It is now over twenty years since the guns fell silent in Northern Ireland and almost eighteen years since the Good Friday Agreement. But what do the post ceasefire Millennium babes think about life in a society that seems unable to escape the legacy of its violent past? VFP activist Dr James Wilson got a unique chance to find out when he was invited to be an active listener at an innovative forum hosted by the 4 Corners Festival which brought together 90 sixth form students from all 25 of Belfast’s second level educational establishments.
In addition to actively listening to the students discuss relevant topics including; social inequality, academic selection, immigration, lack of jobs, and the dysfunctional devolved government, the organisers very kindly allowed James to conduct a VFP attitude survey with a random 18% of the attendees that explored areas such as our militaristic culture and popular memorialisation of wars and conflict that are so prevalent in the centenary year of both the Easter Rising and battle of the Somme.
The results of such isolated opinion polls need to be treated with caution and tested by more serious dedicated study, but would suggest that – in general the youth of Northern Ireland – are subject to a cultural conditioning through memorialisation and glorification that makes them respond positively to the dog whistles of recruiters into the Armed Forces or paramilitary groups. This might go some way to explaining why Northern Ireland- an area of 3% of the UK population- provides a staggering 20% of the entire British Armed Forces .
The Belfast Branch of Veterans For Peace are in current discussion with a number of schools, universities and colleges with the objective of opening up the debate on how we decommission the mindsets and create an awareness of the dangers of glorifying militarism in our civic and popular culture.
Watch this space.
Any member who would like to be involved in future outreach initiatives please contact the Belfast coordinator email@example.com
PIRA declared their ceasefire on 19 July 1997. Living in Northern Ireland at the time it felt like a burden had been lifted from our lives and the subsequent Good Friday Agreement showed the way forward for a lasting peace, albeit shattered for a time by the tragedy of the 1998 Omagh bombing. It took a few more years for Sinn Fein and the DUP to effectively secure a non-violent future when Paisley and McGinness finally went into government together. That was when I felt the war was finally over and we would never return to those horrible dark days.
Unfortunately it took some individual PIRA members a while to realise the futility of violence – there were a number of killings, paramilitary shootings/assaults and armed robberies post ceasefire. But 1997 effectively ended the war by PIRA, although it would not be until 28 July 2005 until they announced the official ending of their ‘armed struggle’ and 26 September 2005 when the inspectors confirmed the decommissioning of PIRA’s weapons.
What the Peace Process showed us is that at some stage to end war we need to talk. We need to lay down arms and talk to bring about peace.