has received eight claims so far, three of which have been settled.

The payments were made under the terms of the Northern Ireland Criminal Injuries Compensation Scheme 2002.

However, the department would not disclose how much money has been paid out to the former Holy Cross pupils, in order to protect their identities.

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Image caption Some of the schoolgirls were said to be traumatised by the violent protests

It told the newspaper this level of detail was "exempt from disclosure" under the Freedom of Information Act and would "contravene the first principle of the Data Protection Act".

The school was thrust into the international spotlight at the start of term in September 2001, when hundreds of loyalist protesters tried to block the main route taken by the children and their parents on their walk to class.

The three-month protest was sparked by a local dispute between Catholic and Protestant residents in Ardoyne, north Belfast.

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Image caption Armed police officers escorted the children and their parents to the school until the dispute was resolved in 2001

The Protestants claimed that Catholics were attacking their homes and said the school protest was their way of highlighting their concerns.

However, stones, bottles, fireworks and even a blast bomb were used during weeks of unrest.

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Image caption A police officer was injured during the protests when loyalists threw a blast bomb on 5 September 2001

Following the initial violence, the police and Army put up crash barriers to keep a corridor route open for the Holy Cross pupils.

Armed police officers escorted the children to class until the dispute was resolved.

Ardoyne's parish priest at the time, Fr Aidan Troy, told the Belfast Telegraph he could "fully understand why people who have been through trauma would want to apply for compensation".

"These were girls aged between four and 11, they were very young and very impressionable and were deeply affected by it. Every one of us were," he said.

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Image caption Ardoyne's parish priest at the time, Fr Aidan Troy, helped to escort the schoolgirls to class through violent protests

The priest added that while he would not "go down the route of compensation myself" he could "well imagine the impact would be very great on children at such a formative age".

"You could see their trauma," said Fr Troy.

About 100 pupils needed counselling due to their daily ordeal, according to principal at the time, Anne Tanney.

Speaking to the BBC in 2004, she said that even as an adult, she was traumatised by the protests .

"There were times when I couldn't eat, couldn't sleep," she said. "I used to bite my lip, trying not to cry in front of the children."

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