As Northern Ireland seemingly stumbles into the lap of another sectarian summer, one of the more distressing sights is an all too familiar one. It is the image of children too young to even spell the word politics being pushed out front and center in circumstances that are, to say the least, inappropriate for young minds. Given the nature of the Troubles, the close proximity and tightness of the directly conflicting communities, it was perhaps always inevitable that children from both sides of the divide would be sucked into the m’lstrom of conflict.
The images of children, teenage and even younger, throwing stones and petrol bombs, is a lasting one. But they need not be repeated. There are many, heroes known and unsung, Protestant and Catholic, who have worked down the years to preserve childhood for as long as possible for those who would be denied it by communal strife. But there are also those who have never hesitated to exploit young and malleable minds for sinister purposes. If the seeds of peace have indeed been planted in Northern Ireland, it is the next generation that will know true reconciliation. However, if it is a case of significant numbers of today’s kids being burdened anew with some of the more redundant shibboleths of their elders, then the seeds of mistrust and strife, not those of harmony, are the ones that will take deepest root.
A case in point is the recent outing in Drumcree by the "junior" Orange Order. Parents of these children should think twice before burdening their offspring with the awesome certainty of being so absolutely right about the errors of their neighbors’ ways. These kids would be better off with beach towels rather than sashes, blissful ignorance rather than the social and historical version of same. With that in mind, we should all pray for some sunny summer days so that the children of Northern Ireland, all of them, can concentrate their energies on simply being young.