For my parents, 1998 was a great year. The Good Friday Agreement was signed and I was born, making me a “peace baby”. Peace babies, like me, were born in Northern Ireland in the same year that the peace deal was signed, and it was hoped that we would not see the same violence and division that our parents and grandparents saw.
For my parents, who were born at the latter end of the 1960s, navigating security alerts and checkpoints were part and parcel of growing up. My formative years could not have been any different. I grew up in peace. While the legacy of the Troubles still ripples through society, the Northern Irish peace process is a success story, and the achievements of the peacemakers ought to be celebrated.
I feel a great deal of gratitude towards those who fought to secure a peaceful future for my generation, particularly the late John Hume, an ardent European, who in part inspired me to pursue a career with European Movement Ireland. In his lifetime, he called for political representatives to follow the example of his colleagues in Europe by spilling sweat instead of blood, and working together instead of waving flags at one another. Was ‘taking back control’ promised by Brexiters worth threatening the peace that Hume and his colleagues spilled sweat to secure? 7 years on, the Brexit imbroglio speaks for itself. While I was too young to vote in the 2016 referendum, I knew that Brexit would open a pandora’s box of issues for Northern Ireland. For once in my life, I hate the fact that I was right.
At the time, I was at secondary school in Newry, a city which in my lifetime has been a hotspot for cross-border trade, and in my parents’ lifetime, a hotspot for violence. As I drove home from school back to Warrenpoint, a small town on the shores of Carlingford Lough, I jokingly waved across the water to the ‘EU’ in Carlingford, Co. Louth. Although I laughed, I was deeply concerned about how Brexit would impact border communities like my own, and more worryingly, what it would mean for the Good Friday Agreement. What it means for me, and lots of other people in Northern Ireland, is that I cross a border everyday — not just between Ireland and the UK, but between the UK and the EU. It’s a position I never thought I’d find myself in.
I will always be grateful to the European Union — it has been unreserved in its support for Northern Ireland, not just in ideology, but in practical terms. Not only has it provided €1.6 billion for peace projects, it made the unique circumstances of the island of Ireland a priority during the Brexit negotiations. As such, it has been central to its protection.
Naturally, I have always felt a deep connection to the agreement. For others, it took the Derry Girls (and the wee English fella) to bring the importance of the peace deal back into public consciousness. In her final monologue, Erin Quinn, the show’s main protagonist, captures the trepidation voters experienced while mulling over the agreement in 1998. “Things can’t stay the same, and they shouldn’t. No matter how scary it is, we have to move on, because things, well they might just change for the better... and if our dreams get broken along the way, we have to make new ones from the pieces.”
These words could not be more timely. A recent poll conducted by LucidTalk highlighted that while support for the Good Friday Agreement has declined since 1998, 64% of people in Northern Ireland would still vote for it. Although our institutions may be ‘broken’, people in Northern Ireland still believe that the principles of the agreement provide the best way forward. Likewise, the signing of the Windsor Framework provides an opportunity to reset relationships. Yet, there is still some way to go.
25 years ago Northern Ireland took its first steps into the future. We have to keep it moving. As a peace baby, I hope that 25 years from now, we will have made new dreams from the broken pieces of today.
- Emma Rooney
My full discussion with European Movement UK is available here.