Paul McCusker is the SDLP Councillor for Oldpark
Twenty years on from the Good Friday Agreement, the ceasefire generation – for the most part – live a peaceful and prosperous life, free from the violence and the heartache of the past.
There is however a forgotten generation; a generation who still feel the weight of living in areas controlled by paramilitaries, whose parents and grandparents lost their lives in the conflict, who live in communities barricaded by “peace” walls, who remain misunderstood and uncatered for socially, economically and emotionally. Despite not being directly caught up in the violent struggle as the generation before them, they nonetheless remain victims of the violence of drugs, impoverished of aspiration and left bereft of political leadership.
Last year, the proposed cuts to youth services by the Education Authority highlighted the lack of understanding of the vital relationship needed between young people and leaders within communities.
This is why the rise of young people gathering at interfaces of late should not come as a shock to anyone when politicians cannot put aside communal rivalries for the betterment of all peoples in society and continue to use unhelpful terminology like ‘gangs’ on Twitter and in print.
We have much to be thankful for to the generation that brokered a legacy of peace. However, the trajectory being set by the current politics of gridlock is not something any champion of young people could back; an outdated alcohol and drugs strategy that is unfit for purpose, a mental health strategy (Protect Life Two) collecting dust in an absent health office awaiting ministerial sign-off whilst young people suffer, cuts to voluntary services, a lack of recovery services for adolescents with addiction, and bulging waiting lists for CAMHS (Children & Adolescents Mental Health Services).
The worrying thing is, without willingness from political leaders to come to agreement, this is unlikely to change. I would implore all political leaders to keep young people from across this city and Northern Ireland at the front their minds as the stalemate rolls on. Young people only have one shot at growing up, they should be given the best chances in life regardless to their class or creed and we cannot nor should we accept anything less.
This is a guest slot to give a platform for new writers either as a one off, or a prelude to becoming part of the regular Slugger team.