Terrorists 'exploit children' ahead of Biden visit, ex-PSNI chief says

Terrorists and paramilitary groups are ‘exploiting children’, ex-PSNI chief says after young people were seen throwing petrol bombs in Northern Ireland – as police are set to build ring of steel around Joe Biden for visit today

Republican terrorists were today accused of exploiting and grooming children in Northern Ireland after masked youths pelted police with petrol bombs ahead of Rishi Sunak’s meeting with Joe Biden in Belfast tonight.

The US President is flying in to the UK to mark the 25th anniversary of the Good Friday Agreement which set a framework for peace in Northern Ireland, but has arrived at a time of political instability.

The Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) has appealed for calm after harrowing images showed masked Republicans parading the streets of Londonderry while others carried boxes of homemade petrol bombs before launching them at police Land Rovers.

Police turned up because one parade was illegal, and their vehicles were firebombed. 

John McVea, who retired after 33 years at the PSNI in January, said that the incident reveals it was right to raise the terrorism threat level in Northern Ireland from substantial to severe two weeks ago.

A police vehicle is attacked with petrol bombs flung by children during an illegal Dissident march in the Creggan area of Londonderry yesterday

A police van is attacked with petrol bombs by masked youths

The trouble in Northern Ireland came as Jo Biden jet into the UK to mark 25 years since the signing of the Good Friday Agreement

The veteran of the serious crime branch said that political stalemate at Stormont is not helping. He said: ‘Where there is a vacuum , the terrorists specialise in filling that void. When there is a gap they then come in and exploit it because that is their currency and you saw that yesterday with the petrol bombing where you can tell very clearly see that many of the people throwing petrol bombs are children and young people. 

‘They are being exploited because that is what terrorist groups and paramilitaries do. Yesterday they were exploiting children’.

He added: ‘The threat level returned to severe in recent weeks. It had been reduced for a short period of time. That means that they have the intent and the capability, but if you were to look back to 25 years ago when the Good Friday Agreement was signed, what we have today is nothing like the terrorist campaign then’.

US President Joe Biden is expected to meet with Stormont’s main political parties as part of a visit he said will underscore his nation’s ‘commitment to preserving peace and encouraging prosperity’ in Northern Ireland.

Mr Biden will arrive in Northern Ireland on Tuesday as he begins a visit marking the 25th anniversary of the Good Friday Agreement.

He tweeted: ’25 years ago, Northern Ireland’s leaders chose peace.

‘The Belfast/Good Friday Agreement ended decades of violence and brought stability.

‘I look forward to marking the anniversary in Belfast, underscoring the U.S. commitment to preserving peace and encouraging prosperity.’

A dissident republican youth throws petrol bombs at an armoured police car after holding an anti-Good Friday Agreement rally on the 25th anniversary of the peace deal, in Londonderry, Northern Ireland, April 10, 2023

Northern Ireland Secretary Chris Heaton-Harris said he hoped the situation would quickly calm down

Masked members of a Dissident Republican colour party take part in a march yesterday

Former Head of Criminal Investigation Branch, Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) Detective Chief Superintendent John McVea, says that terrorists are exploiting children into carrying out violence

Mr Biden tweeted: ’25 years ago, Northern Ireland’s leaders chose peace. The Belfast/Good Friday Agreement ended decades of violence and brought stability. I look forward to marking the anniversary in Belfast, underscoring the U.S. commitment to preserving peace and encouraging prosperity’

Mr Biden will also travel to the Republic of Ireland, where he will carry out a number of engagements during his four-day stay, including visiting Co Louth and Co Mayo, from where his ancestors hail.

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak will meet Mr Biden when Air Force One touches down in Northern Ireland on Tuesday.

The two leaders will hold a bilateral meeting on Wednesday before Mr Biden gives an address at Ulster University’s new £350 million Belfast campus.

The visit coincides with the anniversary of the Good Friday Agreement, which largely brought an end to the Troubles, in Northern Ireland in 1998.

However, the Stormont powersharing Assembly, which was established in the peace deal, is not currently operating due to a protest over post-Brexit trading arrangements by the DUP, the largest unionist party in Northern Ireland.

It is expected that Mr Biden will hold a meeting with Northern Ireland’s main political parties before the Ulster University talk.

A major security operation will be in place for Mr Biden’s visit, with more than 300 officers from the rest of the UK being drafted into Northern Ireland.

The PSNI has also warned of significant traffic disruption in Belfast during the presidential visit, with a number of roads in the city centre already closed.

After he leaves the city on Wednesday, Mr Biden will cross the border to attend engagements in Co Louth.

Foyle MP Colum Eastwood said: ‘The saddest part of this spectacle is that young people with no memory or experience of the violence of our past are being manipulated and abused by people with no vision for the future’

Youths carrying petrol bombs stand outside Derry City Cemetery 

One speaker described the event as ‘respectful and dignified, paying homage to the revolutionary heroes of 1916 and all the republican dead’

The president has traced his ancestral roots to the area and he will tour Carlingford Castle in the county before spending the night in Dublin.

He is then expected to visit Irish President Michael D Higgins on Thursday.

It has been announced that Dublin’s Phoenix Park will be closed for 24 hours from 5pm on Wednesday to facilitate the visit.

Mr Higgins’ official residence is within the park’s grounds.

The White House said Mr Biden will take part in a tree-planting ceremony and ringing of the Peace Bell at the president’s official residence, Aras an Uachtarain.

Following that ceremony, he will meet again with Taoiseach Leo Varadkar, whom Mr Biden recently hosted for St Patrick’s Day.

Mr Biden will address the Irish parliament and attend a banquet dinner at Dublin Castle on Thursday evening.

The president’s trip will conclude with a visit to Co Mayo, where he has also connected with distant cousins, on Friday.

He will tour the Sanctuary of Our Lady of Knock and visit the North Mayo Heritage and Genealogical Centre’s family history research unit.

He will then make a public speech at St Muredach’s Cathedral in Ballina.

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