'Child exploitation' at Easter parades

'Child exploitation' at Easter parades

Northern Ireland's Justice Minister David Ford has slammed the involvement of children in dissident republican events over Easter as "disgraceful exploitation".

The strong comments come after police confirmed that children under 10 were involved in rioting in Londonderry, while others took part in an event in Belfast where a masked gunman fired shots.

"I think a lot of people in Northern Ireland will be absolutely horrified at this sight," Mr Ford said.

The Alliance Party leader expressed grave concern that children were being encouraged to adopt old divisions and accept violence.

"It's one thing for them to talk about the glories of the past, but actually exploiting children - it's really becoming utterly cynical the way they are carrying on," he said.

Those who put children into roles like that really need to question what they're up to.

Justice Minister David Ford

Mr Ford admitted that he wasn't sure how easy it would be to address the problem at its heart.

But he added: "I think it's time we started to change society to build a new shared future, not to have people leading children into the ways of division and violence - the types of thing we thought we'd put into the past."

In the Ardoyne area of north Belfast, young children were pictured parading in paramilitary-style clothing - including black berets, black gloves and sunglasses.

But the Republican Network for Unity, who partly organised the event, remained unrepentant.

"I can understand why some people might find that distasteful and I'm sure some people do," spokesman Ciaran Cunningham said.

"Plenty of republicans might share that, but never the less it's not something that's unique to Irish Republicanism. We don't engage in the politics of condemnation. It helps nobody. It helps nothing.

"It doesn't move things forward or backwards, so we don't engage in it."

It amounts to, in my view, child abuse of the worst kind - to glorify terrorism and to use young children in that escapade.

Nigel Dodds, DUP MP

Meanwhile in Derry, youngsters attacked police officers and armoured vehicles at the City Cemetery and in the Creggan estate.

Local Sinn Féin councillor Mickey Cooper warned that involvement in such activities could carry a heavy price for children - some of whom haven't even reached their teens yet.

"If they end up with criminal records, they've got employment difficulties in the future, they've got travel difficulties in the future," he said.

"All because, at a very young age, they got involved in sporadic violence."

While no injuries were reported and no arrests were made, investigations have been launched and calls have been made for lawbreakers to be prosecuted.

"Hopefully, when you see violence inflicted on police lines and on property, that action will be taken," DUP East Londonderry MP Gregory Campbell said.

"But the sad thing is that young children under the ages of 11 and 12, from what I could see, were caught up in it and used and abused by manipulators."

Police have also said it was a "sad indictment" of the events' organisers, that children were involved.


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