The right to be educated

The rights of children to be educated is a fundamental human right
guaranteed and enshrined in international law. It is the duty of
state's and sovereign governments to ensure that this right is fully

The right to protest is also a human right. However, in the Holy Cross
Primary School situation the right to education of children by far
outweighs any right to protest. There is no balancing act or competing
rights in this particular instance. In fact the protest is immediately
illegal once it became violent. Further to this there is also a
fundamental failure on the part of the state to take appropriate
measures both to ensure the safety and welfare of the children and
their parents, as well as the right to be provided with safe unhindered
passage to their place of education. On this basis alone and under
public order/safety concern the decision NOT to deem the protest
illegal could be judicially reviewed.

Setting aside international human rights conventions, i.e. The
Convention on the Rights of the Child, ICCPR, and the ECHR, – the Good
Friday Agreement states clearly that everyone has the right to live
free from sectarian harassment and intimidation. And those who support
the agreement now must defend in an unqualified way this part of the
agreement as well as the international obligations.

What is also called into question is the nature of the policing tactics
employed in this particular situation. In many past instances the RUC
have simply opted for Public Order laws to re-route marches and curb

Recently in Ardoyne excessive measures were taken to allow loyalists,
some of whom are involved in the Holy Cross protest, to march past the
nationalist part of Ardoyne en-route to and also returning from their
main orange march. Almost 50 plastic bullets were fired, water cannons
were used deliberately destroying property, and people were badly
beaten. Far from advocating similar measures this merely highlights the
double standards continually employed by the RUC. There has always been
an inherent failure on their part to function impartially and this
itself lies at the core of our wider problems.

Not for one minute wanting to draw comparisons between sectarian adult
organisations and children going to school, but many observers are
noting that emergency laws and policing methods usually employed to
facilitate for re-routing marches and curbing assemblies, are
conspicuously absent from this situation.

What this raises is why, and who benefits from this on-going policing
tactic? One could be forgiven for saying that the situation is being
deliberately being manipulated by the RUC to provide a focus on the
'unenviable role' that they have in the 'middle' of all this. Of course
the alternative view to that continual sound-bite is why not act to
move an illegal protest? Why allow very sinister paramilitary elements,
who previously telephoned bomb warnings to the school within such very
close proximity to children especially after missiles and a bomb were
thrown? Why is this risk continuing? Is this tactic more about the
positioning of the RUC as 'hopelessly in the middle of two
irreconcilable forces' for propaganda purposes? The reality is that
this current approach fits perfectly into the type of PR the RUC have
always tried to peddle. In any other society this protest would have
immediately been deemed illegal and appropriate measures taken to
prevent it from continuing.

There has also been much a do about the responsibility of parents
entering the school. This too, along with unfounded allegations of
being manipulated, is decentralising the focus from both those
protesting and the policing tactics. Rather than speaking out it would
appear that many politicians and some church leaders are reluctant to
face up to what is actually happening thereby contributing to the
protest's continuance, and the victims becoming scapegoats. Others are
silent. What is particularly depressing is that some even try to excuse
the protesters. Attempts to set this protest in a context are as
equally repugnant.

To reiterate – the right to education is a non-negotiable right and
attempts to draw parents into forums or talks create the false
impression that this right can be negotiated. Any such proposals must
be the task of community leaders and politicians not parents, their
issue stands alone, the young pupils are the victims and should no
longer be held hostage. If this were happening to minorities in Britain
or elsewhere it would not be tolerated. It would appear that the
sectarian state is still very much alive.

Relatives for Justice – 11th September 2001