Belfast Telegraph

Fury at dissident exploitation of children during illegal Lurgan Easter Rising parade

Politicians urge action as boy in beret and girl in communion dress present at march

By Noel McAdam

Lobby groups have been urged to speak out against the apparent exploitation of children at a dissident republican parade in Lurgan at the weekend.

DUP and Ulster Unionist Party politicians voiced concern that organisations such as Amnesty International seem to have remained silent despite children taking part in the commemoration on Saturday.

A masked colour party included a boy who wore military-style fatigues, a beret and sunglasses and had his face covered with a scarf.

A girl in a Holy Communion dress was also on view standing beside the ranks of masked men at the opening of a memorial garden to 1916 Easter Rising rebel Edward Costello.

DUP MLA William Irwin said he had expected strong condemnation of the images.

"It is very strange that some of these groups, like Amnesty International, have not come out and had more to say about this," he told the Belfast Telegraph.

"It certainly amounts to the abuse of children and one would have thought they would be taking more to do with it.

"It is diabolical that children are being used in this way and these organisations have been very quick to condemn what has been happening in other countries."

UUP councillor Jim Speers, who is a member of Armagh, Banbridge and Craigavon council, added: "This is a worrying development.

"I would like to have heard from some of these organisations which are vocal in other situations in the world.

"I think there is good reason for them to express an interest and become involved in monitoring what is going on.

"Groups have done this elsewhere in the world and there is an opportunity surely to look at children being used in such a way.

"It is a very retrograde step to see youngsters being used and manipulated for political or military purposes."

His party colleague Colin McCusker added: "If there is evidence to show that these children were forced to take part in this, there probably is a role for Amnesty International but also for other authorities who are tasked with looking after our young ones.

"What about the Children's Commissioner? Is there a role for the Department of Education, or Health?

"My party has focused on the need for joined-up government and there could clearly be a cross-agency approach.

"Children taking part in illegal parades is a matter of great concern."

SDLP councillor Joe Nelson said the involvement of children was worrying and unwarranted.

"It's not only worrying to see a young person involved in the parade, but also for these people to associate children who had just made their First Communion," he said.

"I thought it was quite shocking. I would have thought it was frightening for the young children."

Northern Ireland Amnesty director Patrick Corrigan said: "If concerns are raised that children have been harmed in connection with participating in this event, the authorities in Northern Ireland must ensure that the best interests of the child are a primary consideration in whatever action they take."

There was no immediate comment from the Children's Commissioner.

A total of 12 people were arrested following the parade, which was unnotified.

The memorial was built without planning permission on land belonging to the Housing Executive.

Belfast Telegraph


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