I have had an insatiable fascination with Titanic since I was six years old; I watched every film and read every book. It was probably inevitable then that when the world’s largest Titanic exhibition – built in the exact place where the ship was built over 100 years ago – opened just a 30-minute flight away from me, I would find my way there.
Like most teenagers who grew up in England, I knew nothing about Northern Ireland’s unique history. You are not taught about it in schools, and it is not a frequent topic of conversation. Three days before I was due to leave, my dad sat me down and said, “Listen, we wouldn’t be letting you go if we didn’t think it was safe, but you need to know that there is some history here that you don’t know about.”
Other than this short talk with my dad, I moved to Belfast with no preconception and no real understanding of just how much this country and its people had been through.
Two weeks into living there, someone I was becoming friends with said something to me over our lunch break, which I’ll never forget.
She said to me, “I just want you to know that I’m really grateful you’ve come here. It tells me that what we’re doing is working.”
I looked back, a bit puzzled, and she added, “I work here because I believe we can transform the face of this country. I believe that bit by bit, we can turn this country into a place people feel safe visiting and living in. The fact that you’ve moved to Belfast from England shows that we’re already winning, so thank you.”
I was 17, and she was 19. I’ve never forgotten what she said, and we are still good friends to this day.
What I didn’t know at that moment was that this city would go on to guide me through some of the most pivotal moments in my young adult life and shape who I became. The people I met guided me through trauma, celebrated my achievements and inspired my outlook on life. And they still do.
For me, this underpins what makes this place what it is. Because yes, Belfast is home to the most famous ship of all time (and boy am I grateful for that!), and yes, Northern Ireland is home to breathtaking landscapes like the Giants Causeway.
But it is the people of Northern Ireland who are truly unique; they are full of hope and optimism. Hope that Belfast will finally be allowed to move on from its dreary and unfair image. And optimistic because they’re already making it happen. They are shining beacons for their rising city and the beautiful country they’re a part of. They have been through so much and yet still had space to take me in.
Hopefully, by now, you’ve seen and shared the films we produced celebrating 25 years of the Good Friday Agreement, and I really hope that this hope and optimism from its people is what shines through most of all.
Watch our film here.
But there is a bleak reality as we celebrate this anniversary. One of the most critical components of the Good Friday Agreement was the power-sharing Assembly, Stormont. As my good friend Michael said to you a couple of days ago, the people of Northern Ireland are also worried about things like health, education and the cost of living, but they haven’t had a sitting government for over a year now. And the root cause of that is Brexit.
Watch Michael's film here.
Despite this, day by day, world-class tourism, incredible food, unique offerings, stunning scenery, unbeatable nights out and the everyday people of Northern Ireland are rebuilding their image. It’s utterly heroic, and we owe them our open minds and the chance to overcome the instability and chaos Brexit has forced upon them.
That is why this campaign is so important and that is why this campaign really matters to me. The European Movement and I are committed to keeping Northern Ireland on the political agenda, ensuring its voice is heard, and the Brexit architects are held accountable for the pain they are causing. With your continued support, we can make this goal a reality.
- Pablo O’Hana
Director of Communications, European Movement UK