Do young people have any role, or even interest in, politics in Northern Ireland? The failure of the Haass-O’Sullivan Talks has highlighted the inability of our politicians to come to some accommodation on flags, parades and dealing with the past. In a society that continues to be divided along religious lines, it would be easy for the post-Troubles generation to grow cynical and withdraw from public life.
I think there’s a real danger that this is happening. But an event this coming Sunday at Queen’s University – ‘Haass Hope’ – is designed to encourage young people, especially young people of faith, to engage with the issues raised by the Haass-O’Sullivan Talks and to let our politicians know their dreams for the future.
“We would like to use the backdrop of the Haass proposals to encourage greater engagement amongst young people with the political process and an examination of how their faith and values should direct their attitudes and actions. The project is designed to give a large cross section of young people the opportunity to share their views, learn from others and connect directly with politicians and church leaders to give a voice to their hopes and aspirations for the future.”
Those listening to this week’s Sunday Sequence had a foretaste of what this event might be like when presenter Mark Patterson hosted a discussion between Claire Bray, Frankie Watson and Ciara McIntyre, all aged between 16-24. It was refreshing and illuminating to hear the voices of this generation on the airwaves.
You can listen to the full discussion here.
Bray and McIntyre both emphasised that growing up in a segregated society had a profound impact on their everyday lives and relationships.
McIntyre simply said: ‘It makes me bigoted.’ Bray added that:
‘Where you’re born has such a deciding factor on what you’re told to believe. … You have to play by the rules of the game.’
Bray, Watson and McIntyre also expressed a desire for the peace walls to come down, longed for a more ‘normal’ life (like Bray had experienced at university outside of Northern Ireland), and seemed cautiously optimistic about the possibilities for creating a new identity and a new flag for Northern Ireland.
At the same time, they seemed frustrated by the political process.
When asked if any politicians inspired him, Watson said that all he observed was ‘arguing and bickering.’ They also were well-aware of other pressing social problems, with McIntyre explaining she had a 13-year-old friend who committed suicide.
All three said that their faith inspired them to get involved, and it’s worth hearing them speak for themselves about how this works.
I come from an area full of suicide. … There’s no hope. … And that makes me want more. [Thinking of a friend who committed suicide] I think that if only that person would have known who God was.
We have to bring that change, speak out. … I want to stay [in Northern Ireland] and continue to try and make a difference … be the change you want to see in the world.
… Jesus didn’t walk up the street and say, ‘oh no, I can’t go there.’ He loved everyone.
We sometimes have to be willing to turn the other cheek. Forgive people, not forget. … My faith in Christ – he forgave me so much. I don’t see why I have the right not to do that for someone else.
Haass Hope has been organised by a network of Christian agencies and organisations. Jasper Rutherford of Summer Madness also spoke on Sunday Sequence, noting the ‘generosity, faith and forgiveness’ that he observed among the three speakers and in his wider work with youth across Northern Ireland.
For more information or to register for the event, visit: http://haasshope.wordpress.com/