Belfast Telegraph

‘Child gunmen’ pics probe call

Lewsley’s fury at images of schoolboys dressed up like paramilitaries

By Patrice Dougan

Photographs of young children dressed in paramilitary uniforms and posing with replica weapons have been described as “deeply worrying”.

Children’s commissioner Patricia Lewsley said she was disturbed by the shocking images and would be seeking an explanation from the appropriate bodies.

The pictures — published in yesterday’s Belfast Telegraph — show children, some of primary school age, dressed as republican paramilitaries.

Wearing balaclavas, combat clothes and berets, they brandish replica weapons, including AK47s and Armalites, while other guns are visible in the background.

The photographs were taken in the Ti Chulainn cultural centre in Mallaghbawn, south Armagh. It is believed they were taken six months ago.

The culture and heritage centre sits at the foot of Slieve Gullion. It has conference facilities and tourist accommodation and has received hundreds of thousands of pounds in EU funds.

Yesterday the commissioner for children and young people said she would be seeking an explanation from the centre as to why the children were pictured in such a way.

She said she will also be approaching the Special EU Programmes Body, which funds the centre, and the Office of the First Minister and Deputy First Minister about the images.

“My job is to hold Government and organisations to account over their actions,” said Ms Lewsley.

“The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, which Government has signed, states there is a clear duty to protect children from getting into vulnerable situations such as this.”

Ms Lewsley said it was deeply worrying to see children pictured in this way, and more worrying that the pictures have appeared on the internet.

“I am concerned by the fact that children and young people have been pictured holding what appears to be replica weapons and dressed in such a way as to seem to mimic paramilitaries,” she said.

“Parents and responsible adults must protect children and young people, and parents and responsible adults must keep them safe.”

A complaint has been lodged with the commission by victims group Fair, which received a number of complaints about the images from concerned members of the public after they appeared on the social networking website of a Sinn Fein member.

Sinn Fein declined to comment directly about the matter.

In a statement the Ti Chulainn committee said: “The event in question took place six months ago and in all that time we have received no queries or complaints about this event or any previous event held in Ti Chulainn; rather we have received many positive comments relating to this event and Ti Chulainn in general.”

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