Northern Ireland news

Sinn Féin's Gerry Kelly tells PSNI chief constable: Children can't be used as pawns to ‘deter' paramilitaries

Gerry Kelly has clashed with Simon Byrne after the PSNI chief said paramilitaries could have their children taken away from them 

Sinn Féin Policing spokesperson Gerry Kelly has demanded that the new PSNI chief constable Simon Byrne withdraw his warning to those involved in paramilitary activity that tthey could have their children taken from them.

The North Belfast MLA was commenting after Mr Byrne warned that children could be taken from their parents as a deterrent from anti-community activity.

Mr Kelly said: “The Chief Constable’s remarks about taking children away from their parents and their homes are unacceptable.

“The safety and welfare of children must always be paramount, they can’t be used as pawns in a wider strategy to ‘deter’ paramilitaries in their anti-community activity.

“It flies in the face of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child and all the evidence and current good practice within the criminal justice system concerning the safeguarding of children.

“His comments are all the more unacceptable since they were made at a conference on 'Young People, Policing and Stop and Search' powers.

“I will be calling on him at today’s Policing Board meeting to withdraw these disgraceful remarks and to confirm there is no such strategy in place to take children from their homes.”

Mr Byrne said people engaged in shootings are unfit to have custody of a child, and pledged to target them, their families and property.

"My message to them is 'you carry on doing this, we will have your house, if you keep going we will have your car, we will have your kids, we will have your benefits and we will put you in jail'."

He added: "Why would I think you are safe in the presence of young children? So what safeguarding powers have we got to take your kids into care if that is a deterrent?

"I think we need to be more assertive, work with other agencies within the law to make people think twice before stepping into this space."

He criticised parents of children involved in disorder.

"The children I watched, I am guessing were early teenagers.

"I just found it strange that an adult would sit and watch as if it was evening entertainment, rather than actually intervene to stop anything.

"It relied on my officers driving past in the Land Rover that clearly became the target for the petrol bomb, and that seemed to be part of the sport, which I think was entirely unacceptable."

The recently appointed PSNI police chief added that “the use of paramilitary attacks, beatings, breaking people's legs, other limbs, in the name of the rule of law is just odious.

"How anyone could think that is justified in a civil society is beyond me,” he said.

The Children's Commissioner Koulla Yiasouma also said removing children from their homes should not be used as a “deterrent or threat” against those involved in paramilitary activity.

Ms Yiasouma  said the placing of children in care should only be done in the best interests of a child.

“While I can understand the chief constable’s desire to bring those involved in violent crime to justice, the removal of children and young people should not be used as a deterrent or threat.

“Existing processes of child protection exist to ensure the safeguarding of children and young people.

“The placement of a child into care is a measure of last resort and must only be done in the best interests of that particular child.”

Saoradh spokesman Dee Fennell said the police constable's comments demonstrated "a complete lack of understanding regarding the centuries-long conflict in Ireland".

IRSP spokesman Ciaran Cunningham said: “All right thinking people, not least legitimate political activists, will be disgusted by the opportunistic and downright ignorant remarks of the PSNI chief constable."

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