Northern Ireland paramilitaries are cynically exploiting young people
Publishing photographs of child rioters is a better deterrent than plastic bullets, argues Liam Clarke
After the recent rioting at Rathcoole in Newtownabbey, it is time to revisit the ban on publishing the image of minors caught up in violence.
Regulations imposed following the Ardoyne riots in July mean that police are now effectively banned from circulating the image of anyone suspected of rioting who might be under 18 on human rights grounds. The concerns may be understandable in the abstract, but there is a far stronger case for looking at it the other way round.
Identifying children involved in civil disorder should be seen as a child-protection issue. As the Rev Alan Miller, of St Comgall's Church in Rathoole, pointed out, young people are being deliberately exploited by the paramilitaries - in this case, the discredited remnants of the UVF.
Miller found that "paramilitaries order the children out onto the street, but when they tried to stop it, the children were enjoying the mayhem".
He went on: "Children cannot bring themselves up, they cannot find a moral base for themselves and that's used by the paramilitaries whose aim is self-serving. They care nothing for the children; they care nothing for the community."
According to police, the children involved are as young as nine or 10, but teenagers are equally vulnerable. What is being described here is akin to child-abuse in which children are sexualised at an early age to serve the exploitative agendas of unscrupulous adults.
The same considerations should be applied to identifying at-risk children in both instances.
No one seriously objects to the Child Protection Agency publishing the pictures of abused children found on the internet, or collected on a paedophile's computer hard-drive.
The overriding imperative is to identify at risk children and to protect them.
But in the case of young people drawn into rioting by the paramilitaries, the police have to jump through hoops to meet human rights strictures against identifying them. These were imposed after the July riots in Ardoyne.
Then the PSNI released 23 images, including four of juveniles who were present during the violence and who were unidentified. As a result, 14 of those pictured were identified and charged with public order offences.
It seemed like a good result, especially since none of the young people was named. Instead, the police were censured by the Policing Board's human right unit and are unlikely to release any images to the Press from the Rathcoole riots, though they did take photographs.
These will be shown to neighbourhood officers to see if they know them. If that fails, the next step will be to ask people such as school principles and youth leaders to help with identification.
Those are good first steps, but they are no replacement for putting the images in the papers. People involved in the rioting may well come from outside the area, as happened in Ardoyne, and may not be identified by locals.
The advantage of taking pictures and identifying suspected rioters after the event allowed the police to take a softer approach on the night.
Plastic bullets, snatch squads, baton charges, or other heavy-handed measures, were not used, as they were in the past.
The knowledge that you are likely to be pictured in the papers and caught if you riot is a more acceptable deterrent than the fear of being injured or killed by the police.
The recent UTV documentary The Dalai Lama's Hero told the story of Richard Moore, who was blinded by a plastic bullet at the age of 10 during rioting in Derry 38 years ago.
Moore is a remarkable man and managed to salvage something worthwhile from this tragedy.
He tracked down and befriended Charles Innis, the soldier who blinded him, and founded Children In Crossfire, a charity to help young people caught up in Third World conflicts.
They include boy soldiers recruited by African warlords to do their dirty work and take their risks for them. The Rathcoole and Ardoyne rioters could becoming Northern Ireland's next generation of boy soldiers, young people whose lives are in the process of being twisted and broken in the interests of unscrupulous elders.
It is in their own interests to ensure that they are identified and helped as quickly as possible.
Evil is a slippery term, often used simply as a term of abuse. However, the psychologist Philip Zimbardo, who conducted the Stanford Prison experiments, has come up with a definition accepted by many researchers.
In his book The Lucifer Effect, he identified evil as "intentionally behaving in ways that harm, abuse, demean, dehumanise, or destroy innocent others - or using one's authority of systematic power to encourage or permit others to do so on your own behalf".
He added: "To encourage the sacrifice of youth for the sake of advancing the ideologies of the old must be considered a form of evil that transcends local politics and expedient strategies."
The actions of the UVF and dissidents is just such an attempt to sacrifice the young on the altar of ideology and self-interest.
It would be a travesty if it was permitted, or made easier - especially not in the name of human rights.