Kevin Doyle: ‘Calm heads are needed now – in Stormont more than anywhere else’
Life comes at us fast. One minute you’re a “beacon to the world”, the next you’re the centre of “absolute madness”.
The visit of Nancy Pelosi to Derry this week highlighted the remarkable distance this island has travelled in 21 years.
The back-slapping romanticised a coming of age that is far from complete. Then came the bang. A moment that buried all the nice words and routine warnings about not taking peace for granted.
Lyra McKee, a self-styled ‘ceasefire baby’, wrote in her first book that her homeland often seemed like a “piece of rock that many on mainland UK seem to forget exists”.
Today, Northern Ireland is back making international headlines. It is portrayed, not as the story of hope our American visitors came to see, but a testament of terror.
In her writings, Ms McKee talked about a phenomenon known as “intergeneration transmission of trauma”. This is the idea that while the ‘Good Friday generation’ saw little of bullets, they live with the wounds left behind.
It’s understandable that parents may struggle to paint a full picture of what life was like during the Troubles. Even that phrase, ‘the Troubles’, doesn’t do justice to what was decades of violence, imprisonment, fear and the near constant loss of life.
But there is a key difference now. Whereas people in the 1970s and 1980s were often powerless to change things, they no longer are.
The Good Friday Agreement gave two communities power-sharing in Stormont.
During her Dáil speech, Ms Pelosi enthused about how the accord had heralded the “miracle of a new peace” and also “political stability”.
And that’s where we are vulnerable of accepting things are simply better than before, even if they are not as good as they should be.
The idea that Northern Ireland has ‘political stability’ is simply wrong. The reality is that politicians on both sides of a widening sectarian divide are guilty of creating a dangerous and needless vacuum.
Since March 2017, Sinn Féin and the DUP have battled for the airwaves in a blame game over why the assembly can’t be re-established.
The central role taken by the DUP in Westminster throughout the hostile Brexit debate hasn’t helped the situation – but perhaps it’s time for them to put the people first.
I recently found myself in a debate, bordering on argument, with a friend from Derry over why people in Northern Ireland vote for parties on the extreme ends of republicanism and unionism. As someone who never crossed the Border before the Good Friday Agreement, ultimately I had to accept a version of ‘you had to be there to understand’.
But what none of us should accept is that Northern Ireland is allowed to drift back toward violence. Abandoned by its politicians for 824 days.
A recent Brexit-related study by two Unesco committee chairs warned that young people in Northern Ireland will be “groomed into violent activity” if a hard Border re-emerges. It seems to be happening already.
Professors Mark Brennan and Pat Dolan pointed towards a different symptom of people not talking about the true horrors of war. They warned that a “critical part of preventing violent extremism” involves community leaders talking about the past. However, in some areas of the North “those community leaders are the ones who are involved in the radicalisation of the youth, an issue that has to be tackled as a matter of urgency”.
The main parties, including Sinn Féin and the DUP, yesterday issued a rare joint statement calling for “calm heads” and “rejecting those responsible for this heinous” murder of Lyra McKee.
They are right to say “calm heads” are needed – but they are needed in Stormont more than anywhere.