It is a dangerous and misleading term - which I believe is being used by adults, to shift the blame for the riots onto local youth - who are portrayed as being 'out of control'. Yet subsequent events have shown that the situation could be controlled - if you like, the taps were turned off again.
Let's look at some of the reasons why this phrase is dangerous:
Firstly the term recreation implies that it is harmless fun. Clearly that is not the case - with many people being seriously injured, a lot of property being destroyed, and policing bill which will run into hundreds of thousands of pounds. The more serous damage though - is to community relations in the area - which have been seriously set-back by what has happened.
Secondly - on the first night of rioting it appeared that a mob - of men of various ages (many not meeting the 'youth' categorisation) from Loyalist areas invaded the Short Strand in what was an incredibly intimidating and aggressive attack on a small community. Whatever the reasons for it (and I know they are complex) - this was not 'recreation' - it was intimidation with murderous intent
Thirdly, there is a tendency to blame these outbursts on young people - and to pretend that this happens in some sort of a vacuum. I saw this throughout the Community Relations Council's substantial consultation on the ill-fated 'A Shared Future' policy. In meeting after meeting - regardless of the subject - the conversation turned to 'young people are the problem' rhetoric. People talked about young people in their communities as being 'out of control' and characterised them as 'The Problem' in terms of local community relations.
This is a total cop-out! Our young people act out of the dynamics that we have created, and recreate through our segregated and divided society. It is deeply unfair to scape-goat the younger generation in this way - and downright hypocritical given that we created (or inherited) the conditions they are growing up in, and have largely failed to give them a vision of any kind of shared and inclusive society. It is also a convenient way of hiding the manipulation going on that is working young people up to the point where they engage in this dangerous and potentially lethal behaviour.
This society has a terrible problem with its attitude to young people. Not only do we have to stop demonising them, but we urgently need to rethink our attitudes are we are about to throw hundreds more young people onto the scrap-heap as the cuts bite and unemployment continues to rise. We need to stop the negative labelling of young people - using terms such as 'NEET' (Not in Employment, Education or Training) - which imply that young people have no value and are just a drain on our society. Some radical re-thinking is needed. Young people are our greatest resource - we need to value them - particularly as we need them to look after our ageing society - and pick up the bills for the excesses of our generation and the unethical activities of bankers and financial systems.
Rioting is not a symptom of youthful exuberance - it is a sign that young people feel they have nothing - literally nothing - to lose. Youth suicide is another symptom of the same problem. The alarm bells are ringing loud. Are you hearing them?
Paul Smyth is the Director of youth focused local charity, Public Achievement.