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Michael D Higgins visits centre dedicated to IRA's Warrington bomb child victims

Published 22/07/2015

Johnathan Ball, left, and Tim Parry died in an IRA bomb attack in Warrington in 1993
Johnathan Ball, left, and Tim Parry died in an IRA bomb attack in Warrington in 1993

President Michael D Higgins has urged people to reach out to those at risk of being sucked into radicalisation and extremism.

At a visit to the Tim Parry Johnathan Ball Peace centre in England, born out of the boys' murders in an IRA bomb in Warrington in March 1993, Mr Higgins said the work of the foundation is an inspiration.

He warned that r adicalisation of young people is fast becoming one of the most significant threats in a global society.

And he said socially isolated people are increasingly invited to turn to extremism as they seek, or have suggested to them, a purpose, a role and an identity.

"For all of us who are committed to the ideals of freedom, tolerance and peace, it is essential that we engage with those excluded individuals who may be drawn towards extremism and radicalisation," Mr Higgins said.

"We must give leadership in identifying and tackling the social conditions in which extremism can take root.

"Tackling issues such as youth unemployment, inadequate social infrastructure, and limited opportunity for participation are important in this regard, as is a critically aware engagement with belief systems and ideologies, an engagement that eschews any imposition of claims of certainty, or fear or exclusion of 'the other'."

Ambassador to Britain Dan Mulhall joined Mr Higgins for the visit to Warrington.

It is 22 years since the IRA murdered three-year-old Johnathan Ball and 12-year-old Tim Parry, who died five days after the no-warning bomb detonated in a bin in the busy town centre.

Johnathan was in the town with his babysitter to buy a card for Mother's Day, the next day, when he was killed.

Tim, an Everton fan, had been shopping for football shorts when he caught the full force of the explosion. He died in his father's arms five days later in Liverpool's Walton Hospital.

More than 50 other people were injured.

No one has been prosecuted for the Warrington outrage on March 20 1993, that also left 56 people injured.

Mr Higgins praised the work of the peace centre which opened 15 years ago to support those affected by terrorism and conflict.

Set up by Colin and Wendy Parry, with the support of Johnathan Ball's parents who have since died, its ethos is to address the causes of violence before, during and after conflict as the most effective way to promote peace.

In a speech at the foundation, Mr Higgins said: "While a terrible and heinous act cannot, and should not, for the most moral of reasons, be dissolved or forgotten, it is only through an act of imagination and creativity that we can prevent that tragic memory from colonising the future.

"The immense space left behind by the loss of Tim Parry and Johnathan Ball has been used to build a place of healing and reconciliation - that is an achievement from which we can all draw inspiration.

"This Peace Centre reminds us of the good that can come from transactions and consequences of great tragedy, and of all that can be achieved when we remember ethically, in ways that have the potential to release us from bitterness, revenge or denunciation and allow us to move forward and achieve new beginnings."

The President met the Parrys and supporters of the foundation.

Its work has evolved to include the Think residential programme to reduce young peoples' vulnerability and increase their resilience to radicalisation and the My Former Life workshop which explores the experiences of a man and woman who were Islamic extremists, a white supremacist and a former terrorist in the INLA republican splinter group.

Mr Higgins said: "The work you do in addressing many of the root causes which lead vulnerable citizens into lives of destructive crime and conflict, including discrimination, prejudice and violence is impressive and inspiring, as are the many programmes aimed at enabling vulnerable young people to envision a different future; a future founded on forgiveness, resolution and true empowerment."

It was the fourth visit by an Irish president to Warrington, with the government giving 70,000 euro last year to fund the work of the Peace Centre.

Colin Parry said: "We have come a long way in the 20 years since the charity was founded. It started with our ambition to see what happened to us never happen to anyone else.

"That resonated with the people of Ireland and we have held close and warm relations with the Irish Government ever since.

"We are so grateful for the financial support they give our charity.

"The work to achieve a lasting peace on our islands and repair the damage of the past is still what underpins our foundation.

"Wendy and I want to continue our work, supported by the Irish Government to ensure we create a deeply reconciled and peaceful society and we are delighted the president has taken the time to provide his personal support by visiting the Peace Centre."

After touring the centre and speaking to the 100 or so guests at the event, Mr Higgins left for Liverpool, where he is to be awarded an honorary degree from the University of Liverpool.

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