Belfast Telegraph

New generation can move on from past

Editor's viewpoint

Can we really blame people who live outside Northern Ireland for being baffled by our ancient enmities? At best they define our divisions as Catholic against Protestant or Irish against British, but in reality they just don't understand how that could lead to deadly conflict or continuing mutual suspicions.

While religion and identity are part of the potent, perplexing political melting pot of Northern Ireland, there is no simple black and white definition of who we are and what we believe or why.

Today, we publish an article by a man who grew up in nationalist Ardoyne but who later spent two decades in England and has now moved back to Belfast again.

In the accepted narrative of life here, he should hold steadfastly to the Irish identity of his youth, hate the British and those who give their loyalty to the union, and want to be united with kindred spirits in the Republic.

Yet none of that applies. To the undoubted surprise of many nationalists and unionists, he feels more at home in England than he ever could in the Republic, where indeed he always felt he was an unwanted outsider.

In one telling comment he says that if he had been born at the other end of the street where he grew up, he would be defined as British rather than Irish.

So is nationality and identity just an accident of birth? We could also add in religion.

Are we bound by those accidental chains of birth or can we change as we develop and as we peer over both the physical peace walls and the mental ones?

Is there hope that a generation born after the horrors of the conflict are starting to unpick those barriers and do not feel constrained in where they go or who their friends are?

As we gear up for another election with all the signs pointing towards more division and sectarian urgings - no matter how disguised - should we not be looking instead at what we have in common, rather than what others tell us divides us?

We are a much more complex people than our voting patterns would suggest.

Are we really that most nebulous of nationalities - Northern Irish - and shouldn't our priority be to make the most of the place where we live, to our mutual benefit.

The issues raised by the author move the political debate forward, away from the 'them' and 'us' of party politics to an exploration of who we are and what we really want.

Belfast Telegraph

Popular

From Belfast Telegraph