Children in terror outfits 'disgraceful exploitation'
The involvement of young children in dissident republican events over Easter was "disgraceful exploitation", the Justice Minister has said.
David Ford was speaking after police revealed children under 10 were involved in rioting which flared after an illegal parade in Londonderry on Monday.
Others took part in an event in north Belfast where a masked gunman fired shots.
Mr Ford said the images caused him "grave concern".
"I think a lot of people in Northern Ireland will be absolutely horrified at this sight," he said.
"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."
Last night DUP MP Nigel Dodds said it amounted to child abuse.
"It is child abuse of the worst kind to glorify terrorism and to use young children in that escapade," he said.
Police said the Derry parade, which was organised by the 32 County Sovereignty Movement, was illegal.
PSNI vehicles came under attack from youths hurling stones and other missiles.
In Ardoyne several hundred people attended a parade on Saturday organised by the Republican Network for Unity (RNU) and the Henry Joy McCracken Flute Band.
Three boys of primary school age wore paramilitary-style dress of berets, dark glasses and gloves. They led the dissident republican parade and marched in military formation to a republican mural where a gunman appeared from the crowd – which included young children – and fired shots into the air.
The Parades Commission warned those responsible for dressing young children in paramilitary uniform that such behaviour could jeopardise future rulings.
Children's Commissioner Patricia Lewsley-Mooney also said she was "deeply worried" by the images and hit out at "irresponsible adults" who were putting young people at risk.
"It is deeply worrying to see children exposed to weapons and to civil disorder. Parents and responsible adults must protect children and young people," she said.
Mr Dodds called on the Children's Commissioner to investigate. However, a spokesman for Mrs Lewsley-Mooney said that unless an individual complaint has been made by a parent or child it is unable to get involved.
RNU spokesman Ciaran Cunningham said that while his group helped organise the event he was unaware of "finer details".
"I know absolutely nothing about the shots being fired.
"We would not have been made aware of the finer details of the pageantry beforehand but I'm not going to start condemning people on the ground for what is a minor thing," he told the Irish News.