Northern Ireland news

Children's Commissioner criticises involvement of children in IRA commemoration parade

Children involved in the commemoration parade for IRA member Patricia Black in west Belfast on Sunday
John Monaghan

THE Children's Commissioner says it's not "in a child's best interests" to be involved in a paramilitary parade, after children joined a republican march in west Belfast.

Koulla Yiasouma was speaking after children in berets and sunglasses marched to remember a teenage IRA member killed in a bomb blast 25 years ago.

The children's commissioner said it was "the role of parents to make decisions for their children about how they participate in parades" and that she would contact the relevant authorities in relation to child protection.

The march commemorated Patricia Black who died along with fellow IRA member Frankie Ryan when a bomb they were carrying exploded prematurely in London on November 15 1991.

Ms Black grew up in the Lenadoon area of west Belfast and joined the IRA aged 17.

Several hundred people and three bands marched through Lenadoon on Sunday where a short ceremony was held close to a mural dedicated to dead IRA members.

Pre-teen children joined the parade in tribute to Ms Black, and were dressed in dark clothing, neck scarves and sunglasses.

The children's commissioner said it is "the role of parents to make decisions for their children about how they participate in parades".

"It is my role to make sure that relevant authorities are doing their job in terms of protecting children and young people.

"I don’t believe it’s in a child’s best interest to be involved in any display of paramilitary activity, in any community."

Ms Yiasouma said she would be "speaking to the relevant authorities" to ensure that the "right checks and balances are considered" for children and young people involved in public events.

She said: "In the absence of an agreed narrative on our history and full consideration of how we educate our children on the conflict, this sort of activity will fill the void."

A spokesman for the Parades Commission said: "The commission's statutory code of conduct states clearly that no paramilitary-style clothing is to be worn at any time by any participant during a public procession.

"The commission will take into account the conduct of past parades when considering future notices by parade organisers."

Three years ago, children dressed as IRA volunteers took part in an Easter parade in Ardoyne, where a gunman fired shots into the air.

In 2011, children dressed as paramilitaries brandished replica guns at the Ti Chulainn cultural centre in Mullaghbawn, south Armagh.

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