Sinn Feín MLA considers 13-17 year olds “British Army”

Not necessarily a surprising one, more a case of here we go again.

On a par with Jude Collins comparing the Boys Brigade to children taking part in dissident republican marches.

The PSNI Chief Inspector was at Loreto Grammar School, speaking about careers and gave an answer to a question by mentioning the Air Cadets.

Barry McElduff MLA posted the following tweet,


Following on from this, Pat Sheehan MLA, McElDuff’s party colleague, took up the cause today in a BBC Talkback discussion.

As someone who was in Air Cadets as a teenager, this is just woefully wrong. There are plenty of nuanced arguments I could make for why it’s wrong, but suffice to say… it is wrong.

The Air Cadets are not part of the British Army. There is no contract, no obligation, no expectation of service, nothing whatsoever. It’s a voluntary youth organisation which gives kids who have an interest in aviation, or indeed yes, the Air Force, a chance to learn and gain experience and have adventures. Nothing more, nothing less. I left for 6 months because Tuesday and Thursday night was when I had five a side football, is anyone seriously suggesting that you can quit a military force because of a reason such as that?

I can understand why republicans would be opposed to British military (although when the Army turn up at the scene of a suspect device or explosive, risk their lives defusing it, and leave our streets safe again, they’re perhaps only welcome then), but the Air Cadets are not that.

I would explain it as ‘Scouts with Planes’. Pat Sheehan’s arguments today were based on, “they are taught how to shoot,’ – shooting is an Olympic sport, it is also practiced as a hobby and activity by many, and indeed the scouts themselves have a shooting element also. There’s militaristic uniforms, yep – no argument here. The RAF sponsor the ATC, and from it’s inception it was indeed a through-route to the RAF. In different times, established in the 40s, that might well all have been a valid complaint. Now though, it’s a place for young boys and girls to learn some great skills. There is no requirement, encouragement or even push, to join the military. None whatsoever.

Of everyone I was in Air Cadets with, none went into the military. Four now work in civil aviation and many work in retail – so by that measure, is the Air Cadets a recruitment path for Tesco and Sainsburys?

I wanted to be a pilot when I was younger, there was no chance I could afford flying lessons on my own, and part of the time I was in Air Cadets was when I was homeless, yet a few times a year I would be able to fly a Grob Tutor aircraft. Other kids in my class, at the age of 15, were getting into trouble with the police, I was learning how to do a full loop in a fixed wing aircraft – that’s not a kid being militaristic, that’s a kid taking advantage of a great opportunity.

The more serious note here is republican leaders who consider Air Cadets to be British military – Pat Sheehan for example served time in prison for leaving a bomb at a security checkpoint, as an IRA combatant, he obviously considered the British military to be valid targets.

Pat has given up the path of violence, but there are dissident republicans who haven’t, and here we have prominent republican leaders, publicly stating that as far as they’re concerned, Air Cadets are part of the British military.

That’s irresponsible and dangerous.

As Pat said on the radio today in reference to military style uniforms, ranks, and the use of guns, “…if it walks like a duck and talks like a duck…”

When I cook, I sometimes wear a chef’s apron, I use professional kitchen knives and do so at an oven. Am I therefore a chef in a restaurant.

There are enough problems in Northern Ireland, children are hamstrung enough by the past – my time in the ATC was about having adventures, hanging out with friends and learning how to fly, not being brainwashed into some sort of, ‘MUST-BOMB-THE-MIDDLE-EAST’ mindset. This is why we can’t have nice things; there are kids who might like to join the Air Cadets and experience the same as I did, but now we have republican leaders  shining a dangerously cynical, and incorrect, light on them.

If you’re interested in joining or finding out more about the Air Cadets, click here.

Kris tweets ferociously as @belfastbarman and runs an associated site, where he occasionally opines his views. He lived abroad for a while and as such, feels he will never really ‘get’ this place. Formerly a barman, he regularly broke the cardinal rules of, “No politics or religion in the pub,” as such, he turned to writing. Previously a stand up comedian and an animal crematorium assistant, now works in marketing and is a recently joined member of the Alliance Party.