25 August 2005

Children's commissioner in plea over sectarian attacks


25/08/2005 - 19:21:42

Young people must be shielded from the sectarian violence plaguing parts of the North, the children’s commissioner said tonight.

Nigel Williams urged communities and parents to prevent their children becoming pawns in the paramilitary trouble which has flared in north Antrim and east Belfast.

Sinn Féin called on Ian Paisley’s Democratic Unionist Party to use its influence to end the campaign of intimidation.

After a meeting with Northern Ireland Security Minister Shaun Woodward, MEP Mary Lou McDonald claimed the DUP had failed to show leadership, despite much of the trouble flaring in Paisley’s constituency.

But the party leader’s son, Ian Paisley Jr, said the DUP had condemned the violence and said it was time Sinn Féin backed the PSNI.

Mr Williams said children, as victims or perpetrators of violence, were being scarred for life by their experiences.

The Northern Ireland Commissioner for Children and Young People said: “We have become too used to seeing children involved in and suffering from the street violence we witness on our television screens and on the pages of our newspapers.

“Children and young people must not be allowed to be exposed to such vicious scenes, they must not be allowed to be hurt, they must not be allowed to become involved and they must not be allowed to become pawns in whatever sick games paramilitaries may be playing.”
On the long-term impact of the violence, the commissioner said: “We must remember that a child that witnesses such scenes, or a child whose home is attacked bears more than just physical scars.

"This is a psychological trauma that will colour their lives long into adulthood.”

Looking to the future, Mr Williams said: “Children, young people and their parents have told me of the lack of facilities, the lack of constructive direction in their lives outside school.

“And they are then faced with two months off school, when lack of facilities and limited opportunities for play and leisure can lead to them undertaking risk-taking activities.”

A house was extensively damaged overnight in the latest petrol bomb attack to take place in north Antrim.

No-one was at home at the time of incident, which police believe was sectarian, in Castle Park in Ballymoney, which happened between 10.30pm and 11pm.

In recent weeks, Catholic homes, churches and schools have been targeted in a spate of petrol bomb, arson and paint bomb attacks in Ballymena, Ahoghill and Rasharkin in the heart of the Democratic Unionist leader’s constituency.

Police have also issued Catholic families in Ahoghill with fire blankets should they be attacked.

SDLP Assembly member Sean Farren condemned the latest attack.

Mr Farren said: “We need to have these people taken off the streets by robust police action.

“There must be no hiding place for sectarian attackers in either community.”

Mary Lou McDonald called for a “clear political response” to the violence from the British government and unionist politicians.

Speaking outside Stormont’s Castle Buildings the Sinn Féin MEP said: “The incidents, particularly in the Short Strand and north Antrim, were orchestrated and they were clearly targeted at vulnerable Catholic and nationalist homes and communities.

“I would say to anyone who is involved in an act of sectarian violence against any of their neighbours to stop it, and stop it immediately.

“It is unacceptable in 2005 that people are afraid in their homes.

“We have all signed up to the Good Friday Agreement and are committed to ensuring that people can live free from sectarian harassment.”

Ms McDonald said the trouble in east Belfast was clearly led by loyalists and was part of an orchestrated campaign, compared to other parts of the city where the attacks have been tit-for-tat.

The MEP accused the DUP of being “utterly mute” on the violence.

She added: “There needs to be a consistent pattern of clear and unequivocal condemnation from unionism in terms of these attacks.

“It also has to be made clear from the leaders of political unionism that the individuals who are perpetrating these attacks must be isolated.

“They must show that leadership, and so far I don’t believe they have.”

But Ian Paisley Jr, who is also a member of the North’s Policing Board, responded to criticism from Ms McDonald by insisting the DUP’s opposition to the attacks was unequivocal.

“We have condemned unequivocally this most recent wave of attacks and we ask anyone with information about the attacks to forward it to the police and help ensure that the perpetrators are brought to justice,” the North Antrim MLA said.

“We would challenge Mary Lou McDonald to publicly support the police, law authorities and the courts in their attempts to ensure that justice is served upon those responsible for these attacks.”

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