Children are being “coerced” into rioting by ringleaders in Northern Ireland in the same way as abusers prey on kids, an expert warned today.
Children’s Commissioner for Northern Ireland Koulla Yiasouma hit out at the behaviour of some adults in contributing to violence in the province.
She spoke out after a week of trouble, with youths pelting police with petrol bombs, fireworks and stones.
At least 74 officers have been injured in more than a week of clashes.
Koulla Yiasouma told BBC Radio 4’s Broadcasting House: “This is criminal exploitation and coercion by adults of vulnerable and at-risk children and young people and these adults have to be held accountable and stopped.
“Child abuse is a very loaded term but I think it is within that safeguarding family of abuses children may suffer and experience.
“When it comes to safeguarding issues I would put it in that group, yes.”
She added: “Enough is enough when the first petrol bomb or stone is thrown.
“It’s criminal actors trying to take control and what we need is a calm narrative from our politicians.
“We need them to be seen, to be supporting our community workers on the ground.”
Former Irish President Mary McAleese said youngsters in Northern Ireland were still being “taught to hate”.
Last week’s violence, was “very familiar territory”, she admitted.
“Regrettably, it arises because they’re in a vacuum, and there is undoubtedly a vacuum of the leadership,” she told BBC1’s The Andrew Marr Show,
“You’re also dealing with young people, regrettably, who are still being taught to hate and who are bringing that hatred and expressing it out on the streets.
“They are 13 and 14 years of age. What experience do they have of life?”
Mrs McAleese believed such youngsters would benefit from taking part in the Duke of Edinburgh Awards scheme.
“He could see how important it was to galvanise the curiosity and the wonder and the energy of youth, and to give it a focus, as was done for the Duke of Edinburgh Award,” she said.
“These are young people, I guarantee you – none of them will ever have done a Duke of Edinburgh Award, unfortunately.”
Mrs McAleese also blamed Brexit for fuelling the violence – with Loyalists angry at the Northern Ireland Protocol which places a trade barrier down the Irish Sea.
“There is bound to be the consequences of Brexit, which, if we go back to Brexit, we realise how little consideration was given in the planning of Brexit and the referendum, of the impact that would have in Northern Ireland. There’s all of that” she said.
Meanwhile, Government sources denied claims ministers were resisting calls for a crisis summit with Dublin to tackle mounting tensions in Northern Ireland.
Irish leaders were said to believe an urgent meeting was needed to end violence in Belfast and other parts of the province.
But sources told the Mirror that no request for a “British-Irish intergovernmental conference” had been received.
A Government spokeswoman said: “The Government is absolutely committed to protecting the hard won gains of the Belfast (Good Friday) Agreement and upholding it in all of its three strands.
“The Agreement, signed 23 years ago yesterday, marked the clear determination of the people of Northern Ireland that matters should be dealt with through the democratic institutions established through the Agreement, which the Government has, and always will, support.”