The Children’s Commission has raised no objections to children attending paramilitary events – so long as they are “not at risk” and their parents approve.
The news comes after the funeral this week of prominent republican Declan McGlinchey – son of murdered INLA leader Dominic McGlinchey – at St Mary’s Church in the Co Londonderry village of Bellaghy.
It featured extensive paramilitary-style trappings, a line of girls in St Mary’s College uniforms and a guard of honour from the Wolfe Tones GAC. Unionists called for an investigation by police.
The News Letter asked the Northern Ireland Commissioner for Children and Young People (NICCY) if it had any concerns, and for the outcome of two similar investigations.
In 2011 children dressed as paramilitaries brandished replica guns at the Ti Chulainn cultural centre in Mullaghbawn, south Armagh, while in 2013 children dressed as IRA volunteers took part in an Easter parade in the Ardoyne area of Belfast where a gunman fired shots into the air.
A spokesman for NICCY responded regarding the two older cases that “our primary concern is always the well-being and safety of children and young people”.
“Therefore in keeping with NICCY’s legal remit over ‘relevant authorities’, we had made contact with these at that time, to seek their assurances regarding same, including child protection and other safety issues. This is the extent of our remit outside of which these are issues for parents.
“Similarly with this current story [at Bellaghy], it does not appear that any young person was put at risk and therefore is outside NICCY’s remit.”
He said the issues rest with police and social services.
“In the second case DUP representatives met us and we went as far as we could go.”
Asked if it was therefore satisfied with children attending terror events, the spokesman said: “So long as their safety and well-being is not at risk. It is really a matter of parental choice. We may like to have other powers but we don’t.”
But TUV Comber councillor Stephen Cooper said the response proved NICCY is “yet another useless quango”. He added: “The commissioner’s website says that her role is to ‘safeguard and promote the rights and best interests of children’, yet it’s ‘a matter of parental choice’ that children attend what amounted to a show of strength by an armed and illegal organisation.”
He added: “If the commissioner is so toothless that she is left with nothing to say in such a situation, we shouldn’t be funding her and her staff from the public purse.
“She has confirmed that those of us who believe the quango culture needs to come to an end are correct.”