Belfast Telegraph

Editor's Viewpoint: The real gift will be peaceful future

On the face of it, groups of schoolchildren exchanging presents at this time of year may not seem to be an extraordinary event, but it is a sign of the new climate in Northern Ireland.

The children from the Broadway and Village areas of Belfast - two districts which were often plagued by sectarian violence - came together at the new art feature, the 40ft-high Rise sculpture, midway between the two areas, for the present-sharing.

The event demonstrated how people are working on the ground and with the coming generations of children to change attitudes and cement the peaceful progress being made in the province. In the not-so-distant past these children would never have met, or if they did it would have been with violent intent. The roundabout where the sculpture stands was a no-man's land in earlier days over which the two communities looked balefully at each other.

What peace builders have learned from experience is that true peace is built through tiny steps. Take the example of the opening of a new gateway in the Alexandra Park peace wall in north Belfast. It has been opened for a limited period each day for the past month to allow neighbouring Catholic and Protestant communities equal access to all of the park and the experiment has worked better than anyone anticipated with no untoward incidents recorded. No one is forecasting that all peace walls will be torn down soon, but when communities can learn to meet in trust anything is possible in the long term.

Getting schoolchildren to meet is the first step towards broadening their minds about the society they live in. For too long children have been brought up in parallel, but separate, school systems with little contact. Little wonder the mischief-makers and myth-tellers could poison their impressionable minds. Meeting and exchanging gifts is the first step to exchanging views and engaging in a more involved manner. Perhaps these children, thanks to the efforts of today's peacemakers, will have more open minds than their forebears.

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