Unesco study claims that young people would be ‘groomed’ by dissident groups in wake of no deal
Young people in Northern Ireland will be “groomed into violent activity” if a hard Border emerges after Brexit, a stark new report has warned.
The return of violence on this island is inevitable with the “only issue” being on what scale. The study compiled by the chairs of two Unesco committees also warns that rushing into a referendum on a united Ireland would also result in conflict.
A key problem identified by Professors Mark Brennan and Pat Dolan is that the ‘Agreement Generation’ has no memory of the harm caused by the decades of bloodshed.
They say older people have not shared enough about ‘the horrors of war’ that is termed ‘the period of the troubles’. Instead some of the violence has been ‘romanticised’.
“This lack of capacity to discuss in real ways what happened can unintentionally act in favour of those who would prefer to give youth (and particularly vulnerable and impressionable young people) a false, almost romantic, retrospection of the past up to and including a very sectarian analysis,” the report states.
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It adds that nationalist youths, who are marginalised, will be susceptible “to being groomed into violent activity by dissident republicans including the ‘New IRA'”.
The dissident ‘New IRA’ group is believed to have planted a car bomb which went off outside the courthouse in Derry last month.
The professors say the deconstruction of a Border “swiftly after its creation could become the absolute raison d’etre for youth becoming engaged in violence”.
In stark terms, the report states: “In as little as six weeks it is possible that a hard Border could materialise due to a no-deal Brexit triggering a return to violence in Northern Ireland.”
It says that “all indications” that pushing for a Border poll against this backdrop – as advocated by Sinn Féin – would also spark violence.
“The only question in both scenarios will be the scale of the violence.”
Prof Brennan is the Unesco chair for community, leadership, and youth development and professor of leadership and community development at the Pennsylvania State University.
Prof Dolan is director of the Unesco Child and Family Research Centre at the National University of Ireland, Galway, and holds the Unesco chair in children, youth and civic engagement.
They were assisted by Michael Ortiz, a renowned expert in counter-terrorism and former security adviser to the Obama administration in the US.
According to the study, which was complied in conjunction with Fianna Fáil senator Mark Daly, the British and Irish governments have done little to ensure social or economic security since the Good Friday Agreement was signed.
The flag protests which took place at the end of 2012 and throughout 2013 as a result of a decision to fly the union flag at Belfast City Hall only on designated days is cited “past evidence” of how quickly problems can escalate. Dozens of police officers were injured and scores arrested during the loyalist demonstrations.
The report says a return to violence would result in increased security costs, damage to property, a jump in prison numbers and loss of life.
Among the recommendations is anti-extremism campaigns aimed at young people.
The authors also say a “critical part of preventing violent extremism is to be found in community level leadership”.
However, they say in some areas in Northern Ireland “those community leaders are the ones who are involved in the radicalisation of the youth, an issue that has to be tackled as a matter of urgency”.
Senator Daly said last night that the report highlights the need for the UK government to stand by the backstop which is currently being blamed for the Brexit impasse.
“This will ensure that the peace process on this island is not jeopardised by a no-deal Brexit-related hard Border. The EU needs to ensure there is no return to a hard Border in light of the facts outlined in the Unesco chairs report,” he said.
Mr Ortiz says future violence can be prevented but there is a need to strengthen counter-terrorism and law enforcement efforts.
He also calls for extra supports for civil society organisations, and religious and educational institutions.