The post-Troubles generation - what has life really been like?
While decades of the Troubles blighted the lives of people in Northern Ireland, the IRA calling a halt to its campaign of violence 21 years ago today signalled a move to a more peaceful society. But what has life really been like for those born in that year? Kerry McKittrick reports
By August 31, 1994, when the IRA announced a ceasefire, 3,517 people had died in the Troubles. This day, 21 years ago, was an historic one for the people of Northern Ireland, many of whom had lost loved ones in terrorist bomb attacks or shootings. And just a few weeks later, on October 13, the Combined Loyalist Military Command announced a cessation to what they called their “operational hostilities”.
In the first eight months of 1994, 65 people had died in the conflict, three of then RUC officers. The grim toll also included the deaths of six Catholics, shot dead watching a World Cup game in Loughinisland. And yet behind the scenes the political pieces were being put in place to allow a fragile peace to take hold.
Bomb scares, police checkpoints and civilian searches ebbed away. Army watchtowers along the border were earmarked to be dismantled and talk turned to the decommissioning of paramilitary arms and explosives.
Of course, the peace has not been perfect, yet despite this there is no doubt that for those children born from 1994 onwards, Northern Ireland is a very different place. So how has that impacted on them — if at all? We talk to four young people born in 1994.
Andrew Rodgers (21) is a bank clerk who lives in Belfast. His uncle was killed by loyalists. He says:
For almost two years now I’ve worked full-time in a bank. I did A-levels and considered going on to do a degree in politics, but it didn’t feel right for me at the time.
I have considered returning to study, but it will depend on money. I think it would be difficult for me to give up having a steady wage to become a student.
Working in the banking industry offers me career opportunities all over the UK and abroad. And if I decided to become a mortgage advisor, my job would sponsor my training and exams, so there are career progression opportunities.
I earn above minimum wage now, and I’m better off than some of my friends who are on zero hours contracts.
My family lived in Andersonstown and then we moved to the Glen Road at the height of the Troubles. Because of the conflict, a lot of Protestants moved away from that area, so people from the Falls and Andersonstown moved up here to Lenadoon.
The Troubles have always been a large part of my life because it’s our history. The year before I was born, my uncle, Mark Rodgers, was killed by loyalists. My mum was pregnant with me at the time. Although I wasn’t here to experience it, I’ve seen the daily struggles my family has had to go through. My 84-year-old grandmother still hasn’t had justice for her son’s death.
When you see how hard it has been for them to cope with the fact that they may never learn the truth, you realise the legacy the Troubles have left behind. I help out a lot in the community, particularly with the elderly, but I’m not part of any groups, churches or sports teams.
I’m from a Catholic background and went to a Christian Brothers school, so I hadn’t mixed with Protestants until I had my first job at 16 and started working in town.
I do socialise with Protestants, but I think the Good Friday Agreement has entrenched sectarianism here. Before the Agreement, there were 18 peace walls in Belfast, but now there are 48. We have tranquillity, but the divide is definitely there — at election time you’re expected to vote for parties to increase the nationalist vote. There are both Protestant enclaves and Catholic ones, like Short Strand, that are completely surrounded by a different kind of community, and young people grow up thinking that other communities are the enemy. It’s just wrong. It shouldn’t be like that.”
Sky Aughey (21) is a graduate from Greenisland and a member of the Ulster Unionist Party. She says:
I’ve just graduated from Queen’s University, Belfast, with a degree in history and I’m going to go back to do a Master’s degree in women’s history. I’m not entirely sure what I’ll do after that — maybe something in politics or possibly teaching. I’ll see what happens when I finish.
I’m Protestant and I’m a member of the Ulster Unionist Party. I joined the youth wing when I was at university. I have always been interested in politics and the Ulster Unionists seemed like the party for me.
I’ve always considered myself someone who would take more of a back-seat role, but it does matter to me what happens in society. Politics is about people having a fair say.
I chose the UUP because I lean more towards their moderate tendencies. The DUP is a little more extreme compared to the Ulster Unionists, who are more open-minded.
For example, within the party gay marriage is a conscience issue, so it’s up to yourself to decide. But in the DUP, it’s under the whip.
I do hear a lot about the Troubles. Older people tell me that I’m very lucky not to have grown up during this period, and I feel that way, too.
I see footage of the Troubles on TV and pictures in newspapers of what life was like back then — it just seems so surreal.
Now, we can come and go as we please compared to those times when people had to be much more careful about where they would go. My family has been very lucky and not affected by any of the atrocities — we’ve been quite out of the way.
The Good Friday Agreement opened political dialogue and, at the very least, that has been an improvement on how things used to be. I have travelled a bit and find people outside the province still think it’s dangerous here. Although, when they visit and see that everything is okay, they love it.
Niamh Mallon (21) is a student from Portaferry who plays camogie. She says:
I’ve just finished my second year of sports science at Ulster University and I’m about to go on a year’s placement teaching at a school. I might like to teach when I graduate, so the placement will help me make a decision.
I was raised Catholic — Portaferry is almost entirely Catholic. My whole family is steeped in the GAA, so I started playing camogie when I was about six or seven years old — there’s not much else to do here.
I’m aware of the Troubles, as my parents have told me what it was like then. I know what happened and why it happened, but no one in my family was directly affected.
My sports science class is probably split 50/50, but I think more of the girls are Protestant than the boys. The fact there are people from different backgrounds and different cultures doesn’t matter to me at all — in fact, I think it’s probably a good thing to mix with others as much as I do.
I don’t travel as much as I would like to — camogie is a summer sport and I’m usually studying in the winter. I’ve been to America a few times and everyone over there loves the Irish — they don’t care if you’re from the north or south or if you’re Catholic or Protestant.”
Alastair McCracken (21), a student from Lisburn, is a member of the Orange Order. He says:
This summer I graduated in sociology with criminology and while I was doing my degree, I worked as a support worker for adults with learning disabilities. Next, I might apply for a civil service job or go back to university and do a Master’s in social work.
I’m a member of the Orange Order — I have been since I was 16. I can trace my family involvement with the Order back to 1867. I always remember walking in the parade with my dad pretty much since I was able to walk. As I grew up I got a greater understanding of it and was happy to commit to join when I could.
It’s hard to avoid the Troubles in Northern Ireland because they’re in the news every day. I do have an interest in history, though, so I’ve done my own reading on it and I think I have a pretty good understanding.
I know we haven’t achieved peace yet, but I am grateful that society is more peaceful.
I can see some of the divisions are still there, particularly in Belfast where there are lots of peace walls.
I can understand what happened and, to an extent why it happened. I didn’t see the conflict as religious, it struck me as more political between loyalists and republicans.
I mix with people from both sides of the community — I went to Wallace High School and there were three Catholic students in my year.
I think the fact that I know the number of Catholic pupils in my year tells you a lot, though. I got on well with all of them and we still socialise together.
I enjoy living in Northern Ireland and the culture here. I didn’t consider going away to university — I’m a bit of a home bird.
I mix with people from outside the province quite a lot, as I’m a Northern Ireland football supporter and travel to a lot of the away games.
I find that people either have a naive perspective and don’t realise that we have moved on, or they know a lot about us and can name the main tourist attractions.
Mostly, though, they have a negative perception of this country because of the Troubles.
I’m friends with people who don’t share the same views as me, but it’s important that they appreciate and respect my views — as they would like theirs to be respected.
The only kind of people I wouldn’t get on with are those who refuse to accept my point of view to any extent.
And I do get frustrated when I hear republicans use the phrase ‘north of Ireland’ because that just shows no respect for the unionist side.”