Saturday, September 17, 2016

Holy Cross dispute: Payouts for Catholic schoolgirls who faced terrifying loyalist protests in Belfast

Alice Lee Bunting in tears as she makes her way to Holy Cross Primary SchoolThree former Ardoyne schoolgirls have received compensation after facing terrifying protests during the 2001 Holy Cross dispute. 

The Department of Justice confirmed following a Freedom of Information Act request that it had received eight applications for compensation - of which three have been paid out - but refused to disclose the individual sums involved.

Awards under the Northern Ireland Criminal Injuries Compensation Scheme range from £1,000 to £250,000.

The Holy Cross dispute started on the Ardoyne interface in June 2001, when loyalists started picketing the entrance to Holy Cross Girls Primary School in response to attacks on Protestant homes in the area. 

Photographs of young children clinging to their mothers while sectarian abuse and missiles were thrown in their direction hit the headlines across the world.

Father Aidan Troy was the parish priest in Ardoyne at the time and said that some of the schoolgirls - who ranged in age from four to 11 years old - had then been prescribed medication for anxiety and to help them sleep.

Now, 14 years on, the Department of Justice said it had received eight compensation claims relating to the incident.

The department added that compensation had been paid in respect to three of the claims.

In response to being asked how much compensation it expected to pay out, the department said: "It is not possible to provide a projected cost, as Compensation Services are unable to predict how many claims will be received".

The department also refused to detail how much the three individual payments had been, claiming this disclosure could lead to the identification of the individuals concerned.

The compensation was awarded under the Northern Ireland Criminal Injuries Compensation Scheme 2002.

The department also said in its response to the Belfast Telegraph inquiry that victims of Holy Cross have until their 20th birthday to lodge a criminal injury claim.

Ulster University legal academic Rosemary Craig said the original incarnation of the scheme was set up in 1992 by the Northern Ireland Office to help victims of the Troubles gain compensation in cases where the perpetrator had not been brought to justice.

Responsibility for it has since passed to Stormont's Department of Justice.

She said that a next of kin would normally apply to the scheme on behalf of the young person if they are aged under 18 years within two years of the injury, and said the injury would normally have to be worth at least £1,000 in compensation for the claim to be considered.

There are a number of levels of awards, which can go up to £250,000.
 
Fr Troy said that while he would not apply for compensation for having gone through the dispute himself, the former schoolgirls "have every right to do so".

"I am eight years gone from that parish, so this is news to me, but obviously within their families they have thought about it, and if the legal system provides this for them then I think they have every right to make the application," he added.

"The events of Holy Cross are very public and I would not know the full long-term effects, but obviously after 15 years they still feel some sense of trauma and need for some help. I would fully respect that.

"My attitude is if people go through the right channels to make any sort of application that a court or board of compensation will recognise, they have every right to do so.

"I can 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.
 
"I wouldn't go down the route of compensation myself because I was simply doing my job as chair of the board of governors at that time.

"But I can well imagine the impact would be very great on children at such a formative age. You could see their trauma."

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