A call for schools to ban British armed forces from accessing children, has been formally backed by Derry City & Strabane District Council.
A motion to this affect was tabled by Independent Councillor Gary Donnelly before the council’s full monthly meeting in the Guildhall.
While Unionist councillors voted against the motion and those SDLP councillors present abstained, Sinn Fein backed the call along with several independent councillors.
Colr. Donnelly had proposed that, “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 glamorise/recruit for their imperialist ventures.”
Speaking on the motion, Colr. Donnelly said: “I lost a classmate, 11 years of age, murdered by a British soldier, shot by a plastic bullet at a distance of just a few feet.”
Colr. Donnelly said Britain had been one of the last 20 continues on the world to recruit under-18s alongside North Korea and Iran and he accused the British armed forces of “deliberately and strategically targeting young people who were disadvantaged and had limited opportunities in life” and using them as “canon fodder.”
“Child soldiers can be turned into robotic, mindless killers, which they find hard to turn off after returning,” he said.
“Controlled aggression is instilled, which they are expected to switch on and off - this can have a traumatising effect on a child.”
Independent Colr. Darren O’Reilly said that the government would serve young people much better “by abolishing student fees instead of funding wars around the world” and trying to recruit teenagers who could end up killing or being killed for them.
Sinn Fein Colr. Paul Fleming said his party supported the motion.
SDLP Colr. John Boyle however, said that while it was clearly concerning to see young people looking at a career path in an army as something they considered appropriate, “there is an issue around freedom of choice.”
“We understand where Colr. Donnelly is coming from, but we also have trust in boards of governors, parents and teachers to make the decisions they see fit,” he said.
Independent Councillor Paul Gallagher, who seconded the motion, said he was shocked at the SDLP’s stance.
DUP Alderman Drew Thompson said it was up to the young person to decide which job is more important to them.
“For us to call for people to stop going into schools to give job opportunities, I think it is wrong,” he said. He also suggested some councillors would be better trying to give guidance to children involved in recent waves of anti-social behaviour in the city.
UUP Alderman Derek Hussey spoke of how there were had been a monument to past pupils who were in the services at the school he had taught in.
“Quite a few of those young people I taught and it wasn’t British imperialism that killed them it was Irish Republicanism them.”
In a vote, 20 councillors supported Colr Donnelly’s motion, to nine against with eight abstentions.