Irish prime minister warns of ‘spiral back’ to conflict amid Belfast riots

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Ireland’s prime minister, Taoiseach Micheál Martin, pleaded for calm Saturday after a week of violent riots roiled Belfast, Northern Ireland — as officials raised alarms over reports that children as young as 12 have been joining in.

“We owe it to the ‘agreement generation’ and indeed future generations not to spiral back to that dark place of sectarian murders and political discord,” Martin said in a statement marking the April 10 anniversary of the Good Friday Agreement, the 1998 accord that brought peace to Northern Ireland after decades of bloody conflict.

But increasing frustration over new trade barriers between Northern Ireland and the United Kingdom in the wake of Brexit has set off a week of unrest — with violent clashes between nationalists and loyalists who torched cars and buses and injured multiple police officers.

Meanwhile, Northern Ireland’s commissioner for children and young people, Koulla Yiasouma, said 12- and 13-year-olds have been seen taking part in the riots.

“What we have is criminals controlling or coercing young people to deal drugs, to take part in criminal activities and in that I would include rioting in the streets,” she told The Guardian.

Justice Minister Naomi Long condemned the trend as “nothing short of child abuse.”

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