Haass Hope: Will Young People take up the Challenge of Politics in Northern Ireland?


On Sunday, about 150 young people gathered in Belfast for an event called ‘Haass Hope,’ designed to give them a platform where they could share their views on flags, parades and dealing with the past.

While the event featured short plenary lectures from Brett Lockhart QC, Dr Duncan Morrow of the University of Ulster, and Lord Robin Eames on those three topics, the main point of the day was for politicians and church leaders to listen to what the young people had to say.

You can listen to the audio here:

It was organised by a network of Christian organisations, including Summer Madness and Evangelical Alliance. Many of the participants came from outside Belfast, some travelling as church youth groups.

The participants had a chance for discussion in two small group sessions, one of which I facilitated. Politicians and church leaders were invited to observe and listen (and to speak if they just couldn’t contain themselves).

My group focused on the need for integrated education, the opportunities for creating ‘safe spaces’ where people could meet and build relationships with each other, and trying to think of ways they could do something at the grassroots rather than waiting for the politicians to take action.

On his Facebook page, Fr Martin Magill of Sacred Heart Parish in North Belfast, who said one of the opening prayers, provided a useful summary of what he had heard:

We want to have somewhere to live that we are proud of
We can win together
The peace walls need to come down
Compassion is needed
Taking offence is a national sport
The future can have room for parades
Violence is wrong
Some wanted an independent Northern Ireland
Some wanted a new flag for Northern Ireland
There needs to be a chance for people to meet and speak
There needs to be a way of telling the story of the past
We need to move beyond the past
We can look to things that unite us more than divide us

The young people were from all arts and parts. They were from Catholic and Protestant communities. They were brave and a generation of future leaders. I’d vote for them!

After the group sessions there was a further plenary where participants, politicians, and church leaders were invited to feed back what they had heard in the small group discussions. For the politicians and church leaders this took the form of a (surprisingly entertaining, I must say) ‘Mock the Week.’

The politicians and church leaders were overwhelmingly enthusiastic about what they had heard over the course of the afternoon, though I must admit I had picked up some fatalism and pessimism amongst those in my group. Having said that, fatalism/pessimism can be no bad thing if it aids realistic assessment of our challenges. It becomes problematic if it paralyzes people and prevents them from taking action.

The closing plenary also featured an intriguing use of live mobile phone ‘polling’ on key issues, with questions such as: ‘In regards to flags, what is the best way forward?’ (A new flag or two flags were the most popular preferences.)

Church of Ireland Bishop Harold Miller closed with a short sermon based on the biblical story of Caleb and Joshua and the spies who were sent into the Promised Land. Reflecting on how Caleb and Joshua were the only ones who did not see the task ahead of them as too difficult, he called on people to commit to tackling the challenges we face socially and politically. Miller also warned that Caleb and Joshua (the ones who had wanted to tackle the challenges) had been dismissed by the majority. This had led to everyone wandering fruitlessly around in circles for a generation.

There was a lively buzz at the event and an expectation, or at least a hope, that it would encourage young people to become more engaged in politics or social activism. Admittedly, such an event is self-selecting – more likely to attract young people who are already engaged socially and politically – but it was encouraging to hear young people say it helped them to think about flags, parades, the past and other issues in new ways.

For any participants lacking ideas about how take up the challenge of engaging in politics in Northern Ireland, the organisers had distributed ‘challenge’ cards with ideas – some reminiscent of Fr Magill’s ‘Small Steps Towards Reconciliation,’ published last year in the Irish News:

  • Ask your minister or priest to preach and teach on how your faith should engage with politics today.
  • With a few friends organise a hustings in your school or University or Town Hall.
  • Visit a church service or a church event from across the divide.
  • Read a newspaper every day for a week that is associated with the ‘other community.’
  • Write a letter of encouragement to an MLA of your choice.
  • Pray for a politician who you would never vote for until Easter. Let them know you are praying for them.
  • Pray for a church leader or a priest from the ‘other side’ and let them know you are praying for them.
  • Register and vote if you are eligible to vote in May.
  • Read ‘For God and His Glory Alone’ and ask God to give you a ‘challenge’
  • Ask your local MLA why and how he or she went into politics
  • Visit Stormont and discover more about how it ‘works’

Photos by Brian O’Neill see more photos from the event here…

  • notimetoshine

    Considering that one of the best ways to ensure a less segregated future for young people is to integrate education, and considering that the Catholic Church is one of the biggest opponents of integrated education, the ethos of Father Magill’s small steps to reconciliation is glaring in it’s omission of integrated education.

    Also maybe the best way of getting young people to engage is to change the focus of local politics from flags, parading, the past etc to something that can make their lives better.

    Getting them to think about orange and green issues is just conditioning another generation to get so wrapped up in the orange and green that real issues are ignored, once again.

  • http://fitzjameshorselooksattheworld.wordpress.com/ fitzjameshorse1745

    Gladys ….I always worry about people talking about “young people” like they were some kinda great hope for a wonderful
    The last thing we need is some kinda neutered piety.
    Notably the organisers dont seem that youthful. Its a form of indoctrination.
    Im reminded of the fact that in the 1960s I was indeed a youth myself.
    We actually believed (courtesy of Blue Mink….check it out on You Tube) that all we needed was a great big melting pot, big enough to take the world and all its got….put in white and black….and turn out “coffee coloured people by the score”
    Sorry Gladys….but we actually did believe we could stand on a mountain with a bottle of coca cola and teach the world to sing in perfect harmony. I still have the record somewhere.
    Beneath this letsgetalongeristphobic exterior beats the heart of an idealist who wanted to go to san Francisco and have peaceful easy feelings on my way to THAT corner in Winslow, Arizona and get picked up by a girl in a flat bed Ford.

    So I am NOT going to knock young people for being idealistic.
    But I might raise an eyebrow at older people….who are helping them be idealistic on a very specific political way.
    Theres no reason why a young person cant aspire to better our society by pursuing politics in any party from Sinn Fein to TUV.
    They must not be channelled into supporting a particular philosophy and certainly not any political party.
    And being encouraged by the “right kind” of religious leaders (sanctioned by the Middle Ground.
    Much as I admire Fr Martin ..the wish list that young people draws up does not trump any election result…even the ones I dont like.
    Much as I admire Dr Eames….what young people want does not trump the fact that Eames-Bradley has been consigned to the waste paper bin.
    Much as I admire Duncan….he is actually a candidate in an election here in two months time.

    Yes Gladys…back to the Future. For some of us will always be 15 years old in the Summer of Love of 1967.
    What could possibly go wrong?
    Well 1967 turned into 1969.
    Post Conflict Norn Iron was actually Pre-Conflict Norn Iron.
    The sad thing is thats how we all felt…Vietnam, Czech Spring, All You Need Is Love.
    And the crazy thing is that some of the young folks were killed.
    And at least one of my 1967 peaceful friends turned out to be a killer.

    Strange Footnote….The Troubles in Norn Iron started the same weekend as Woodstock in USA.

  • notimetoshine


    “Theres no reason why a young person cant aspire to better our society by pursuing politics in any party from Sinn Fein to TUV.”

    But that is the fundamental problem our political parties and political establishment are impediment to a better society in terms of economics, society and good governance.

  • http://fitzjameshorselooksattheworld.wordpress.com/ fitzjameshorse1745

    There is some kinda bizarre notion doing the academic rounds and the Twittersphere that there are “progressive” elements in all parties that should be encouraged.
    In December, I heard an academic talk about “progressive elements” in loyalist extremism.
    In August at a Church, where I believe Fr Martin was a priest, I heard an academic talk about “progressive elements” in ex-paramilitaries and “maverick” priests and clergymen/women and denounce traditionalists in the established churches.
    Gladys was at both events and will comment if Ive got that wrong.
    In November I heard academics talk about Peace Journalism
    A few years ago they were given a bloody nose by the Arts Community for atempting to direct their work.

    This is of course absurd. Academics cherry-picking “people like us” from all parties and promoting each other in Blogs and Tweets.
    I dont suppose I will get another invite….but thats how I see it.

  • ayeYerMa

    Agree with FJH. No one below 35 should be involved in politics (and I say that as someone below that age) . Many people below such an age are extremely naive, don’t have a decent understanding of science, human nature, history or manipulation techniques (especially those manipulation techniques, appeals to emotion and group-think that are favoured by Leftist politicians claiming to be “progressive”). Most people have had 20-30 years of having their egos stroked by the likes of the BBC telling them that if they repeat Leftist dogma and insult others who don’t follow that dogma that they will be able to act like a smug and wonderful person (and it doesn’t matter if those they insult are merely stating the truth or facts or nuanced common sense – nuance is never important if the people they are insulting are not part of the leftist Cultural Marxist cult).

    Go out instead and get some real experience in understanding the natural world and human biology, engineering, business etc. Then come back and bring your knowledge of reality to aid you in debunking political mind-games with facts. If you ever find yourself uttering the phrase “orange and green” then you clearly aren’t suited bringing genuine progress to Northern Ireland, and instead are merely playing your part in the emotional mind-games of those who are keeping us back the most.

    This also applies to the likes of the DUP. Two DUP council candidates in my local area are in their mid-twenties or younger. These people will likely just act as drones following the party line rather than doing anything for their constituents. We need a massive cull in the number of political representatives so that we can keep out such drones and let the more experienced and knowledgeable cream rise to the top.

  • Turgon


    Do you have a link for that episode where the arts community rejected direction. I remember the incident (in the Ulster Museum from memory) but cannot find stuff on it on the internet.

  • Turgon

    Small point but Dr. Duncan Morrow is not as far as I can see a professor. He is listed on the UU website as as Director of Community Engagement and also a lecturer in Politics.

  • http://fitzjameshorselooksattheworld.wordpress.com/ fitzjameshorse1745

    ….and Alliance candidate for Botanic DEA in the May Elections.

  • http://fitzjameshorselooksattheworld.wordpress.com/ fitzjameshorse1745

    I cant do links on this ipad.
    I wrote a report on it and it was published here on Slugger on 1st April 2011.
    Re-reading it, a few minutes ago….I am struck by how many attempts (all failed) there have been by Conflict Resolutionists to get every part of Society on board.

  • notimetoshine


    Are you a guest writer for the daily mail? certainly sounds like it.

    With no one of any real consequence spouting Marxist economic dogma of course ‘cultural marxism’ becomes the new in phrase. Funnily enough no one can ever really define it, it just becomes a catch all phrase to criticise those whose opinions on many social issues differ from what was the perceived ‘norm’. That many of those who believe in these ‘progressive’ ideas have a broadly left wing outlook just allows daily mail readers (and similar persons of that ilk) to find a comfortable new pseudo intellectual niche to reside in.

    “Many people below such an age are extremely naive, don’t have a decent understanding of science, human nature, history or manipulation techniques (especially those manipulation techniques, appeals to emotion and group-think that are favoured by Leftist politicians claiming to be “progressive”).”

    Utter nonsense. Of course many young people are idealistic, but such sweeping generalisations are unhelpful and just wrong. As to young people not having a decent understanding of science, human nature etc, surely those between 18-35 are at the apex of their educational lives and therefore surely are capable of nuanced thought. As for manipulation techniques ‘employed’ by the ‘left’ ( a nebulous term if ever I heard one), can you give examples of such techniques? Are they the sole preserve of the ‘left’? In terms of appealing to emotional ideas, isn’t much right wing thinking an emotional appeal to the ideas and theories of ‘the good old days’ and 19th century nationalism?

    “Go out instead and get some real experience in understanding the natural world and human biology, engineering, business etc. Then come back and bring your knowledge of reality to aid you in debunking political mind-games with facts”

    Tell me if you are in your 20s and working in business, biology, engineering, have an interest in the natural world etc, is that experience not valid because you are having that experience in your younger years? Political mind games is a wonderfully vague phrase, and having factual knowledge of the world around us doesn’t make us immune from politicking.

    Certainly I don’t agree with career politicians, they have a habit of being linked through family and friends to their party and are in essence practising a subtle form of nepotism. But that doesn’t mean that someone under 35 can’t have already had significant life experience and education. I myself am involved in politics at 25 and I have experienced much, have worked in variety of jobs, gotten a good education and live in my local community.

    “If you ever find yourself uttering the phrase “orange and green” then you clearly aren’t suited bringing genuine progress to Northern Ireland, and instead are merely playing your part in the emotional mind-games of those who are keeping us back the most.”

    As for this, the phrase ‘orange and green’ is simply one of convenience to describe the state of local politics. I could have easily used unionist/nationalist, or describe our politics as parochial bigotry but I feel orange and green is as good a term semantically as I have come across.

    But please enlighten me, who are those whose emotional mind games someone who uses that phrase are aiding? Maybe the people who find the SDLP/SF/DUP/UUP/TUV repugnant, and impeding our development, and want to move on for the sake of our local economy, education, health etc

    The nature of our local politics where real issues take a back seat to the usuns and themmuns nonsense we are subjected to everyday.

  • http://fitzjameshorselooksattheworld.wordpress.com/ fitzjameshorse1745

    I think the point might be that many of us dont feel happy labelling political parties such as TUV-DUP-SDLP-UUP-SF as “repugnant” .
    I will happily disagree with them but rarely think of them as my moral inferior.
    Nor will I accept that a Party excluded by “No Time To Shine” (Alliance) is my moral superior.
    But what the post does seem to highlight …much more than I have ever sought to do….is the relationship between the Conflict Resolution Industry….lobbyists, think tanks, academics, journalists, bloggers and the promotion of the Alliance Party.

  • notimetoshine

    Well I am no fan of alliance but they do seem to attempt to avoid tribal politics which is why I did exclude them.

    Having said that I completely agree with you regarding the conflict resolution industry, for me mainly because it seems to attempt to ignore/justify/or soften alot of what was done during the troubles in terms of not just violence but the things that that were said.

    I also think Alliance would have held more cache with moderates and non voters if they had refused to enter government.

    Though the reason that I find the TUV/DUP/SF/UUP/SDLP morally repugnant is that they are not governing nor are they making real efforts to make NI a better place. Their record in the assembly is poor and they rely on (and I believe encourage) the various issues that divide nationalist/unionist communities to ensure their electoral success, scaremongering in reality.

    You may not feel that the governing parties are immoral in failing to provide real progress and change (morals being very subjective after all) but look where we are, no opposition, a poor legislative record, incompetent management of public services, no clear economic policy or initiative and continued obsessive argument over ‘cultural issues’. To me the parties have been given a mandate to do their jobs and they haven’t done so. They have misled people and lied to the public. That to me is immoral.

  • Turgon

    Thanks found it: will be useful for reference. I noted you last comment: “I am struck by how many attempts (all failed) there have been by Conflict Resolutionists to get every part of Society on board.” They seem now to be trying to infiltrate various groupings in a more subtle fashion.

    The event Gladys mentions above is interesting. The danger is that some may try to suggest that ecumenism and minimising differences is somehow fundamentally more Christian. That is one school of thought and deserves to be recognised. However, there is also a school of Christian teaching which rejects that and values doctrinal truth (along with being good to one’s neighbours) above false ecumenism. There is also the (largely but not solely Brethren) analysis that Christians should have no involvement in politics (David Crookes would be the man to comment on it and not all Brethren support that position).

    Many Protestants (I cannot speak for Catholics) would reject Fr. Magill’s steps not because they are by a Catholic priest but because of their ecumenical and political nature. For example some refuse to attend worship with Catholics for reasons of doctrinal difference and fundamental opposition to the mass. Others might suggest that a minister should not be preaching about politics. Reading books by religious authors is less important to many than reading the Bible. To some voting is actually wrong even sinful.

    As such the idea that there is one correct Christian response to NI politics is highly flawed. I have concerns that judging by those on the guest list this variety in Christian analyses might not be made clear. Also of course the anti religious analysis also probably deserves an airing even in a Christian gathering if one is discussing politics.

    Finally I find the title of this piece a little odd: I have no doubt some young people will get involved in politics. That is, however, not what this conference seems to have been about. Rather it seems to have wanted to promote young people getting involved in a specifically letsgetalongerist politics. What support would there have been for a young person who said s/he wanted to get on in the DUP or TUV or SDLP or Sinn Fein. Or if a young person had expressed support for Jamie Bryson who though I have little time for him has a political position and is apparently a Christian.

    As I suggested at the start it is vital to remember that God is the God of people of many political positions: there is not one more Christian position.

    It is worth quoting a piece out of the Bible from the Old Testament suggesting that God is not simplisticly on any one side: Joshua 5: 13-14

    13 And it came to pass, when Joshua was by Jericho, that he lifted up his eyes and looked, and, behold, there stood a man over against him with his sword drawn in his hand: and Joshua went unto him, and said unto him, Art thou for us, or for our adversaries? 14 And he said, Nay; but as captain of the host of the Lord am I now come. And Joshua fell on his face to the earth, and did worship, and said unto him, What saith my lord unto his servant?

    Even then God was the God of all the earth and was not solely the God of the Isrealites. It is important now that God is not the God of unionists only, nor nationalists only, nor letsgetalongerists only. Nor is one political position more akin to His will.

  • Am Ghobsmacht


    “Go out instead and get some real experience in understanding the natural world and human biology, engineering, business etc”

    Funnily enough, I’ve done this (to an extent) and on at least one occasion you’ve used it as a point to attack me with insinuating that I’m too lefty and idealistic (or such like) BECAUSE I’ve went out into the world (engineering world at that) and now see things differently.


  • http://fitzjameshorselooksattheworld.wordpress.com/ fitzjameshorse1745

    Im not opposed to Ecumenism. Indeed I will be at an event at Easter.
    I am against Faux Ecumenism.
    I am not even against LetsGetAlongerism.
    I am against Faux LetsGetAlongerism..

    both Christianity and getting along with people whose ideas differ from my own are very important to me.
    What i totally oppose is the manipulation of that kind of feeling for crude political purposes and the notion that any political philosophy is morally superior to another.
    Im not particuarly bothered by people who are out in the open about theiir role….but without going in to conspiracy theory territory, what often intrigues me is the not so well known people who are always on the fringe but not quite central to the thinking.
    The Lobbyists. The Think Tankers. The “Schools”. The Fixers.
    The Trust Funds.
    The Research Funds.
    The Quangos.
    You know much more about our dearly loved message board than I do….But it strikes me that in championing Transparency, there are some areas where no light is shone.
    There is no real scrutiny of the LetsGetAlongerism….
    You and I (and I trust you will forgive me saying this) are regarded as Orange and Green Cranks,
    Our mutual skepticism regarded as evidence that the Conflict Resolutionists have got it right.

    By the way after four years of plugging away here on Slugger, “LetsGetAlongerism” made its first appearance in print in Manleys article on Anna Lo.
    This…according to some wizardry that Alan in Belfast uses.

    I certainly have enormous respect for Fr Martin.
    Indeed sympathy.
    But you will understand if i dont go any further.

  • DoppiaVu

    From Fitzjameshorse at 6.09pm on the 26th:

    “Notably the organisers dont seem that youthful. Its a form of indoctrination.”

    Followed by:

    “Theres no reason why a young person cant aspire to better..”

    Who’s being indoctrinated now?

    Ha Ha

  • http://www.gladysganiel.com/ Gladys Ganiel

    Turgon, title fixed …

  • ayeYerMa

    notimetoshine, “Cultural Marxists” is the correct term for those professing to be “Progressive Liberals”. I am now refusing to call them such (as should others) as there is absolutely nothing liberal about most calling themselves such; and the only thing they seem to progress towards is the destruction of all values and heritage that the local civilization has acquired over millennia of experience to aid its survival, frequently with many in denial of actual scientific or cultural understanding. They do not actively advocate economic Marxism in the same sense as old (though the result accumulated over time is usually just that), but are completely and utterly obsessed with the irrational cult of advocating boundless multi-cultural “equality” in every other sense, and often advocate for it no matter what scientific fact says nor what matters for the best survival of local civilization as a whole. I also place Sinn Fein in that category in addition to holding traditional hard-left Marxist views, though many in Sinn Fein understand subversion theory ( http://youtu.be/SZnkULuWFDg ) better as being the real long-term aim, while in contrast there is a greater proportion of mere “useful idiots” in “Liberal Progressive” hippy groupings who have little principles other than “compromise” with those trying to subvert, hence causing a creeping insidious slow-and-steady subversion.

    With regard to the manipulation by these and other leftists as I see them in the wider UK (i.e. collectivists including both national and international socialists; I regard anarchists to be on the true “far right”) there is a greater tendency than others to manipulate language (“far right” being a good example), use identity politics to pit groups against each other in order to offer themselves as the solution, as well as a far greater tendency to use words designed to shut-down and silence all criticism, along with a tendency to make argument based on self-congratulatory emotion to stir-up group-think smugly implying how much better their in-group is than the rest.

    It isn’t a mere “sweeping generalisation” that young people know less. It’s a fact that a thinking person will learn new things and gain more nuanced perspectives on life as every day passes. Sure, not all people may engage in the same degree of critical thinking, but even the less critical people should pick up more wisdom with time. As for education, it is mainly theory to prepare young people to cope with the world, rather than having first-hand experience in it.

  • ayeYerMa

    Ghobshmact, you get criticism from me not because you were exploring the world (I, myself, spent 7 years working abroad), but rather because you haven’t returned home and assume that wherever you are is somehow superior, and the people are somehow superior, because they haven’t faced the same unique circumstances as people here have. The circumstances and context of any situation are extremely important (and as such I regard the new shut-down-the-conversation insult of “whataboutery”, usually used to defend terrorism, to be null and void as defending liberty requires an understanding the context of threat).

  • notimetoshine


    “values and heritage that the local civilization has acquired over millennia of experience to aid its survival, frequently with many in denial of actual scientific or cultural understanding.”

    What are these values? What is this heritage?

    Because much of the ideas, theories and beliefs held by past generations have been in denial of scientific or cultural understanding.

    Obviously those who believe in such values couldn’t be considered as progressive because there will be no progression.

    The history of humanity is about movement forward, leaving behind the older ideas to a new way of thinking and living.

    Before, some races/ethnicities were considered ‘inferior’ at one stage the earth was the centre of the universe. Those people and organisations who opposed those ideas were often the bastions of ‘traditional values and heritage’.

    Even though the God of conservative politics Edmund Burke advocated gradual change, you seem to insinuate that no change from ancient tradition and practice is necessary. But thing that worked five hundred years ago do not necessarily work today.

    The daily mail assumption that ‘old good, new bad’ is just ridiculous. Going on that logic why have science, why have philosophy, why have art or music?

    I personally don’t see multiculturalism as being very efficient, but the criticism of those who would try to understand other cultures and appreciate their difference tends to use that catch all term multiculturalism. You speak of a lack of nuance, when in fact the opposition to different cultures tends to come from a completely nuance free and subjective study of cultural difference.

    Also what is wrong with equality? Or do you feel that certain people should hold a higher standing in society?

    With regards to your comments around the proper use of the ‘right’ I see where you are coming from with libertarian to anarchist views being the true far right, but realistically semantics do not stay still. A word can develop new meaning. Libertarian is the new ‘in’ phrase.

    Even though the God of conservative politics Edmund Burke advocated gradual change, you seem to insinuate that no change from ancient tradition and practice is necessary. But thing that worked five hundred years ago do not necessarily work today.

  • Am Ghobsmacht


    1/ I did return home.

    And buggered off again.

    I’m sure I relayed to you that my last ‘stint’ in NI was in 2011.

    Plenty of time for ‘context’ to sink in.

    And never once did I go “Wait a minute! NOW I see it, what we need is more parades, more flags and no code of conduct at parades whatsoever! What was I thinking before, ‘let’s make NI a place for everyone’? Such nonsense! It should obviously only be for the devotees of the state and as such any measures to make Catholics feel equal in NI should be rescinded, the Ulster flag reintroduced and GSTQ should be played at football matches and 11th night bonfires should not be regulated…”

    2/ Never once have I assumed the people or places of wherever I have been to be superior.

    That is an assumption on your part.

    An incorrect one at that.

    I don’t even know how one goes about ‘being superior’.

    Yes, being abroad has changed my views of NI politics considerably but I’m not alone in this regard, now and again a poster will come on to slugger and attest similarly.

  • IrelandNorth

    Whilst younger generations are invariably more objective that those of us older subjective selves who have had sufficient time to unconsciously accumulate unintentional prejudices, it would surely be a mistake to believe that the Haass/O Sullivan initiatives can be shelved for another generation. Sadly, procrastination and prevarication are something we seem to have elevated to an obscure art form here in Ireland with deadly results. If this decade of cententaries is not an opportune moment for reconfiguring relationships on this island and the neighbouring one, when is? Haass is like Apollo 13 – failure is not an option.