Good Friday Agreement: Young people say they want to move past ‘inherited trauma’

Cori Conlon (22) at The Peace Summit in Derry last week. Picture by Claire Simpson, The Detail

Cori Conlon (22) at The Peace Summit in Derry last week. Picture by Claire Simpson, The Detail

THE old taboos keeping people apart in Belfast do not mean much to 22-year-old Cori Conlon.

An Irish-language campaigner from the predominantly nationalist Ballymurphy area of west Belfast, her involvement in arts and activism means she often finds herself in the predominantly unionist east of the city.

“I spend a lot of time in east Belfast and my parents are horrified,” she said.

“It’s such a difference in the generations because they think it’s dangerous but I see no harm in it.”

Ahead of the 25th anniversary of the signing of the Good Friday Agreement next month, young people told The Detail that they were often tired of the same old conversations about sectarianism and the Troubles.

Ms Conlon was born in 2000, two years after the Agreement was signed.

A member of the Youth Action NI charity, which aims to give young people from across the north a voice, she was able to meet children from a Protestant background from a young age after she got involved in the charity’s Rainbow Factory, a school of performing arts in Belfast.

“Working for a cross-community organisation I have a lot of friends from across the community,” she told The Detail.

Data from the Northern Ireland Executive Office has shown a drop in the number of schools taking part in shared education projects - from 76% in 2013 to 63% in 2018.

But young people have said they are keen to bridge the sectarian divide themselves.

Ms Conlon said a Rainbow Factory production, Somewhere Only We Know, partly explored last year “how the young people felt they were being passed an identity from their parents and from their grandparents that they didn't feel was part of them”.

“We could be sitting and having a discussion and then it feels it’s the older people (who) go ‘but remember sectarianism, don’t forget about sectarianism’,” she said.

“We're not trying to forget it, but we're trying to acknowledge things (that) are more important.”

Jamie McAdoo at The Peace Summit in Derry last week. Picture by Claire Simpson, The Detail

Jamie McAdoo at The Peace Summit in Derry last week. Picture by Claire Simpson, The Detail

Peace Summit

Ms Conlon was among the speakers at The Peace Summit in Derry last week, hosted by the John and Pat Hume Foundation and Community Dialogue, which highlighted the need for continued peace and reconciliation.

Another speaker, Jamie McAdoo (26), from Dungannon, Co Tyrone, was just two when the peace agreement was signed.

“Of course I grew up here and heard an awful lot about it (the Troubles), but the Good Friday Agreement… I don't connect with it at all,” he said.

Mr McAdoo, who is employed by Youth Action NI, said young people are suffering from the “inherited trauma” of the past.

“We've grown up with a lot of social problems in certain areas and a lot of that is coming from growing up in the backgrounds where you can't go into that community, you can't talk to them, you can't be friends with them, you have to go to this school,” he said.

“And there'll be parents that have come through with PTSD through the Troubles… then that always has a knock on effect on how they raised their kids, you know, there's problems in the household as well.”

The activists said young people are often left frustrated when their interests and preferences are hampered by Northern Ireland's divided school system.

A UNESCO report published in 2021 found that around 93% of children in Northern Ireland still attend schools that are largely segregated by religion.

Mr McAdoo said he wanted to attend an integrated school but was sent to Drumglass High School, a state secondary school whose pupils were predominantly Protestant or unionist.

“I think when I went to the [integrated] school it seemed the most appealing to me,” he said.

“But my family straight away didn't want me to do that. In hindsight, they thought it would've been better.”

Ms Conlon noted that some pupils are pushing to attend schools of their choosing.

“I know someone (from the unionist community) who is going to go to St Louise’s (Comprehensive College in west Belfast) because it specialises in dance and drama, not because it's a Catholic school,” she said.

The anniversary of the agreement comes amid an ongoing political crisis in the north.

Northern Ireland has had no government for almost a year after the DUP left the power-sharing executive to signal its opposition to the Northern Ireland Protocol, a post-Brexit trade agreement.

Ms Conlon said although her community in Ballymurphy is politically engaged, many young people feel “their vote doesn't count, that the politicians don't care about what they have to say”.

“People are so fed up with our politicians, with the parties, with the same conversation over and over again and getting nowhere,” she said.

“Young people are more concerned about the cost of living crisis, about maybe getting a house... about better opportunities and LGBTQI rights.”

Mr McAdoo said young people “see so much pain that the conflict and the divide is caused, and they want to move away from that”.

“They probably look at their older generation and think they never made enough of an attempt to move away from it,” he said.

Mr McAdoo said the young people he spoke to wanted a greater emphasis on “climate change, LGBTQ+ rights, women's rights”.

“And I think when they hear the same things being drummed on and on and on about - the Northern Protocol, Brexit, and religious issues they just don't really want to know,” he said.

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