Irish president visits centre dedicated to IRA’s Warrington bomb child victims

Irish president Michael D Higgins
Irish president Michael D Higgins

Irish president Michael D Higgins has urged people to reach out to those at risk of being sucked into radicalisation and extremism.

At a visit to the Tim Parry Johnathan Ball Peace centre in Warrington, born out of the boys’ murders in an IRA bomb in March 1993, Ireland’s head of state said the work of the foundation is an inspiration.

Mr Higgins warned that radicalisation of young people is fast becoming one of the most significant threats in a global society.

And he said socially isolated people are increasingly invited to turn to extremism as they seek, or have suggested to them, a purpose, a role and an identity.

“For all of us who are committed to the ideals of freedom, tolerance and peace, it is essential that we engage with those excluded individuals who may be drawn towards extremism and radicalisation,” Mr Higgins said.

“We must give leadership in identifying and tackling the social conditions in which extremism can take root.

“Tackling issues such as youth unemployment, inadequate social infrastructure, and limited opportunity for participation are important in this regard, as is a critically aware engagement with belief systems and ideologies, an engagement that eschews any imposition of claims of certainty, or fear or exclusion of ‘the other’.”

Ireland’s ambassador to Britain Dan Mulhall joined Mr Higgins for the visit to Warrington.

It is 22 years since the IRA murdered three-year-old Johnathan Ball and 12-year-old Tim Parry, who died five days after the no-warning bomb detonated in a bin on a busy town centre.

Johnathan was in the town with his babysitter to buy a card for Mother’s Day, the next day, when he was killed.

Tim, an Everton fan, had been shopping for football shorts when he caught the full force of the explosion. He died in his father’s arms five days later in Liverpool’s Walton Hospital.

More than 50 other people were injured.

No one has been prosecuted for the Warrington outrage on March 20 1993, that also left 56 people injured.

Mr Higgins praised the work of the peace centre which opened 15 years ago to support those affected by terrorism and conflict.

Set up by Colin and Wendy Parry, with the support of Johnathan Ball’s parents who have since died, its ethos is to address the causes of violence before, during and after conflict as the most effective way to promote peace.

In a speech at the foundation, Mr Higgins said: “While a terrible and heinous act cannot, and should not, for the most moral of reasons, be dissolved or forgotten, it is only through an act of imagination and creativity that we can prevent that tragic memory from colonising the future.

“The immense space left behind by the loss of Tim Parry and Johnathan Ball has been used to build a place of healing and reconciliation - that is an achievement from which we can all draw inspiration.

“This Peace Centre reminds us of the good that can come from transactions and consequences of great tragedy, and of all that can be achieved when we remember ethically, in ways that have the potential to release us from bitterness, revenge or denunciation and allow us to move forward and achieve new beginnings.”

The President met the Parrys and supporters of the foundation.

Its work has evolved to include the Think residential programme to reduce young peoples’ vulnerability and increase their resilience to radicalisation and the My Former Life workshop which explores the experiences of a man and woman who were Islamic extremists, a white supremacist and a former terrorist in the INLA republican splinter group.

Mr Higgins said: “The work you do in addressing many of the root causes which lead vulnerable citizens into lives of destructive crime and conflict, including discrimination, prejudice and violence is impressive and inspiring, as are the many programmes aimed at enabling vulnerable young people to envision a different future; a future founded on forgiveness, resolution and true empowerment.”