Belfast Telegraph

Thursday 18 December 2014

Look to young for our future

Has progress stopped, or even reversed, in Northern Ireland? Some things are clearly better. But violent protests and lack of agreement over Haass have been frustrating.

Also needed are new voices of a younger generation. At the recent British-Irish Association conference in Cambridge, a group of young people from Northern Ireland spoke about their vision.

The earlier part of the session dealt with flags, parades and the past. However, the young people spoke of making Belfast "the digital capital of Europe", of "creating new jobs" and of "working with others to do something special". New voices making a real impact.

It was great to see Peter Robinson speaking at the GAA dinner and Mairtin O Muilleoir on Remembrance Day. Stepping beyond comfort zones; showing real leadership.

At the BIA conference, Tanaiste Eamon Gilmore said he could understand why unionists might have felt that the Irish government could have done more around border violence during the Troubles. A strong statement showing willingness to offer; not just demand.

Irrespective of one's ultimate aspiration, it is in everyone's interests that Northern Ireland creates opportunities for its young. Paradoxically, by not pursuing this objective, both sides are damaging their ultimate objectives.

It seems the Republic would only consider unification if Northern Ireland had achieved genuine partnership. In that light, recent Sinn Fein actions – Castlederg, the playground-naming, calls for a border poll – are confusing.

Unionist reaction was predictably negative. For unionism, there are no equal consequences to provocative actions. The Union stands secure. However, loyalist attacks on police around parades and flags does little for unionism.

Building on the mood at the BIA in Cambridge and an Ireland Funds chapter in Belfast, a collective of organisations is exploring whether younger voices can be brought together in some form of civic group.

New voices – and sustained leadership – are needed to make the future we want happen.

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