Belfast Telegraph

UK Website Of The Year

Home Life Features

How we can reach out and improve relations friendship

Adams must be astounded; all those years in an organisation he was never a member of and the best recruitment sergeant he's ever had is working for the unionists.

In this country, tribalism is an election tactic and it works. The working-classes will be blamed for that, as they are after every election, as if they alone are responsible for the outcome.

They're criticised for not being "educated" enough, smart enough, or progressive enough, even though they're just following the lead of those who are supposed to know better.

Such is the history of Northern Ireland.

It's worth remembering that the working-classes were disproportionately affected by the Troubles, not just in terms of casualties, but by how their communities were turned upside down. Consequently, their fears are the largest and they vote accordingly. It doesn't matter that a fresh conflict is unlikely; the possibility is enough to frighten them.

Are things changing? The answer is: not as fast as we'd like them to or as fast as they could.

The generation known as the 'ceasefire babies' - those of us who were children around the time of the Good Friday Agreement or were born after it - were seen as the great hope of the peace process.

We were free of the terrors our parents had witnessed and would therefore grow up not hating each other - or so it was assumed. The reality was that, for many of us, our childhoods were defined not by what we'd seen but the fear of what we might see. That's how trauma works - it's handed down, from parent to child to grandchild.

Research by academics at the University of Ulster has shown that the impact of the Troubles is still being felt by this generation, indirectly fuelling suicides among young people who never witnessed them.

It will be felt by generations to come, made worse by a pitiful lack of mental health facilities and resources. The conflict is still claiming victims, but you'll never read their names in Lost Lives.

Compounding all this is a lack of employment opportunities, segregated housing and segregated education.

If we split up children from birth, they're eventually going to ask why and then we have to explain the conflict to them, planting seeds of fear in yet another generation that was meant to be free of them.

There are greenshoots of hope, however. In Ardoyne and the Shankill, there are angels in disguise called youth workers. They are the ultimate unsung heroes. Operating through the likes of the Hammer and Ardoyne Youth Clubs, they've been bringing teens from both areas together for years, fostering friendships that would have been unthinkable just a decade ago.

According to SDLP councillor Paul McCusker, youths from the Shankill now visit their friends in Ardoyne of their own accord - and their Ardoyne pals return the favour.

I consider myself lucky to have heard people's stories and to have formed friendships with them, whatever side of the divide they came from. It has not only given me a more nuanced understanding of my country's history, it's made my life better.

Last year, after getting some bad news, it was a loyalist ex-prisoner friend who rang me every single day to make sure I was coping well. When I received some homophobic abuse online, it was a republican ex-prisoner friend - someone whose politics I had criticised numerous times - who came out swinging on my behalf. She still rushes to my defence whenever I need it, without being asked.

My first days at the technical college where I'd signed up to do A-levels were made easier after saying hello to another teenager, the skinny ginger boy sitting next to me in class. He was using his pens as drumsticks with such precision, I made some remark about it.

It turned out he was in the Orange Order and had probably been taught to bang a drum before he learned to read.

He became one of my closest friends and to this day, we still talk and meet during lunch-breaks, updating each other on the latest happenings in our lives.

Some of the best friendships and experiences I've had have been with people who, on paper, I wouldn't have liked - and who wouldn't have liked me. The best way to challenge prejudice is to test it; it's hard to hate someone after you've had a cup of tea with them and realised they're not snarling dragons.

I was lucky; my job brought me into contact with people I would never have met otherwise. Yet I worry that most of my generation and the generations to come - working-class people who have few opportunities as it is - won't get that same chance thanks to the system of segregation.

We've achieved equal rights for Catholics, power-sharing governments, even witnessed friendships bloom between former enemies (namely McGuinness and Paisley) - yet we still can't devise a system where our children sit side-by-side and learn together.

Then we lament at how divided our society is, complaining about the illness while ignoring the cure.

Belfast Telegraph

Popular

From Belfast Telegraph