'The nationalisation and militarisation of Children in Northern Ireland' by Helen Brocklehurst
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Chapter from PhD Thesis in International Politics titled:
Children as Political Bodies: Concepts, Cases and Theories
by Helen Brocklehurst
University of Wales, 1999
This chapter provides a broad overview of children in Northern Ireland and their experiences of nationalisation and militarisation, their implicit and explicit participation in the troubles through education, families and activities outside of school. The political socialisation of children is tied strongly to historical events and historical narratives which inform children (particularly through familial channels) and these are outlined at the beginning. This will also enable a fuller appreciation of the significance of nationalisation within education, which is the theme of the next section. I will then explore the military role that children have adopted during the troubles. Their capacity in this context is also sustained, and is often initiated by the embodyment in them of nationalist ideas. Finally the chapter looks at how constructs of children and their associated familial sphere are subject to nationalisation; and this in turn can become a rationale for paramilitary practices. The chapter concludes with an analysis of initiatives based on the premise that children may be able to contribute to peace, itself an illustration that children are seen to be political bodies.
Children’s Political Socialisation
There are approximately 500,000 people under the age of 17 in Northern Ireland a country which is experiencing the longest period of concentrated civil disturbance in the Western world in modern times. I contend that children’s politicisation is central to the implicit and explicit maintenance of a sectarian divide and its violently upheld physical and political boundaries. Two particular facets of the conflict have allowed for the propensity of children to acquire a political role or function. Firstly, the sectarian division of communities also divides and politicises children’s social institutions including schools, youth organisations and families. Secondly, Northern Ireland is characterised by a prominent nationalistic identification with and attachment to the past, in forms that are particularly conducive to children’s assimilation and participation. Northern Irish children know ‘their’ history even if they claim not to know about politics. The conflict is usually referred to within Northern Ireland as ‘the troubles’.
The ‘troubles’ is a term originally coined by residents in Belfast. As a present day description it includes over thirty years of propaganda, bullying, intimidation, gang-fighting, rioting, street battles and guerrilla warfare between Protestant and Catholic civilians, paramilitary groups, Northern Irish security forces and the British army. The result has been 3600 deaths, over 40,000 injuries and the forced movement of large sectors of the population. As a time period it usually refers to the escalation of paramilitary violence experienced since 1969, though it may also describe the violent clashes in the 1920s 1930s and 1950s. Paramilitary terrorist activity, it should be noted, extends to the British mainland and to Europe. In addition, both communities regularly remember and celebrate historic battles in pseudo-military parades unique to the area. Young people (under 29 years) in Northern Ireland account for over half the deaths in the troubles to date and this chapter will illustrate some of the experiences of children close to paramilitary activity and violence in Belfast and Derry Londonderry. Residential areas with a Catholic majority have often been subject to the greatest incidents of violence. However, the nature of the conflict is such that though not all of the population experiences violence directly, the everyday lives of most citizens contributes to the maintenance of hostilities and the culture of fear. Not least, it is often said that all who live in Northern Ireland have friends or relatives who have been killed. The ‘internalising’ of the enemy into civilian life through the covertness of terrorism, contributes to community-wide blame and desire for retaliation and necessarily makes children’s homes and families part of the battleground. The parameters of conflict, and the parameters of analysing the conflict are thus drawn wide
The troubles in Northern Ireland have given rise to an enormous amount of literature but few agreements over how to describe or categorise the contributory factors. John Darby describes the conflict as containing a tangle of six problems or themes: constitutional, social and economic inequality, cultural identity, security, religious difference and day to day relationships. However, the themes are, in many hearts and minds, rooted in acts of discrimination which began over three hundred years ago. Particular episodes of Northern Irish political history are heavily and publicly drawn attention to in the present. For this reason, what is commonly thought of as ‘politics’ in conventional terms is to most Northern Irish people of secondary importance to ‘history’ in their lives. Accounts of the past are retained and made unusually resonant by political actors on both sides, not least for their implantation in the imagination of children. John Whyte has shown that children have shown little knowledge of politics and constitutional information in surveys, and they, like their parents, equate action such as voting as a display of loyalty not a means of change. What we might identify as their political understanding is to them an everyday acknowledgement of historically continuous truths.
Historical scenes, rarely thought about amongst school children in the rest of the British Isles, have become popular reading and thinking material for each generation of children up to the present day. Particular dates of carnage, battles and glory, rebellion and protest, mark turning points in each side’s history, and these are easily imagined and described in a child’s language. Begona Aretxaga observes that many narratives of Irish history have a particular emotive quality and are thus empowering politically. She summarises the importance of historical narrative as a political tool:
[i]n Northern Ireland, history is understood primarily in existential terms - as a predicament that gives meaning to peoples lives, legitimising their politics and charging their actions with emotive power. This history is condensed in key events that, taken from Irish historical chronology have become part of the cultural consciousness of people.
It is necessary to outline the key characteristics of a history of Northern Ireland to clarify the characters and events employed in the historical narratives that create Northern Irish conceptions of politics. This would also serve to demonstrate the sensitivity attached to the recalling of such historical episodes. The arrival of English subjects onto ‘Irish’ soil particularly from the 15th century onwards marked the beginning of a hierarchy of British/English subjects over the Irish in terms of bestowed identity and socio-economic opportunity. The two communities’ different socio-economic and political status was crystalised by the Plantation of Ulster in 1609 by King James 1st, and the further confiscation of Catholic land by Oliver Cromwell. Stories of barbarism and heroism, attempts to expel Catholics and massacre Protestants are publicly celebrated, committed to legend and playground rhyme, and pictured in many contemporary textbooks and street murals. The Easter Rising of 1916 is an episode made familiar to many schoolchildren. Its equivalent in terms of propaganda value is the 1690 Battle of the Boyne, in which the Irish Protestants sided with Protestant William of Orange, to defeat Catholic King James II and leave Ireland and Northern Ireland under Protestant rule. This battle is celebrated annually in thousands of parades and other symbolic gestures of defiance in which children participate.
Catholic animosity towards Protestants can be traced back to the socio-economic consequences of their dispossession during the Plantation. Land inheritance was restricted to Protestants or forcibly fragmented amongst Catholic sons. Catholics were discriminated against and also subdued in Ireland through penal laws which prevented their right to a Catholic education or education abroad. Such practices were concretised in 1800 in the Act of Union, which united constitutionally Britain and Ireland. Catholic hardship was then further exacerbated by food shortages and poverty. A quarter of the population emigrated and perhaps as many died. Despite such hardship, a group of intellectuals calling themselves ‘Young Ireland’, though ineffective in practice, attempted to forge a ‘spirit of republicanism’ in the weary population. Key individuals such as Thomas Davis led the movement for a revival of Gaelic schools and traditions; Irishness was seen as a key cultural weapon with which to strengthen the oppressed community and resist the ‘other’.
Celebrating and defining Irish culture was imperative in the political struggle, though it was no easy task since the Irish themselves had already become the subject of intense public ridicule from Britain, especially in Victorian caricature. The Irish were deemed racially inferior by many British commentators and portrayed as having smaller skulls. Racial stereotypes of the Irish and English became rife in political commentary and the popular press. Ireland was characterised as incapable of ruling itself and still in need of British protection. In comic weeklies and cartoons her Catholic population were stereotyped as ugly and stupid, unevolved and ape-like. As a country it was personified as Hibernia - feminine, soft, delicate and dependent on British protection. Ireland was at once infantilised and feminised by the state which had afforded ‘her’ such ill. It is worth noting that Irish ‘backwardness’ has remained in the British consciousness through ‘Paddy jokes’. Backwardness is akin to immaturity and weakness, and certainly not the masculine strength of John Bull the equivalent English caricature at the time. In pictures and cartoons the Irish represented themselves as upright, fair and gentle yeomen and women, of moral strength and resistance. Such popularised images and racial taunting were to have lasting implications for the next generation of republicans who emerged as The Irish Republican Brotherhood in 1858. In short the charge of femininity and weakness was answered with intense military resolve by the newly emerging and armed republican movement.
From 1858 Irish Home Rule claims by republicans led to battles in 1886, 1893 and 1912. In 1905, Sinn Fein, the political party of the present day IRA was founded and from 1912 a unionist paramilitary force. The UVF (Ulster Volunteer force), resistant to Home Rule, was also formed in Ulster. In 1916 at the Easter Rising, James Connolly and Padraig Pearse became republican heroes after unsuccessfully storming the General Post Office in Dublin. Connolly, among many others was later executed. In 1918 seventy-three Sinn Fein MPs were elected to the Dail in Dublin and Eoin McNiall became an influential Minister for Education. In 1919 the IRA began the Irish War of Independence or the Anglo-Irish War, which lasted until July 1921. The British brought in former soldiers in need of employment, known as the ‘black and tans’, to patrol the streets, selected on the grounds of their propensity for violence. In 1920 The Government of Ireland Act partitioned Northern Ireland and the Irish Free State. The 1921 Anglo-Irish Treaty established a Northern Ireland Parliament in Stormont and an autonomous Parliament in Dublin. The Irish Free State was later to declare itself the Republic of Ireland in 1948.
Children played a military part in republican and unionist confrontations throughout this period and their importance will be explored further on in the chapter. The Nationalist youth organisation, the Fianna boys, was formed in 1922 by Constance Markevicz, a Sinn Fein MP, and the first woman elected to the British Parliament. Although similar to the boy scouts, its members were instructed in Irish history and language, and physical and military training. She also revitalised the republican sister movement, the Daughters of Ireland. This group had the strong backing of Erskine Childers T.D., however, so few other male members of Parliament contributed an interest in the group that critics belittled it as the ‘women and childer’s party’. Such mockery was based on the view that young female membership was not also thought capable of political or nationalist worth. During the 1930s however membership of sectarian junior associations increased dramatically, though often by adult members. Early Loyalist youth groups, such as the Protestant Tartan Gangs, later used as a recruitment base by the Ulster Defence Association and Ulster Volunteer Force, were given junior status in order to preserve their legality. In law at least, peaceful status was associated with the description ‘junior’.
There was then a time of peace, if not contentment, until the Catholic civil rights movement sought to address the issue of their continued discrimination, particularly in housing allocation, by demanding equality within Northern Ireland rather than a nationalist solution. The high infant mortality rate and level of poverty in Northern Ireland particularly amongst the Catholics has been seen by some as a classic case of structural violence sustained within a colonial relationship. The Catholic civil rights marches in 1968 were seen by Protestants as distinctly threatening thus leading to endemic rioting and street violence in Derry Londonderry and Belfast. In 1969 the British Army was sent in to quell the violence. Soon after followed an escalation of violence between loyalist and republican paramilitary groups and the closing down of Stormont. After the 1972 ‘Bloody Sunday Massacre’, direct rule was imposed. British troops, Northern Irish security forces and government figures became key targets of sectarian violence up to and during the recent cease-fire and peace settlement negotiations. Deeply entrenched bitterness and insecurity remains on both sides, and real and imagined discrimination. Both communities have written separate histories and literature, maintained separate residential areas, schools and churches and engendered distinct political identities and at times almost racial stereotypes of the ‘other’. Children, in particular are made aware of their otherness through their deliberate exposure to the history of the troubles.
Michael Taussig talks of our political consciousness and actions as generated by these images and histories as opposed to concrete notions of causality. When violence increased in the early 1970s it has been argued that people ‘turned instinctively to the only source of wisdom applicable to such circumstances - the inherited folk-memory of what had been done in the past, both good and bad’. Bobby Sands, an imprisoned republican. was barely 18 yet thought it an obvious political strategy to educate fellow prisoners in the Gaelic language and sustain their political will with history lessons about domination. The latter were shouted to prisoners in other cells from his prison door. Vivid constructions of heroes, demonisation of the enemy, and polarisation of good and bad, ‘us’ and the ‘other’, have been typical of children’s stories told in Northern Ireland. Heroic myths, asserting sectarian histories and identities necessary to sustain a community under siege, were transmitted within families and by teachers during the troubles. Informal education was a recognised means with which to bolster nationalism. However one of the features of children’s schooling in such a sectarian community is how little its divisiveness is acknowledged in formal circles. It is typical that school is not thought about as a ‘political’ institution. Ninety-eight per cent of children in Northern Ireland spend much of their life in segregated schools despite the fact that they may not be so highly segregated in their own their streets or even families.
Nationalisation and ‘the other’ in Education Practice
Brazilian educationalist Paulo Friere argues that there is no such thing as neutral education. Education facilitates integration into the logic of the present, and conformity within, or becomes ‘the practice of freedom’. In Northern Ireland segregation of education and prejudice in teaching have long been suspected of having key roles in sustaining the conflict. The present day segregation of education can be traced back to the 1820s when Catholic clergy were allowed to administer schools for Catholics. Catholic children excluded from state schools had become a source of disorder and needed to be accommodated. This move was not perceived by Protestant authorities as a concession but as a means of coexistence. Once this power was given to the Church it was unlikely to be relinquished. It was not until the first Irish educationalist Eoin MacNeill (1867-1945) revived the teaching of Irish History and literature that the Catholic school became a site of organised political subversion. MacNeill promoted Gaelic sport along with Douglas Hyde who began the Gaelic League for Athletics. He also promoted Irish surnames and the introduction of Irish teaching into primary schools. He succeeded in overt nationalist activity of this kind because his practices in education were perceived as ‘non-political’. This designation allowed him and Sinn Fein to promote Irish nationality amongst children and, importantly, their parents. Similarly the republican, Patrick Pearse (1879-1916) founded his own bi-lingual school, St Enda in 1908. His pupils learnt the Irish language and read Gaelic literature. He was another revolutionary who was later executed, thereby earning a place as a central hero in the stories and myths of patriots and martyrs told to children.
It is notable that The Declaration of the Irish Republic made in 1916, made specific reference to the fostering of an Irish identity and stated the importance of ‘cherishing all the children of the nation equally’. The creation of the separate entity of Northern Ireland in 1921, however, led to the provision of separate schools for Catholic and Protestant children. Schools engendered distinct curricula and the promotion of Irish and British values became signals of dissent and nationalism, and allegiance to the Union respectively. Lord Londonderry’s 1923 Education Act had intended that Catholic and Protestant children were schooled together without religious instruction, but considerable opposition from the churches resulted in the segregation of schools from the 1930s onwards. Most Protestant children were not taught the development of republicanism or the history of Irish nationalism and references to Irishness were replaced with illustrations of Britishness. The school system has remained almost entirely sectarian. At present Northern Ireland's compulsory education includes all children between the ages of four or five and sixteen and a large body of literature has been produced on the potential societal impact of the school systems, questioning whether sectarian division in education contributes to social conflict.
Many educationalists argue that schools are a main contributory factor to the conflict, through their institutionalised segregation and the culture of the ‘other’ that this arrangement produces. Two basic hypotheses have been advanced about the effect of segregated schooling. The first, termed the cultural hypothesis looks at the cultural disparity of education. However it has been noted that there has been relatively little research on the presence of a politicised 'school ethos' or nationalised 'hidden curriculum' in school teaching. John Darby and Seamus Dunn suggest that 'the earlier research had reached the classroom door, but had not entered. The difficulty of examining the teaching of controversial subjects alongside the teacher has proved too great’.
This inability to get in the classroom, to monitor what is said, illustrates how effectively education can evade close scrutiny, perhaps a consequence of its non-political status in formal circles. The school is in a powerful position to act as an agency for children’s political socialisation. Segregation of schoolchildren is seemingly condoned by the school, which is acting in loco parentis. In addition school children’s position as consumers of information, in a hierarchical relationship with this institution is not conducive to their questioning of received bias.
Research has been done on the material differences between school environments in Northern Ireland. It has been argued that children’s perception of differences between the communities can be concretised, unwittingly or intentionally by the school’s teaching environment. A school’s religious or political identity can be made highly visible through daily rituals and teaching aids. Even the green uniform of Catholic primary school children, may indicate to Protestant teachers a political message. Dominic Murray’s recent survey of the casual literature, books and stimuli found in Protestant and Catholic schools found a sharp difference in the content of material. Books and pictures in Protestants schools were either of a Biblical nature or about British history and London. Literature in Catholic schools reflected an interest in Irish history and Rome. Similarly, he observed that during informal conversations, teachers and pupils willingly shared understandings of their sectarian counterparts and five year olds demonstrated perceptions of sectarian stereotypes.
The school may also foster children’s articulation and communication of political values, particularly to each other through educational mediums. In 1968 Catholic school children’s favourite subject in school drama classes was the Easter Rising of 1916. In the dramas taking place in Catholic school playgrounds, the British soldier has featured prominently. Four years prior to their arrival the British soldier had become a popular antihero or demon figure amongst children who held IRA men in high regard. The difference in the two school systems is particularly evident in the teaching and availability of sport, Irish, and music. The inclusion of Irish language has until recently been equated with Irish nationalism and therefore not available or taught to Protestants. Murray talks of the alternative ‘three R’s’ to which children are subject: religion, ritual and rivalry. Catholic children continue to play Gaelic team sports, but cricket, hockey and rugby are generally avoided as symbolically British.
A notable contributory factor to children’s politicisation in school has been the type of History teaching that they have received. Prominent terrorists have cited the school, and nationalistic tones of history books as prompting their first interest in joining the paramilitary or doing something for the cause. The absence of a common history syllabus in the education system until 1990 may have allowed the development of a hidden political agenda. During the 1960s history textbooks in Protestant schools for example notably emphasised the Protestants’ arrival amongst a hostile and backward people, the constant need for vigilance, and the siege of Derry. Irishness may be seen to be neatly encapsulated in the following quotation: ‘[a] district round Dublin called the English pale was ruled by the English but most of the land with its bogs was wild and backward’. The following extract also taken a textbook used in the 1960s in a Catholic school, is typical in its identification of Ireland in the context of her struggle:
Ireland is only a small country but her strength is based on things spiritual, and because of her long fight for freedom and justice and her loyalty to the Christian traditions, she holds an honoured place amongst the nations.
The second hypothesis regarding the effect of segregated schools, is termed the social hypothesis, and suggests that the fact of separation is what matters. This view holds that regardless of similarities in curriculum, segregated schooling initiates children into the conflict by emphasising and validating group differences and hostilities, and encouraging mutual ignorance and, perhaps more importantly, mutual suspicion. The school is essentially a closed environment where potent sentiments expressed between children can ramify their notions of religious difference and physical bullying and peer pressure can reinforce concepts of identity. Children aged eleven for example have been pressured at school by other boys to join the Junior Orange League, join in anti-Catholic games and not to speak to Catholics. They may be discouraged with taunts such as ‘Fenian lover’. The term itself has embarrassing connotations when applied to potential childhood friendships which are often guardedly defended as innocent at this age. Children beyond 10 years can ‘tell’ religious identity through the individual’s home, school, name, looks and accent. They are aware of themselves and ‘other’ before they can articulate political and historical contexts. A number of writers concerned with reconciliation have also looked at the process described as Social Identity Theory to explain how the sectarian divide is maintained in education. The school is the largest ‘group’ that children identify with, and the concretising of a group and peer identity is a core stage in their political socialisation. Research and efforts into school contact schemes and integrated education suggest that the school’s contribution to society is not disputed. However an admission that education for peace is possible is also in effect a stark admission that education has been part of the problem, and that concomitantly both education and children are political issues.
In an attempt to address the problems associated with segregated schooling, the Department of Education for Northern Ireland, reviewed texts and examination syllabuses and in particular approaches in History teaching. Changes were made to the education system in The Education Reform Order of 1989 and have produced much analysis. Education for Mutual Understanding (EMU) and Cultural Heritage became compulsory ‘baskets’ of subjects to be taught in the curriculum. Education for Mutual Understanding includes personal development, subject development and participation in contact schemes. Many of the changes were due to longstanding education research programmes and curricular initiatives such as the ‘Schools Curriculum Project’, begun in Queen's University of Belfast in 1973, and the ‘Schools Cultural Studies Project’, developed in the New University of Ulster in 1974. Inter-school links and contact programmes for primary and post-primary schools are also arranged through the Cross Community Contact Scheme. Today initiatives regarding joint schooling often cause the surprised reaction from pupils that ‘they’ are just like ‘us’. Children have been shown to assume that they are different, even in some visible way.
The All children together movement set up by parents, aimed to promote desegregated schools and contributed to the opening of Lagan College as a mixed school in 1981. However, even though there a significant proportion of children have mixed parents in Northern Ireland - almost ten per cent of marriages were mixed between 1978 and 1982 - there are only enough places for two per cent of children to go to mixed schools. The lack of progress in integrated schooling is in part due to the moral content of the existing curricula being thought adequately ameliorative. Religious authority figures such as the Bishop of Northern Ireland have claimed that Northern Ireland Catholic schools provide valuable stability and normality and are not in themselves divisive. The Catholic Church has since remained opposed to integrated schools, often providing theologically based deterrents to parents. In 1969, Catholic parents who sent their children to a state school were threatened with refusal of communion by the bishop. Integrated education was perceived as an attack on the Catholic religion. A recent initiative to unite two teacher training colleges was opposed by the Church and ‘pressure was exerted on schoolchildren to get parents signatures opposing it’. The sensitivity of Catholic clergy is well illustrated by their efforts to influence children’s opinion.
It has been suggested by some observers that the contact thesis that underpins integrated educational approaches does not necessarily address why children’s expectations of each other are different in the first place. Although young people will reconcile their differences face to face, this itself may not be a sufficient basis for eradicating prejudice or resentment felt across the community and acted out in group behaviour. Tajfel explains that ‘intergroup’ behaviour like this is resistant to change. It is not only polarised but dictated by group identity, as distinguished from the identity of individuals. Individual characteristics may be changeable but group behaviour and recognition cannot be altered from within the group. Children may meet across the divide, and hope may be invested in them as the future generation, but these children also belong to communities where the difference will remain evident in daily intergroup behaviour particularly through military activities and family ties. School and education are only one source of education. Children may become socialised to political violence through their proximity to and participation in the paramilitary organisations which operate in their communities. Belfast psychologist Morris Fraser writing in the 1970’s argued persuasively that there are no civilians in Ulster because children and their parents are themselves the combatants.
Militarisation: youth wings and riots
The militarisation of children in Northern Ireland can be shown as a cumulative process which begins with their acceptance of violence as a political means and ends with their mobilisation. Anti-army attitudes amongst Catholic children were common before open warfare began, and studies of Catholic schoolchildren exhibited fear and demonisation in their play and everyday activities. The Irish Republican Army (IRA) has played no small part in constructing the British soldier as the cult hate figure with on children can focus their play and political values. For many young children, therefore, the antihero they might usually have confronted within the confines of play or the television, could sometimes be found patrolling on the doorstep. Such children also played at riots, before 1971, and their popular songs and games clearly express violent animosity. Researchers who listened to children talking to each other within communities heard the following chants daily:
Early in the morning
Kill shoot burn the soldiers (repeat)
Kill shoot burn the bastards
Early in the morning
If you hate the British soldiers clap your hands
It has also been argued that children educate and police each other within their own private conversations and encounters. The mother of one seven year old explained how he was the wrong religion for playing in the park: he ‘gets stones thrown at him, and can only play outside our door’. Children may be approached by child-gangs and asked to demonstrate their political allegiance to the crown by kissing a Union Jack for example.
Writing in 1973, Fraser noted that gangs in Belfast were not only bigger and younger than elsewhere in Northern Ireland, but approved of by some adults. Child gangs contribute to a culture of fear by their very presence especially amongst other children. They are also potentially involved in youth wings of paramiltary groups. It has been argued that children’s disruptive energy was focused on ‘the troubles’ and channelled by youth wings of paramilitary organisations. Analysts have argued that youth participation played an important role in distracting children away from ‘normal’ youthful rebellion into conformity with their parents and paramilitary causes. Intergenerational difference was subsumed under the societal reproduction of sectarian values. A contemporary investigation by a psychologist showed that to not be involved in 1973 was to be the odd one out. Michael McLoughlin, former chairman of Dungannon council in County Tyrone said of sectarian gang fighting in 1990:
these young people have learned all their politics, their attitudes to society, growing up in segregated schools, segregated housing estates and segregated youth clubs. They never meet, they’re never met. I don’t expect them to be any different to what they are. There are entrenched attitudes on both sides, I don’t expect that to change overnight.
In the absence of men and particularly fathers in the community and families (through covert activity, fear or death), children can transfer their loyalty to the brotherhood within gangs and youth movements. In these groups some children find strength and identity through common purpose, make sense of their situation and are further able to actively play a role in the troubles. Such gangs present a half-way experience for children. They can publicly posture or covertly behave like adults, particularly in a quasi-military fashion. In a contemporary analysis of children from West Belfast, a psychiatrist commented that through violent participation, often initiated amongst themselves, children learnt that violence achieved results. Injuring a soldier and hijacking a bus gained praise and had heroic implications within a gang, thus enabling boys in particular to benefit socially from political violence. The children were noted as disciplined, even ritualistic in their attacks. Through membership of youth groups such as the Junior Auxiliary of the Catholic Serviceman’s Association or Junior UDA children experienced futher ‘character building’ and adult-like discipline and rules. Their arrest and interrogation may even sometimes be intentional on their part. For arrest, (being equated with non-minor status in the eyes of the law) also serves to concretise their involvement with the paramilitaries and may later serve as ‘the seminal experiences that demarcate political maturity’ in the eyes of their leaders. For many Catholic boys, ‘politics’ and consequently their sense of participation, is also equated with action, sacrifice and loyalty. Children joined the republican youth movement: Fianna, for example, long before the onset of violent activity. Eighty per cent of Catholic children have fathers, uncles and brothers in the republican movement, making republicanism a hereditary tradition.
Protestant children are also members of paramilitary youth movements though not to the same extent as Catholics. However their militarisation is effectively demonstrated through association with the Orange Order and its Junior Lodge, and particularly its military style parades. The Orange Order founded in the 1790s precedes the organised republican movement considerably. Once secret, it is now a prominent feature of life in many Protestant families. Protestant boys, potentially also members of the youth wing of the UVF, the Young Citizens Volunteers, the Ulster Young Militants or the Apprentice Boys of Derry, join their fathers in ‘pseudo-military’ displays throughout the parading season. All sectors of the community on both sides of the divide are made particularly aware of its aims and militant nature. The parades have existed since 1690, were legalised in 1872 and since the 1970s have taken on a strongly militaristic nature. Over 3500 take place each year, though the numbers of members are diminishing. Orangemen and loyalists stage aggressive displays, walking en masse with their children across divided residential areas and this often prompts rioting. The Orangemen’s marches visually illustrate the restrained force and traditional symbolism of historical conquest. For young boys of four or five a parade can be a celebrated first public association with the Orange Order. Women or younger girls are kept to the sidelines. Participation is usually male and the paraders mimic aggressive postures. The routes of the marches are or are perceived as statements of territorial claims. Most celebrated of all is the 12th of July Parade, a commemoration of the victory 300 years ago of the Protestant William of Orange over the Catholic James II. Children at the 1999 12th July Parade, waved flags and babies wore bibs reading ‘Born to walk the Garvaghy Road’, referring to the Parade’s most contested route. The closing of the Garvaghy Road prior to this particular parade had led to 130 Loyalist arson attacks, one of which killed three Catholic children.
Fraser describes the Orange Order as a potent force of education and organised politics. Today boys may join aged eight, and mostly participate between the ages of eight and twelve. Members of the Orange Order have always held considerable influence over education policy in the Province. Arguably, however, the Order and its activities are an education in themselves, described as ‘the major agency for the introduction to Protestant children of cross-cultural myths, fears and hatreds, and for the sanctioning of verbal and physical aggression’. The chants and rhymes associated with this movement are essentially composed of violent and bloody episodes of Irish history. A typical Orange Loyalist song known to all Protestant children in the 1970s begins:
I was born under the Union Jack
Do you know where Hell is?
Hell is up the Falls
Kill all the Popeheads, and we’ll guard Derry’s walls
Parading can be seen in the context of the importance and centrality of history in the minds of young and old alike. Neil Jarman quotes Peter Lowenthal in saying that ‘Ireland does not lie in the past; rather Ireland’s history, lies in the present’. He argues that historical and mythical figures anchor identities and play an important role. Parading is an illustration of traditional repetition of social memory, relied upon to stimulate loyalism and nationalism. In short a hierarchy is confirmed in the street, in a format perhaps particularly conducive for younger people to become involved in and enjoy. Parades and marches are vivid, colourful, loud and aggressive. Jarman comments that:
parades take on the aspect of a slow moving chaotic cartoon, with no obvious beginning or end to its story, but with constant variations on the theme of individual and collective faith, betrayal, sacrifice, resistance and victims, endlessly repeated and connected together.
Approximately 300 nationalist parades take place compared to 2500 Loyalist events. By contrast the Catholic marches, for example those of The Ancient Order of Hibernians are less militaristic in tone and often have women and children included at the front. Republican parades are noted as being less aggressive in display, quieter, and with less uniformed presence. They celebrate and direct attention towards five causes: the United Irishmen Rising of 1798, the Easter Rising of 1916, ‘Bloody Sunday’, internment in 1971 and the hunger strikers of 1981. Parading typically mimics aggression and illustrates the intensity of sectarian feeling.
Children have however played a more significant role as militarised bodies than mere parading, through their actual involvement in political violence, including paramilitary activities, guerilla-warfare and terrorism. Studies have shown that in trouble spots across the world young people usually make up a significant percentage of liberation and national groups. Northern Ireland has been no exception. Young people below the age of 18 were a prominent cohort of covert paramilitary organisations in the early 1970s, and the majority of actors at the flashpoints of the troubles have been young male Catholics. Children’s membership of the youth gangs and organisations enabled their swift incorporation into paramilitary activity as youths and later as adults. The Irish Republican Army was revived after 1969 and its youth organisations provided the platform for its future direction. Distinct generations of members in the IRA Army Council include those active in the 1940s as young volunteers, those who orchestrated the campaign years of 1952 to 1962, and those who first participated between 1969 and 1972. Many members were in their early teens when they joined at the height of the violence. The IRA has remained very successful in attracting pre-adolescent children into its youth groups. Fianna Eireann, the largest junior branch of the IRA organised weekly meetings and a scout type uniform and the Fianna cub section was available for seven to eleven-year olds. Such groups taught up to a hundred boys at a time about guerrilla techniques, fighting the army and use of firearms. The junior wing of the IRA called itself the Young Boys of Ireland and members wore black berets for official occasions such as funerals, and green berets for field work.
The fact that children were not eligible for arrest made their participation in riots and demonstrations particularly valuable. Young children acted as deterrents or shields and occupied the front line causing soldiers to delay their fire, or encroach further and become drawn into range of other weapons. Psychologist Morris Fraser writes that these children were especially able to accept roles in these riskier areas of street confrontation:
[c]hildren, with limited death concepts, unable with immaturity to anticipate all the risks of their actions, have accepted this role without hesitation....Children run up to within a few yards of a soldier with an aimed high velocity rifle and lob a petrol bag over the sandbags with a nonchalance few adults could imitate.
The majority of rioters have been aged between 15 and 24, though many children aged between five and fifteen who participated as stone throwers were as accurate and powerful as their adult counterparts. At the height of the troubles, boys aged between 12 and 16 typically used wires to stop jeeps while younger boys banged bin-lids to alert others. Their whistles distracted police into ambushes, they made petrol bombs, nail and paint bombs, directed traffic, created road blocks and burned vehicles. The youngest children were used to send messages or gather up ammunition. The youth wing of the IRA also marked territory and invoked sentiments of nationalism by painting murals of political symbols and historical scenes, sometimes referring to the Palestine Liberation Organisation. In psychologist Morris Fraser’s many interviews with young boys he found that typically children of eight and a half could explain how to make petrol bombs and Junior Orange Lodge members casually stated that all Catholics should be killed or burned. Fraser claimed that Ulster children at the time, were used as never before in guerrilla warfare and that their training also began early. As a leader of a youth organisation in one of Belfast’s mixed areas he regularly witnessed the acts of children, noting that they often overstepped boundaries of respectability towards the dead. He argues that it is a more powerful act for children to stone a jeep, stone the driver, and then stone the ambulance carrying the dead body, than for an adult to pilot a military aircraft. As will be seen in the next chapter, this has resonance with Southern Africa where children’s violent acts have been encouraged because they appear to demonstrate indifference to, or greater capacity for horrific behaviour.
During 1969 British media images and accounts of the civil rights riots in Belfast and Derry Londonderry vividly portrayed these youths and children fighting. London-based reporters represented and described children as innocent victims in an adult conflict. Fraser argues that in most media reportage of the troubles, ‘rioting’ and ‘civil rights disturbances’ were under-descriptions of the urban guerrilla-warfare that took place. The term rioting implied confined and spontaneous fighting rather than organised battles against the army. Children’s participation, at every level of street fighting, often at the forefront, is thus similarly misinterpreted as accidental rather than organised and deliberate. Child stone-throwers and petrol bombers in the front line attracted a great deal of front-page coverage and shocked comment. The Daily Mirror reported in August 1972: ‘it is profoundly tragic that the children of Ulster can no longer be called the innocents’. And Newsweek commented that ‘[t]he brawling children of Ulster...have passed prematurely from the innocent games of childhood to the deadly serious business of street warfare.’ Throughout the media reporting of ‘the troubles’ children were described as having lost childhood and innocence. Reporters made sense of children in battle by comparing them to an idealised normal child:
[H]e was no bigger than my own six year old. He...teetered to a halt three yards from the soldiers. The street was a perilous carpet of stones, broken bottles and jagged metal. The soldiers...watched as he swung his arm in the glare of a burning single decker bus...The half brick fell harmlessly at the feet of a battle weary corporal. The kid retreated picking up another rock...He trotted back to his pals. Nine-year-olds, 12-year-olds, 14-year-olds. The little ones are assembling the piles of ammunition. The big ones are hurling it.
The majority of accounts suggest that these children were became ‘premature adults’ as they grew up and played alongside armed soldiers, lost family members to terrorism, witnessed chaos, and felt fear in their everyday activities. It can also be argued that such narratives about children implicitly serve to illustrate a perceived lack of control or desperation, when in actual fact the use of children is illustrative of the depth of social involvement in the conflict, not societal demise.
Psychologist observers such as Ed Cairns believe that children such as these are participating in violence and 'acts of destruction that impact on power relations in society'. They too may comprehend the political value of this violence. Of the children who have attracted the attention of researchers in medical science, especially as agents of physical violence, research has shown that from the age of five they can explain the difference between violent crime and political violence. They condone political violence, recognising it as self defence of their community, but condemn on moral grounds violence or crime for any other purpose. Psychiatrists have sought solace in the fact that children are able to make a distinction of any kind, believing that this rationalising is a healthier response to violence than delinquency or confusion. But the greater lesson is perhaps that children know they are capable of participating in political conflict. Children engaged in, and prepared for such acts of destruction may be desired to do so however, not because of their political understanding but because their qualities and capabilities are different from those held by adults. A directive to IRA members makes this clear:
Youngsters and older children are ideal material for the work of planting bombs and rigging booby-traps...They attract less attention and suspicion than adults, are sensitive to rewards, and ask no questions. If captured by the British army or security officers they are unable to give any information about their employer...More gelignite nail-bombs and petrol bombs must be readily available.
The directive continues: ‘British Army patrols can be lured into ambushes more easily when children, youngsters and women are the bait.’ In this case it is clear how it is thought that children and women can succeed in terrorist activity: their ‘civilian’ and ‘feminised’ status deceives the enemy. This is only possible because of the assumptions already in place of their non-political or non-combatant status; assumptions made because of a myriad of ‘natural’ qualities assigned to women and children. This in turn enables them to be used as a human shield to cover the political actions of others nearby. Interestingly what was seen was also what was not being seen. Children who have been killed in the fighting are publicly described by paramilitary organisations as heroes rather than victims. Their participation in the cause colours the local death notices. For example, the death of a 13-year-old member of the Junior IRA, shot by the British Army, was marked by the following words pinned up on walls:
In this supreme hour the Irish nation must, by the readiness of its children to sacrifice themselves for the common good, prove itself worthy of the august destiny to which it is called...Dear Ireland, take him to thy breast this soldier who died for thee; within thy bosom let him rest among the martyrs sanctified.
Attention is drawn to the child’s death, but it is framed in the context of sacrifice for a ‘mother nation,’ therefore making the sacrifice also above question from the mothers of the nation. The final section of the chapter will look further at the construction of a passive maternal and child sphere that accompanies such military tactics and targets.
Nationalisation: Soft tactics and soft targets
Constructs of protected children and their associated familial sphere are evident in discourse of nationalisation in Northern Ireland and have become a rationale for paramilitary practices, particularly for nationalists. In this context, protecting children and using the construct of, and support of the maternal sphere (though not ascribing them with a nationalist role), may be described as ‘soft’ tactics. The term ‘soft’, is used in the terrorist context of ‘soft target’, to essentialise the concept of unarmed civilians especially women and children. Inclusive in this terrorist appropriation of the construct of softness, is both its valuation and denigration - what is to be targeted and what should be most protected. The notional distancing of children and mothers, from a political and military sphere which protects them rather than is them, also makes them valuable in themselves, and hence also valued as ‘soft targets’ by the enemy. This is also explored later on in the section. Finally there will be a discussion of how tentative steps towards peace have also been taken using children - practices that might be described as ‘soft options’.
The image of the subordinate or helpless mother provides an inherent moral argument for male, armed aggression or protection of the mother from state domination. Within Catholic representations of nationality, the notion of protecting ‘Mother Ireland’ may be invoked. For Catholics, the meek submissive figure of Mary, the Virgin Mother, or ‘Queen of Ireland’, has combined in nationalist mythology with a noble female personification of Ireland, to provide a potent, ambiguous and complex symbol in the struggle against British imperialism. As has been argued: ‘The overall effect is to reproduce a highly conservative, highly sentimental, even patriarchal, image of "Mother Ireland" which is detached from political activist and feminist alike’. The familiar sphere is particularly invoked in Irish identity within Catholic communities through Eire the historic Irish female and mother figure.
Lynda Edgerton writes that: ‘Irish nationalists developed a discourse of nationality in which the masculinity of the people was underwritten by the idealisation of traditional motherhood within the symbolic terrain of nationalist culture; the rural home’. Roman Catholicism emphasises the strength of the father and the gentleness of the mother, and associated school curricula material illustrates that a woman’s place is in the home using traditional stereotypes. Begona Aretzaga has observed in particular the display of maternal and protective images, in public and highly militarised localities and contexts. In the Catholic Falls Road, a huge mural of a protective ‘Madonna and Child’ look down over the street, thereby adding to the exposure of Catholic girls to the model of the pure Virgin Mary. Many murals show the suffering of mothers and sons and imply martyrdom. Street images about the conflict are also polarised between violent men and their anguished statements, and passive mothers who sacrifice their sons. This passive representation says Aretzaga is inaccurate. Women and mothers have played a part almost inversely proportional to their recognition. She writes: ‘precisely because of their anomalous and subversive character within established definitions of the political, the politics of nationalist women has been eclipsed in the accounts of the conflict’. Their politics is seen as irrelevant or marginal. She makes the case that ‘gender is used as a symbolic terrain wherein to formulate arguments of domination and resistance’.
Studies have suggested that despite the sectarian divide, families at the height of the troubles differed very little with regard to roles of family members. Working class women in both communities employed similar gender stereotypes, notably that the growing boy ‘learns that men are men, and boys are men. With high male unemployment and women as providers it is argued that men have allowed paramilitary involvement to fulfil their need for protective and strong behaviour, thus further equating protection with machismo and masculinity. Popular resistance is by contrast regarded as a gendered feminised inside - the community base of homes and families, women and children. Men may be largely absent from the familial sphere, as military targets and targeters involved in particularly masculine experience of nationalism. The perception of a sphere of popular resistance in the home merely serves to give more cuedos to nationalist paramilitary activity – the equal of the British Army or RUC presence. The subordination of women as victims or lesser perpetrators also occurs within Protestant ideology through the equating of women with mothers, though Protestant society does not have an equivalent dominant symbolism of the mother/Madonna and child. Older Protestants have however exhibited a fear of Catholic families swallowing up their sons and breeding uncontrollably: the higher Catholic birth-rate having at times incited Protestant riots in Catholic areas.
For some Catholic young girls and women their sense of belonging in the community is fulfilled by having a baby as early as practicable. Rona Fields argues that the pressure to have children and provide is an example of how ‘women in Ireland are compelled into fragmenting themselves -to becoming either bodies for breeding, feeding and martyrdom, or spirits with intellectual resources and vocation but bound by vows of chastity and obedience’. Women who have children are thus soon socialised into the strong maternal role of keeping the family together and as the role is so demanding they have little opportunity to think critically about the situation. Lynda Egerton observes how it is often the mother who has the heavy responsibility of trying to bring up a family in a situation similar to a war environment. At the same time, Northern Ireland appears under the veneer of a ‘normal state in a liberal democratic country’. The difficulties are compounded by the fact that husbands are the main victims of death, imprisonment, maiming and disabling. It is notable that the majority of children in Northern Ireland, who have undergone counselling have proved themselves to be seemingly unaffected by the troubles, provided that their family is able to provide information, emotional support and justification for their circumstances. Despite this, mothers and children are identified within the nationalist cause rather than as agents of it.
Eithne McLoughlin describes Northern Irish society as matrifocal with an emphasis on the mother’s role of sacrifice and maintaining the family beyond childhood years: ‘women see their mothers and daughters more often than men see their parents or children. The ‘strong woman’, the mother and the family are important constructions of everyday life in Northern Irish society, particularly amongst Catholics, yet there is little study of their role in the conflict. McLoughlin points out that though it is a sphere to which attention is drawn and valued, it remains distinctly subordinate to the male sphere. She writes that: ‘comfortable ideas about ‘cheery families supporting their members from evil without is an idealisation rather than an analysis of the nature of family life in Northern Ireland’. Women have been accepted as guardians of the family, transmitters of cultural values to the next generation and the eternal sufferers for Mother Ireland. In particular it is assumed that mothers will rear sons who will devote themselves to the cause. Mothers can be actively involved in transmitting and preserving nationalist aims and may also resort to violence themselves. Family loyalty and family paramilitary connections influence children from an early age. The mother of three sons who were killed in action in the IRA had ‘encouraged their sense of Irishness and read them bedtime stories which reflected Irish history. Minds may be influenced by more subtle political identities presented in the familial sphere. Though the family and home may be revered as a site and reproducer of violence, yet it is also perceived as non-political. ‘Politics’ becomes a subject which is not or cannot be spoken about in the home, even though it infuses everyday life. Women and children through their embodyment of protection, are thus further ramified as non-political and non-threatening. However childlike or soft qualities can be politically useful per se; they can lead to the strategic use of the ‘soft’ sphere for military practices, as well as be constructed and appropriated in nationalism. Importantly, bestowed childlike qualities have enabled children, women and the female elderly to associate with or act as perpetrators in terrorist activity, and remain above suspicion. In this case what is seen also determines what is not seen.
Children’s presence can signify peaceful intent and by extension a non-violent or protected sphere. During a family shopping trip in Northern Ireland, children may be left behind in the parked car, not for their own safety but as a visual demonstration that the car itself is not a threat and does not contain a bomb. The concept of child as innocent is retained is this example of peaceful signalling. By comparison the young street fighter necessarily loses this construction of childhood, through his political participation. Reversing traditional etiquette, young girls have been known to walk their boyfriends home because on their own, boys risk being lifted by the army. Suspicion is averted by the presence of the young female and a familial relationship between them may also indicate pacifity or diverted attention. A sixty year old mother and son can walk a heavily patrolled street with guns concealed underneath her cardigan and about his person because [s]he ‘outsmarts a far more powerful enemy through her intimate knowledge of the locality and manipulation of the soldier’s filial respect for elderly women’. It was not until 1972 that very young children were bag-and-body searched on entering a store, and the army regularly searched schoolchildren’s bags, as well as prams, knowing that they could contain gelignite. The troubles can be seen then to take place in, and create, a highly gendered environment in which children have both active masculine roles and a perceived passive presence, may fight along side men, and yet conceptually remain in the sphere of mother and family.
The separation of children and mothers from a political and military sphere, and the attention drawn towards their protection and their embodyment of nationalism also makes them valuable in themselves, and hence also valued as ‘soft targets’ by the enemy. To place the apparently protected and separate mother and child under direct or arbitrary threat is a key terrorist tactic; this also serves to demonstrate the other side’s vulnerability. Children and female family members are thus a particularly high category of ‘soft targets’; they meet the terrorist description of individuals who are not armed and not openly involved, but carry weight as victims.
‘Soft targets’ may be victims of bomb attacks, random doorstep or house shootings. The man or most active member is killed, but the attack is anticipated to frighten other men’s dependents. In the words of one terrorist: ‘the wife is going to demand that he gets out when one of his mates gets whacked...they can’t cope with it in the home’. Mark Urban, however has noted the power to intimidate through the assassination of women in the home. Mothers can be shot in bed, in front of the children. In 1977, 62 per cent of casualties were civilian non-combatants, and the majority of these injuries and deaths occurred in Belfast or Derry Londonderry. Between 1969 and 1973, over 15,000 families moved from their homes. The killing of children can be a significant indicator of aggression, as in the petrol bombing of the three boys under ten in July 1998. Many thousands of children are still attacked and maimed each year. The charity Childline, for example, receives 5000 calls each week from the Province. However the balance between victimisation and overkill is a fine one. The killing of children may be tactically avoided to avoid allegations of barbarity. An INLA terrorist describes the potential disruptive power of the family or children in the context of an assassination attempt:
The provies nine times out of ten will bang him as he’s getting out of his car and bang him when he’s getting into his car or put a bomb into it. But then you have to see does he drive the kids to school and allow for that. That would scrub a car bomb right there and then. If that doesn’t work, you’re going to knock the door which is harder to do. Because if you knock the door and he doesn’t answer, you’re going to have to go into his house looking for him with his family all mixed in. If you hurt any of them you count the operation as a loss. The political impact is just wiped out because now its just "criminals terrorising families," never mind what or who your man is.
Home or the family is one of the key sites of political intimidation, resistance and socialisation. For many terrorists family commitment and loyalty may play an important force in the continuation of the armed struggle. In some cases children’s deaths become the turning point in a search for peace. The deaths of three children including a baby of four weeks prompted the biggest popular peace movement in 1976.
It is noticeable that attempts to find peace in Northern Ireland have often begun with reference to children. The role of the mother as a provider of stability and safety has increased, with the disappearance of men into covert operations which place home and family under attack. Street battles and terrorism within communities also confuse the categorisation of protector and protected. Edgerton argues that it is this threat to motherhood and the family that has prompted women’s involvement in the struggle particularly for peace. In one notable example in 1970, despite a strict curfew imposed by the army on the Lower Falls Road, 3000 women pushed prams with food to those who could not feed their children. They were able to force the British Army to turn a blind eye in confusion and embarrassment. Mothers and children together created a powerful yet infantilised and feminised construct. The connotations assigned to this advancing civilian sphere of mothers and babies also overrode the capacity of the army to act.
Children’s deaths prompted the formation of ‘The Peace Women’; later, more accurately, it was termed the ‘Peace People’. Its founders (Mairead Corrigan and Betty Williams) were awarded the Nobel peace prize, and achieved a great deal of publicity. The non-sectarian ‘Woman’s Coalition’ was founded in 1996 by two women who questioned the machismo and militantism on both sides. These women represented those who saw themselves as a civic space poised between the formal realism of politics and the domestic arena, and found their political voice in a consultative ‘civic’ forum. Recently women activists have been able to make space for peace by identifying their potential roles and challenging their limited control at home. They argue that ‘[w]omen are far more tolerant....Bringing up children has a lot to do with it. It means you have to listen to all their tantrums and take both sides’. Through such talks for peace, by women and mothers, the distinction between formal and informal politics has been further broken down.
One of the difficulties in promoting peace has been this delineation between political and non-political spheres which are thought of as separable, though they are mutually inclusive. To avoid talking politics at home as many families claim, is an example of a political strategy itself. In a society described by Ed Cairns as having two versions of everything including the truth, little can be viewed as non-political or without a sectarian significance or at least involving a degradation of the ‘other’. Despite the present condition of peace, Childline has recently had to move into costly city centre premises in Belfast to avoid accusations of sectarianism. As Monica McWilliams noted, the millions of pounds put into community relations projects has had to exclude all services with sectarian provision such as playgroups. It is not surprising therefore, that peaceful change has been initiated in one the most politically benign areas of popular culture, namely the children’s holiday.
In 1975 the Community Relations Commission and the Department of Community Relations were abolished. In their place the Department of Education in Northern Ireland assumed responsibility for grant-aided community relations holidays, for large groups of children preferably of both communities. In 1988 for example, 6000 children took part. The contact requirement of such schemes is not always made clear in the arrangements and guidelines. The description of the holiday as available to both communities may be the only indicator that children may be closely integrated. The accompanying literature to be read by host and child families states firmly that there is to be no political agenda although they hope to help each child to have some impact on the way people relate to one another in Northern Ireland. Reports of one of the largest programmes Project Children suggest that slightly secretive methods were used to attract sectarian communities with little reference to the reconciliation theme. Protestant children for example did not know that they were staying with an American Catholic family. Post-holiday reports show that both Protestant and Catholic children were extremely surprised when they did meet at how similar they were. Parents also requested more opportunities to meet each other in the context of children’s holidays. Criticism has been that these holidays cannot help the pressure from families on children’s return. They may have to appear to have gone back to more traditional thinking on returning home. In addition these encounters are often taking place outside the contentious environment and only for a short time.
It is interesting that there has been no substantial report into the success of the holidays. This could illustrate the difficulty in following political values back into the home amidst the fear of sectarian reprisals or it could suggest that there is not much change anticipated in their schemes. These schemes which operate in many communities, youth clubs and schools, also fulfil a role for adults who want to improve the lives of children (or be seen to be doing so). Small beginnings towards peace it seems are more easily gestured with small children. With regard to the 1990s peace process it seems that when change did occur it was through adults, not through children or generational change. In the present political system only adults have the capacity to make peace although recourse to children, as was shown in Chapter One, is perhaps a part of the symbolism of conciliatory gestures. Children are frequently the subject of impassioned pleas by politicians and peace promoters. Mo Mowlam, former Minister of State for Northern Ireland, explained in 1998 that it was thinking of the children, who ‘had known nothing else’ that kept her going through the deadlocked negotiations which finally gave way to the Good Friday Agreement. The recent initiatives and reports generated by the peace process have however drawn attention to the lack of policy and policy culture through which children’s experiences may be adequately dealt with in the forthcoming frameworks for reconciliation and inter/intra community re-building. The conception of children as non political has played no small part in this policy gap.
This chapter has attempted to substantiate the arguments advanced in the previous case, that of Nazi Germany, by showing how children can play a central role as nationalised and militarised bodies in conflict. Children’s political socialisation in Northern Ireland has been shown to be facilitated by their community upbringing and by the sectarian nature of the conflict. Sectarianism divides and politicises social institutions, especially schools, making children constantly aware of sectarian values and boundaries. Children in Northern Ireland are also particularly exposed to a re-living of history, and daily nationalistic identification with the past. Such a construction of political values in almost cartoon format, on walls, in their schools and in stories told within families, is easily assimilated by children. The absorption of nationalist sentiment in this way can be seen to aid their assimilation into various militarised roles.
As was shown in the chapter on Nazi Germany, familial and informal activities can transmit political ideas to children. Terrorism in Northern Ireland can be seen as depending on the informal and political spheres, and the concept of ‘soft’ targets. The familial sphere has a specific importance. Though mothers and children of Ireland are identified in nationalist sentiment as iconographic victims and beneficiaries of the conflict, they also function as a shield for political activity. This notional separation from the conflict also makes children and the construct of the child a valuable political currency and apparent political refuge and they can become a target of terrorist activity themselves.
As in Nazi Germany, the private and political spheres were detached conceptually, though they were interdependent in practice. In both cases studies, the construct of a child can be seen as fluid, though always accompanied by a historically continuous, trans-cultural image of the innocent child, in whom nationalism is embodied. As Chapter One illustrated, children, and their capabilities, are constructed as well as being biologically natural. A particular construct of child, the protected innocent, can be seen as embodying the nationalist cause par excellence for militarised practices. Their alleged non-role and non-political status has been also shown to create their role and political presence, and give them greater capacity for playing a military role. Children’s contribution to a conflict may be deduced from its corollary: their contribution to peace. In Northern Ireland peace initiatives centred on children have problematised the meaning of ‘political’ within the community, a term which until recently in the Province has been conflated with ‘historical’ and detached from the domestic sphere. The relationships between constructs of ‘the political’ and children’s politicisation will be further explored in Part Three; but before that the final case study looks at children’s politicisation in apartheid South Africa and in Mozambique’s Civil War.
1 Ed.Cairns, Caught in Crossfire: Children and the Northern Ireland Conflict (Belfast: Appletree Press, 1987), p. 11.
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