Children of the Ceasefire / 2

This is one of three winning articles for the Future Ireland series. The articles were submitted together – by three friends who met at college – a northern Catholic, a east Belfast Protestant, and a Dublin man. We liked the nuanced content of the pieces, the sense of identities in flux, and the fact that each tried to understand the perspectives of the others. Also how being children of the ceasefires weaves throughout their pieces.

By Seanín Little

Growing up in North of Ireland, I have always had conflicting thoughts over my identity.

One part of me romanticises the imagery of Kathleen Ni Houlihan calling for brave soldiers to save Ireland from the colonial struggle and free their land; re-reading Irish rebellion poetry, which beautifully portrays all that it means to be Irish and ‘free’.

Yet, another part of me wishes to break free from the constraints of identity. It wishes to embrace many different identities, unable to be distinguished into a category that determines who I am and what I am meant to be.

This part of me wishes for a peaceful society, where differences are set aside because identity is no longer is a one-sided barricade. This part of me wishes to venture into other cultures. I am Irish, I am Northern Irish, I am European, I am a global citizen.

Brexit has intensified conversations about identity in Northern Ireland. It has highlighted the complexity of unionists’ sense of Britishness, as differences with ‘Englishness’ are amplified. It has also seen ethnic forms of Irish nationalism gaining traction, alongside more dominant civic forms of nationalism, as the prospect of border poll begins to offer Irish nationalists and republicans hope.

In many ways, Brexit has dismantled the progress made in the respect of difference in expression of these two forms of nationalism, again influencing a divide as individuals align to a prominent identity as their safety net.   

During this problematic period of time, the government of Northern Ireland have failed society. All aspects of social, political, economic and cultural life in Northern Ireland are no longer thriving, causing further tension in the society.

At a time of economic crisis for Northern Ireland, our politicians have not been able to set aside their differences, to ensure at least that no more economic harm will be inflicted. This raises serious questions about the future of the Good Friday Agreement, as it becomes clear that it may no longer be fit for purpose. To meet the demands of modernity, institutional reform is highly likely.

It has been twenty years since the peace agreement. I am a child of the ceasefire.

Today, I worry that a future Ireland will replicate the stories of the past.

I worry that any sort of border will increase the possibility of violence. 

I worry about the way a successful border poll will affect my unionist companions. What way would those who identify themselves as British be represented in a united Ireland?

I worry about the response of the Republic having to take on ‘our’ troubles.

I feel for those who migrate into this society and how their rights will be represented.

However, sometimes I am selfish as I find my nationalist identity over-rides these fears as I hope that the island can someday be united.

I do not know what a future Ireland will become. 

But what I do know, is that any future Ireland will need to be inclusive of all identities. It will need to respect those who identify themselves as British, those who identify themselves as Irish and those who have multiple identities.

It needs to give agency to the voices of those who represent the future; no longer wanting to focus on issues of the past that have been left for us to ‘sort out’. Our voices wish to focus on issues that expand our identities and give agency to others; such as women’s rights, LGBTQ rights and migrant rights.

A future Ireland needs to meet the demands of modernity.