NI riots: Adult influence in disorder 'amounts to child abuse'

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The behaviour of some adults in contributing to the actions of young people during the recent street violence in Northern Ireland amounts to child abuse, NI's children's commissioner has said.

Koulla Yiasouma said those adults were engaged in "criminal exploitation" and "have to be held accountable".

Saturday night was the first without major incident since Good Friday.

The lack of trouble has been linked to the death of the Duke of Edinburgh, although there were disturbances in Belfast and Coleraine on Friday night, hours after his death was announced.

Saturday also marked the 23rd anniversary of the signing of the Good Friday Agreement - which signalled an end to 30 years of sectarian conflict in Northern Ireland - with Taoiseach (Irish PM) Micheál Martin warning against a "spiral back" to violence.

'Criminal actors trying to take control'

The rioting, which has involved people as young as 12, has largely seen youths throwing bricks, fireworks and petrol bombs at lines of police officers and vehicles.

While there are no clear indications the unrest is being orchestrated by an organised group, the violence has been concentrated in areas where criminal gangs linked to loyalist paramilitaries have significant influence.

Speaking to BBC Radio 4's Broadcasting House programme, Ms Yiasouma described the violence as involving "coercion by adults of vulnerable and at-risk children".

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When asked if it amounted to abuse of children, she replied: "'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."

"Enough is enough when the first petrol bomb or stone is thrown," she added.

"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."

'PM should meet loyalists'

Fr Martin Magill, a parish priest in the area of west Belfast, said the "fear apprehension and anxiety" of recent events reminded him of north Belfast in the 1970s

He added that he was "deeply concerned" about the age of children involved in the rioting.

"My concern would be young people being groomed into paramilitary organisations and criminal gangs," he said, adding that "there are serious safeguarding questions" to be raised.

Former Northern Ireland secretary Lord Hain said the situation calls for a prime ministerial visit.

"It took six nights of rioting before Boris Johnson even issued a tweet," he told BBC Radio 4's The World This Weekend programme.

Lord Hain said the prime minister should meet loyalist representatives, who he said "needed to be listened to".

He added that he fears another collapse at Stormont "if we don't get a hands on approach from Number 10".

What caused the violence in Northern Ireland?

The first major disorder happened in the Sandy Row area of south Belfast on Good Friday and, in the days since, there have been flash points in Newtownabbey, Londonderry, Carrickfergus, Ballymena and Coleraine.

Rioting at a so-called peace wall - separating the mainly loyalist Shankill Road and mainly nationalist Springfield Road - in west Belfast on Wednesday night was described as the worst seen in Northern Ireland for years.

Water cannon was deployed in the same area on Thursday, the first time it had been used by the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) in six years.

Some violence in Carrickfergus and Newtownabbey has been linked to police operations targeting the South East Antrim UDA, a paramilitary group involved in organised crime.

Speaking on Friday following two nights of violence at the west Belfast interface, ACC Roberts said of the hundreds who took part some were "operating independently", while some would be close to or involved in paramilitary organisations.

"It is not our overall assessment that those organisations as a group are directing young people to get involved or orchestrating the disorder," he added.

Although it was a quieter night last night, nothing like we have witnessed in recent nights, it has been a pretty depressing week.

There are hopes the cycle of violence will be broken over the weekend and there may not be a repeat of the trouble we saw last week.

But there is no guarantee of that happening - it's pretty tense out there.

The big concern for politicians, police and the secretary of state is the well of discontent within unionism due to the Irish Sea Border, which every so often could spill over into violence on the street.

There is real fear that this is going to set the tone for what we can expect in the weeks and months ahead.

Mary McAleese, former President of Ireland, said on Sunday the current situation was part of the "downstream consequences of Brexit".

"When we go back to Brexit, we realise how little consideration was given in the planning of Brexit, in the referendum, to the impact it would have on Northern Ireland," she told the BBC's Andrew Marr Show.

She added that young people "are still being taught to hate" and who are "expressing it out on the streets".

Church leaders warning

Leaders from two of Northern Ireland's main Churches have expressed concern violence could re-emerge this week.

The Reverend David Bruce, the Presbyterian moderator, and Catholic Bishop Noel Treanor of Down and Connor that the issues that caused the disorder had not disappeared.

"The death of the Duke of Edinburgh is, of course, deeply distressing to everyone and has resulted in a slowing perhaps but I wouldn't be optimistic that it's going to result to an end of this," Rev Bruce told BBC Radio 4's Sunday programme.

Bishop Treanor told the same programme that "creative steps" were needed to "support the institutions and mechanisms put in place by the Good Friday Agreement".

"This is absolutely essential," he said.

"We cannot as a society, nor indeed can our political leaders, afford to take their eyes off the ball."

Bishop Treanor said he supported the idea, reported in The Observer, of a possible crisis summit between the UK and Irish governments,

"I am not a politician, but I certainly would because new, inventive, and creative steps now need to be taken in the name of peace," he said.

Rev Bruce said such a conference "may be the way to address some of the systemic issues", providing it involved local leaders and potentially representatives from the EU.

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