“Sunday Bloody Sunday, it really encapsulates the frustrations of a Sunday, you have to read all the Sunday papers, kids running around, have to mow the lawn. God, Sunday Bloody Sunday”
These are the words of fictional character Alan Partridge when asked about his opinion of Irish culture and more specifically the music of U2. The actor playing the RTÉ journalist then regretfully informs Alan that the song is not in fact about a lazy Sunday but about a massacre in Derry in 1972. It is hard not to laugh at Steve Coogan’s moronic character. Indeed for most Northern Irish people the idea that someone would not know anything about events such as Bloody Sunday is so unheard of, that it could be greeted with an ironic smirk. However, what if people in Northern Ireland were more like Alan Partridge, we would not appreciate the violence and struggles of our past. This would surely be a regrettable situation and disrespect to the vast numbers of life that have been needlessly lost throughout the struggle to unite Ireland. Undoubtedly, the history of the struggle makes for interesting debate. Indeed over the years many have taken place, venues ranging from a local pub, prisons, to the higher echelons of government. On Wednesday the 30th September the venue for the latest instalment in this age old question was the GMB, with the philosophical society. For the purposes of this article I am not going to analysis the merits of the propositions, I merely want to highlight a perhaps somewhat throwaway comment that was made by one of the opposition speakers but has affected me greatly since.
The assumption was made that Northern Irish young people are not that interested in a united Ireland, they are not that interested in the thirty years of violence, the Troubles, and they are not that interested in politics. One could relate them to Mr Partridge’s ignorance. To justify this point, the speaker claimed to have participated in a college organised trip to Israel, where he met ten Northern Irish students who apparently did not have much knowledge or interest in Northern Irish politics, past, present or future. Given that these debates last for a number of hours, it is forgivable for a small point like this to be overlooked, but I simply cannot and will not overlook this aberrant assumption for two reasons. Firstly and simply the assumption is wrong. I find it difficult to accept that ten young Northern Irish people represent the views of the 250,000 18-24 year olds in Northern Ireland. I could just as easily locate ten Northern Irish students in that very room who do care about the past, present and future political situation in Northern Ireland, but even then I would never be as naïve as to state that every 18-24 year old cares about the struggle for a united Ireland. Furthermore, the 12,000 (average) students that study GCSE History, the 5,000 (average) that study A Level History, the 2,000 (average) that study A Level Politics, and the 4,000 (average) that study Politics or History in a Northern Irish University, all study the history and development of the Troubles and the hostility which occurred in search of a united Ireland. Furthermore, parents and grandparents who lived through the terrors of the past three decades recount their experiences in the hope that future generations will never take peace for granted. Additionally, do not forget the countless documentaries, films, books and talks about this debate. No matter what political persuasion you may belong, having gained an in-depth insight into the suffering and violence of the conflict that most of these student have, it is extremely hard to disregard and not care about the struggle for a united Ireland. Indeed I find the mere assumption that Northern Irish young people could turn a blind eye to these insights extremely insulting. Many of the same people will have lost family, friends, and acquaintances as a result of the struggle.
This takes me to my second point, not only do Northern Irish young adults undoubtedly care about the past and future struggle to unite Ireland, but they are right to care. Legally speaking we, as part of the 18-24 year old demographic from NI, are survivors of the Troubles. We may not have had to face the bullets and bombs of the late 60’s or 70’s but the effects are still imprinted in our psyche. One could say that as survivors we should move on and try to forget, and to a certain extent in order for peace to prosper this should be held in high regard. Perhaps this could lead to a pathway where parties will be elected for “on the ground issues”, such as Housing or Education, instead of tribal politics. This is possibly an ultimate goal and could be slightly more conceivable than a united Ireland. Nonetheless, I believe that Northern Irish young adults must acknowledge the brutality and violence of the past and have a duty to inform younger generations when the time is appropriate. It is important not to ingrain into the heads of future generations the hatred of previous ones. Nobody wants to create a segregated community, but we can learn from the Troubles. We also can not impress enough on future generations how much of a blessing it is to live in an era where peace prospers in politics instead of violence as the mode to advance change. So much needless blood has been shed; many endless hours of political talking and bargaining have been taken place in order that we can live within a peaceful society. Future generations of Northern Irish citizens must never forget their past; we must never take peace for granted, and we must never be as ignorant as Alan Partridge.