I often get asked why, at 22 years of age, I’m so interested in local politics. It’s a common belief that many young voters are not engaged with it, and the few that are engaged are clearly mad – which we are. It wasn’t until the recent elections were called that I could provide an actual answer.
I grew up on the Falls Road – an area deeply rooted in Republicanism and Nationalism and the only interaction I had with kids my own age ‘from the other side’ was during school trips with another primary school from the Shankill.
I remember when we picked them up and being amazed that their side of the fence looked nothing like our side of the fence. Why did they have the English flag on their lamp post? Their curbs were painted a different colour to ours and the pictures on their walls weren’t the same as on our walls. As a young child, the differences stood out and I began to ask a lot of questions as to why without really ever getting proper answers.
At a young age, I remember attending various rallies at City Hall leading up to the signing of the Good Friday Agreement, and then afterwards, when devolution first collapsed. I even remember my parents going to vote for the Good Friday Agreement, as they voted in what was soon to be, my new school.
I believe that, in 1998, the generation of that time wanted peace and stability for my generation – which is now labelled as the ‘post-Troubles generation’ – a label which I believe will continue to be an important one in the future.
At one of the rallies at Belfast City Hall, I remember my aunt telling me that I should go shake a specific older gentleman’s hand. That gentleman turned out to be David Ervine, whose contribution to this country was outstanding. He and my aunt spoke as to why they were here, and how even though they had very different political viewpoints they were united under one common goal – the peace process.
For all of my generation’s lives, all we have known is peace. Those who lived during ‘The Troubles’ often tell us how lucky we are to be able to go into town late at night, or not to be searched going into the City Centre.
It is these small things that I will never take for granted, nor should anyone from my generation. Those who brought peace to this country helped create a future for everyone who lives or has lived here, and we must commend them for that. We should believe in our government and believe in the peace process.
However, the 2017 election campaign brought talk of Direct Rule being implemented in Northern Ireland, which is something myself and thousands of others in this country disagree with for multiple reasons.
People didn’t overwhelmingly vote Yes to the Good Friday Agreement, witness the collapse of Stormont, support the St Andrews Agreement, support the Fresh Start Agreement and support the Stormont House Agreement to have our government taken away from us.
At risk of sounding like a politician (yikes!) Stormont must work – for everyone, and that includes the large number of people from the post-Troubles generation who feel politically isolated.
Many young people want stable government, as a stable government means a stable future. If Direct Rule is brought into Northern Ireland, many young people will not have the stability they crave – myself included.
A lot of the issues and challenges our government have faced over the past 20 years have decidedly been legacy issues; after living in peace all my life, a part of me will always think ‘what if we continued to focus on this in a lesser capacity, and focused more on jobs, economy and health?’ It’s ignorant of me, I know. But I know I am not the only one who wants it.
I became eligible to vote in 2014 and have voted every year since then. The 2017 Assembly Election will be the third time going to the ballot box for the citizens of Northern Ireland in the space of a year.
Since the election last May, the political sphere has been impacted by the reality of major changes in a post-Brexit state, the threat of a global rise in populism, and numerous scandals closer to home.
Despite all of this, however, it is more than likely we will be stuck with the same. Green and Orange issues will always be on the political agenda in Northern Ireland, I just wish they were bit further down the list.
The post-Troubles generation can’t change Northern Ireland’s past, but it can change its future.
Children should not be sent to one particular school due to their religion, nor should we have walls that divide our cities in Catholic and Protestant areas. We should be able to discuss issues of the past in a civilized, humane manner.
I believe the future of this country is in the hands of the post-Troubles generation. The peace process was the ground work – and how we build upon that has proved challenging- but I am hopeful. Northern Ireland deserves hope.
We have to start accepting our differences and working together, instead of using difference as a tool to create further division. Regardless of who the electorate returns as the two biggest parties on Thursday, they need to start listening to the rallying cries of our country’s young people.
In fifty years’ time, we can’t still be talking about a conflict that happened when our parents were young. This is one of the reasons why I, like many others, are interested in local politics. It really is a bit of a cliché to say ‘be the change you want to see’ but why should that stop us from applying that here?
Photo Credit: Brendan Harkin