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Unionist fury as council motion passed calling for ban of British Army school recruitment events

Thursday, 5 April 2018

Unionist fury as council motion passed calling for ban of British Army school recruitment events thumbnailGary Donnelly

A MOTION passed at Derry City and Strabane District Council calling on local schools and education facilities to refuse access to 'British Armed Forces' has sparked Unionist fury.

The motion was tabled at the monthly meeting of council last Thursday by Independent councillor, Gary Donnelly.

It stated: "Given the history of British imperialism in Ireland, this council calls on local educational facilities for children and young people to refuse British Armed Forces access to children/pupils as part of their attempt to glamourise/recruit for their imperialist ventures."

It was seconded by Strabane Independent councillor, Paul Gallagher.

Speaking on the motion, Cllr Donnelly referred to the "recent spectacle" of the British Army attending careers events in schools in Belfast and described it as "obscene". He also spoke of losing a classmate at 11-years-old who died after being shot by a soldier with a plastic bullet from close range.

"The idea of Britain using schools here to recruit child soldiers is something that must be opposed," he said. "The UK is the only country in Europe that routinely recruits children under 18. It is one of only 20 worldwide that continues this practice and they include regimes that have little respect for human rights like Iran and North Korea."

He said that despite having to be 18-years-old before they can be deployed to the front-line, 15 teenagers had been deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan between 2003 and 2005.

Cllr Donnelly described the practice of armies entering schools as "conscription by the back door" adding that the British Army "deliberately and strategically target young people who are socially disadvantaged and have limited opportunities in life."

He added: "Child soldiers can be turned into potential robotic, mindless killers, which they find hard to turn off returning... Controlled aggression is instilled which they are expected to switch on and off at the flick of a switch. This can have a traumatising effect."

Neutral

Schools, he said, should be neutral and safe environments for younger people and should be "free from those who prey on our children".

Fellow Independent councillor, Darren O'Reilly, supported the motion and said for young people to decide at 15 or 16-years-old to join the armed forces is "an enormous task".

He said the focus needed to be properly resourcing the education system, apprenticeship options enhanced and student fees abolished "instead of funding wars around the world."

Sinn Fein's Paul Fleming also placed his party's support for the motion on record while Strabane Independent councillor, Paul Gallagher, said "any right-thinking person would vote in favour of this motion to stop our children becoming potential killers."

The SDLP's John Boyle said it was "concerning and worrying to see any young person feel that a career path in an army might be something that they consider" but he said there is an "issue around freedom of choice and freedom of individuals."

He said that whilst he understood Cllr Donnelly's position, the matter wasn't the business for council "to tell our schools and the Board of Governors how to go about the business of educating young people."

"We have trust in Board of Governors, parents and teachers to make the decisions they see fit," he added.

Echoing those latter remarks was the DUP's Drew Thompson who said the matter was the responsibility of the schools and colleges concerned to "put forward proper educational situations and work experience for young people" before adding that it is up to young people to decide "what is more important to them".

"For us to call on schools to stop these people going to offer jobs to young people is wrong. Parental consent is also an issue," he said, before adding that Cllr Donnelly frequently refused to condemn the actions of "armed gangs".

UUP councillor and former teacher, Derek Hussey, speaking against the motion, said there is a memorial board at the school he taught on featuring the names of past pupils who had died.

"Quite a few of them young people I taught. It wasn't British imperialism that killed them. It was Irish republicanism that killed them," Alderman Hussey said.

Opposition

Cllr Gallagher said he wasn't surprised by the Unionist opposition but said he was "shocked" at the SDLP's stance.

"They are actually supporting them going into working class areas that is full of high unemployment, where prospects for youth are very low and they (young people) are getting lured into becoming potential killers.

"They are being taken in as canon fodder, they will be sent to foreign lands to bomb villages" he said, before being sent home with problems including alcoholism.

The DUP's David Ramsey said members were guilty of hypocrisy adding that it was no different in any other country.

"This is about careers... To just wipe this sort of employment opportunities from schools is ridiculous. When you join the army, there are about 20 different things you can do, maybe more - it's not just about lifting a rifle and shooting people," he said.

"It's ridiculous to tell the armed forces to stay out of this country when they are giving people employment and a future.

"I have many friends who joined and did their time in the army. They are now back living here and raising their families. A lot of them have good careers out it."

The motion was put to a recorded vote with 20 councillors in support and nine voting against. The SDLP block abstained from the vote.

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