A Peace of Us: Exploring the Impact of the Good Friday Agreement 25 Years On

Megan Fearon is the Policy and Public Affairs Manager for the Open University 

As we approached the 25th anniversary of the Good Friday Agreement, The Open University in Ireland embarked on a unique project called “A Peace of Us”. The four-part podcast series goes beyond the political institutions and delves into the broader themes of post-conflict societies. With voices from various sectors including arts, music, sports, and activism, “A Peace of Us” aims to give us a holistic understanding of the impact of the Good Friday Agreement on the place we call home.

One of the key aspects of the project is the exploration of how the arts and music have played a significant role in shaping the post-conflict society. Leesa Harker, a renowned playwright, and Charlotte Dryden, Chief Executive of the Oh Yeah Music Centre and music producer, shared their perspectives on how the arts and music have contributed to healing and reconciliation. Most importantly, they discussed how leaving room for a bit of craic in life is key to transcending the labels and stereotypes that we’re obsessed with here. Leesa, creator of Maggie Muff, emphasized the power of comedy in storytelling and how it can be a vehicle for people to process their emotions and experiences. Isn’t this why we are all Derry Girls fanatics?

Charlotte talked about subcultural movements from punk in the 70’s to the rave scene in the late 80s and 90’s and how they created non-sectarian spaces and communities based on a love of music and freedom of expression. She also touched on how pivotal diversity is in the music industry. The London music scene in the eighties was thriving with the emergence of soul, this thanks to the Windrush generation. We are beginning to see these changes here, slowly but surely, local hip-hop artist Jordan Adetunji is the perfect example of that.

Sports also emerged as a vital element in personal and community development in a post-conflict society. Gaelic football legend, Peter Canavan, or “Peter the Great,” shared his insights on growing up playing football at a time when it wasn’t always safe to do so and how things have changed so much for his kids and the “lads and lassies” at Errigal Ciaran. Canavan was open in discussing his sincere desire to see kids be given the opportunities to play other sports and the role he feels the GAA have in building bridges. Listening to him describing “aul wans” in Tyrone hold the Sam Maguire in 2003 and with tears in their eyes say “I can die happy now” was quite simply, a beautiful thing to witness. In studio that day, I was even more proud than usual to be a GAA fan, even if he is from Tyrone.

Caragh Hamilton, NI and Glentoran footballer, shed light on the advances made for women in sports and the work that still needs to be done. She told the story of how, not so long ago, the entire women’s team was defunded and cut. From seeing this happen as a young footballer to walking out to a packed Windsor Stadium and sharing the screen with Gabby Logan, is an extraordinary story. Caragh’s experience underscores the importance of funding women and girls in sports and the need to continue efforts towards achieving true gender equality.

But listen, it’s not all roses. 25 years on from the Good Friday Agreement, too many people in our society are still waiting for the ‘peace dividend’ to materialise. Celebrating this anniversary with integrity cannot solely consist of fanfare for the great and the good. Neither can the only criticism be that the institutions are down. We need to delve deeper into issues such as poverty, educational underachievement, violent crime, drug addiction, and the undelivered rights promised in the Good Friday Agreement. Responsibility for this falls on the shoulders of both governments and, yes, on Stormont. On the podcast, journalist Aoife Moore said, “the North is the most dangerous place in western Europe to be a woman.” A sobering reality because it is, in fact, reality. Levels of violence against women are at epidemic proportions and we are a relatively young post-conflict society. The two go hand in hand. The failure to recognise this as a legacy issue at any negotiating table through the years has let women down.

Episode three of the podcast “Where is the peace dividend?” was my favourite to both produce and listen to. Dawn Purvis and Aoife Moore, two women from very different backgrounds have had remarkably similar experiences in life, they shone a light on the reality of life post-GFA and the devasting impacts of poverty.

Digging deeper yet again, “A Peace of Us” includes a series of guest essays that touch on a wide range of topics, including Mo Mowlam’s legacy, Irish language rights, the economy, climate change, Irish America’s influence on our politics, and LGBTQIA+ rights, among others.

Through engaging conversations, powerful stories, and diverse perspectives, “A Peace of Us” looks at the wider significance and impact of the Good Friday Agreement in our society and examines the challenges and opportunities that lie ahead for all of us.

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