A quarter century of hope and peace

My house was full of radios in my childhood. Television did not appear in our house until my mid-teens, apart from one we would borrow for Christmas while its owner was gone away. As such, what was rare was wonderful and the ability to see other worlds was a major part of the fascination of that time.

So too with the radio. I still have the Pye radio set that sat in our kitchen and went on at 7 am daily as we set about getting ready for school and work and the travails of the day ahead. Based on a set of valves, there would be a few minutes when the radio light would go on, and then a pause while the valves warmed up enough to allow the sound of the broadcaster to come through.

In that moment every morning, as the hum rose off the valves, the first sound would be the notes of O’Donnell Abu, Radio Eireann’s identification tune signal for the Irish national station.

As soon as that ended, the first news bulletin of the day would be read. In those precious moments were the etched memories of hearing for the first time, some of the biggest breaking news stories of my lifetime.

I still have a fascination with hearing or discovering the first news of the day, although the instantaneous news cycle and social media mean that events that happened overnight may well have been already brought to my consciousness.

However, while those moments remain fresh in my memory, what also remains is the recollection that on most of the mornings in the 70s and 80s, the main news of the morning was of another atrocity that had happened overnight, not across the world, but just three hours or so up the road from us.

In the moments in which I was consuming fresh news over those years, thousands of families on this island were consumed by life-changing grief. What was just news to us, was reality to them. There are chairs in those homes that still sit empty; there are clothes in wardrobes that have been left unworn. There are lives that were not lived; relationships that were splintered, trauma that was never treated.

This week, we mark a quarter century of the Good Friday Agreement, and while some may say nothing has changed in the mindset of many, that is definitely not the case. The Northern Ireland of the 1970s and 80s is far removed from what it is today. Back then, general life could not operate, and while there is still hatred and division, the dividend of peace has given a breathing space to a population. It has created opportunities for a better life, for more choices, for a semblance of normality.

For all of those who suffered loss and injury and trauma, what they are being asked to forgive is a considerable demand and it is only natural that this process will take a generation or more. Over time, the relationship between the entities on the island will change. This will involve the creation of a lot of compromise, on both sides.

Thankfully, the scope and demand for violence has now diminished; what happens is the rare and not the norm. It has been a momentous quarter century since that agreement was signed. Many of the main architects have passed on; in the interim, we have seen both boom and bust in the country; we have seen how we have all coped with the unprecedented restrictions of a pandemic. Through these, we have shown an ability to compromise, to accept.

We have developed an appreciation and empathy for our fellow citizens that will stand to us in the event of us being asked to make concessions in order to create a strong island with a place in the world. A place where all traditions are respected, where human rights are guaranteed, and where everyone has an equal chance to create the kind of Ireland you would hope sees in the 50th anniversary of this agreement.


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