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Troubles: The children killed in line of fire in Northern Ireland

Provos accused of 'airbrushing history' to cover up deaths of youngsters, some aged just 12, who died during the bloodiest years of the Troubles

By Jim Cusack and Michael Browne

Published 13/04/2015

Republicans have been accused of trying to cover up the deaths of IRA child soldiers - some 19 children between the ages of 12 and 16 - during the Troubles
Republicans have been accused of trying to cover up the deaths of IRA child soldiers - some 19 children between the ages of 12 and 16 - during the Troubles

Republicans have been accused of trying to cover up the deaths of IRA child soldiers - some 19 children between the ages of 12 and 16 - during the Troubles.

Recruiting and using child soldiers is defined as a war crime and against the Geneva Convention, as is the forced disappearance of victims in conflict.

Anyone responsible for recruiting, training and using child soldiers in armed conflict can be tried before the International War Crimes Court in the Hague.

The youngest recorded member of the junior IRA to die in the Troubles is thought to be Cathleen McCartland.

The 12-year-old was killed in what was described as a "roof-top" accident in west Belfast in August 1973.

She was claimed at the time as a member of the female junior IRA wing, Cumann na gCailini, but her name has been removed from republican memorials.

Another girl republican, Eileen Mackin (14) from west Belfast, was killed by the accidental discharge of weapon during an arms training session in Ballymurphy in May 1973.

Her name too appears to have been expunged from official republican records.

The majority of those 'junior' members of the Fianna na hEireann and Cumann na gCailini killed in the Troubles died by accidental discharges of weapons or bombs, some during what were described as training sessions.

Six were shot dead by the Army during gun battles in Belfast and Londonderry. The youngest boy to die, Sean O'Riordan (14) from the Lower Falls area, was killed during an attack on soldiers. Locals said he had been active in the IRA and used as a sniper and for transporting guns for up to a year at the time. Two others were shot during clashes with loyalists.

A further 23 17-year-olds in the IRA were also killed throughout the Troubles.

At the time it was accepted that 17 was an 'acceptable age' for combatants in conflict.

At least two soldiers killed at the time were 17. In total, 364 IRA members were killed during the Troubles, with more than 100 of these involving accidental shootings or premature bomb explosions.

During the early period of the Troubles, in the early 1970s, the IRA recruited large numbers of teenagers into the junior ranks. They were mainly trained in basic firearms and soldiering in camps in the Republic.

Most of these recruits from Belfast and Derry were trained in IRA camps in Donegal.

The IRA vigorously denies recruiting children from the age of 12 onwards. However, a number of families of young victims of the Troubles have accused republicans of trying to 'airbrush' the child soldiers out of history.

Two family members have said this is because of potential embarrassment. Both spoke only on condition that their identities would not be revealed. One expressed fears there could be violent retribution for "speaking out".

They claim that there have been efforts to cover up the IRA's use of child soldiers as republicans seek to revise the history of the Troubles to make it appear as if the IRA was purely a defensive organisation.

Factfile

The issue of child soldiers in the IRA has been kept quiet, though the republican movement does include most of those under-aged combatants on its 'roles of honour'.

Under the Convention on the Rights of the Child on the involvement of children in armed conflict adopted by the UN General Assembly in May 2000, the compulsory minimum age for combatants is 18.

Under Article 8 (2) of the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court, adopted in July 1998 and entered into force July 1, 2002, conscripting or enlisting children under the age of 15 years into... armed forces or using them to participate actively in hostilities "is a war crime".

Article 77 (2) of the Geneva Convention of 1949 states that parties to a conflict "shall take all feasible measures in order that children who have not attained the age of 15 years do not take a direct part in hostilities and, in particular, they shall refrain from recruiting them into their armed forces".

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