‘I thought of what it’d be like to move away’

What 10 Northerners say about life since the IRA statement



‘I thought of what it’d be like to move away’

Dr Michael Paterson Clinical psychologist and former RUC member. He lost both arms in an IRA rocket attack in 1981 After I was injured I went to Edinburgh to be fitted with an electric arm. I remember sitting in the park, just enjoying watching the people go by. At that point I thought of what it would be like to move away from Northern Ireland. But I stayed on.

In my clinical work I’ve seen a number of former police officers who still fear that they are targets. Whether that’s rational or irrational remains to be seen. I had a client from north Belfast who coped as best he could, but then he was involved in a minor road traffic accident, in which the other driver shouted in his face, and he just went to pieces psychologically. Sometimes all it takes is one more little thing.

‘Had the ceasefire been earlier, my wife would be alive’

Alan McBride Victims’ campaigner, member of the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission. His wife, Sharon, was killed by the IRA in the Shankill bomb in 1993 For me this place has changed almost beyond recognition. There’s no real appetite for going back to conflict. Had the 1994 IRA ceasefire been in place earlier, my wife would probably still be alive. But I can’t look back too much. It’s not to say I don’t feel for the past – I do – but we need a process that deals with the past.

We need to do what we haven’t done yet, and that’s bring victims together. That’s what needs to be in a peace plan if it’s going to work. I’d have much preferred if this had been discussed at the time. Now the prisoners are out of jail, and all our bargaining chips are away. There’s little left to bargain with other than generosity of spirit.

‘The basic animosity is still there’

Prof Richard English Historian and author The republican movement now has a pretty good relationship with the UK state, but they have much more difficulty dealing with other Irish people. They get on better with their old enemies in Britain; they’ve more chance of having a nice evening dinner with the queen than with other republicans.

What hasn’t changed is the view of the past. The basic animosity is still there. When somebody from Sinn Féin stands up, a unionist can only see the IRA, even now. There’s still an awfully long, slow journey to go. Of course, if you talk to London politicians they think it’s a fantastic success story. If they could make parts of Iraq look like Northern Ireland, they’d jump at you.

‘It’s the difference between night and day. And this is the day’

Máirtín Ó Muilleoir Sinn Féin politician and businessman, lord mayor of Belfast 2013-14 The big difference for me is that the horizon is bigger and brighter. The ambition of the city is greater; the air is full of electricity. I’m tickled by the transformation among young people: they will save us because they don’t have any idea how terrible things were.

I used to find it hard to talk about where we’ve been, the terrible losses on all sides, and I don’t spend too much time on that. But the good work of people like John Hume and Albert Reynolds saved thousands of lives.

Of course, you always need to do more: people need the dignity of work, a good home, a good education. But, looking back, we’re talking about the difference between night and day. And this is the day.

‘If you’re middle class, life feels better’

Debbie Watters East Belfast community worker, member of the Northern Ireland Policing Board If you live in a middle-class community, life probably feels significantly better. But life within the loyalist community is different. Big issues are unresolved: the past, parading, flags. Alienation and disaffection with the political process are high. What we’re hearing is that the absence of violence does not equal peace. For me peace looks like a society where we can live beside each other as neighbours and respect each other’s culture. If the loyalist community is feeling alienated, then it’s everyone’s issue and responsibility.

The big issue in any peace process is the need to listen to the voices of the perceived losers. Everything came so quickly – the ceasefires, the signing of the Good Friday agreement – there was this rush for peace without paying attention to those who felt they’d lost out.

‘Everyone’s obsessed with the Troubles. We need to let go of it’

Aobh Sharvin 16-year-old student, Belfast You pick up a newspaper in Belfast, and it all relates back to the Troubles. Everyone is obsessed with it. Even if it was a traumatic time for everyone, we do need to let go of it. People are always asking, “What about this thing that happened in the past?” “What about that?” It isn’t helpful. It’s not healthy. And it still influences the way that people here look at the world.

Peace is here. You can’t compare the situation now with what was happening then, but lots of work still needs to be done. Teachers are still trained separately, and that has an impact on people my age. Education has a lot to do with keeping sectarian stuff going. I suppose people do need to talk about the Troubles, but they don’t need to do it in such a hushed manner. I think we need to find a more open way to speak about that time.

‘The big difference is the increase in diversity’

Anna Lo Alliance party MLA for South Belfast I came to Northern Ireland in 1974. Compared to those 20 years between 1974 and 1994, Northern Ireland has now achieved normality. The big difference for me is the increase in diversity. I remember walking down the street and people were staring at me; they’d never seen someone who looked different. Now we’re catching up.

But the influence of anti-immigration parties like Ukip, in England, impacts on the atmosphere in Northern Ireland. There has been an increase in racist attacks. Sectarianism and racism are two sides of the same coin; we need to deal with both. If we want to be a forward-looking, multicultural society, we need more work to promote mutual understanding.

‘The root cause was not dealt with 20 years ago’

Gary Donnelly 32 County Sovereignty Movement, Derry and Strabane councillor I embraced the IRA ceasefire in 1994. I thought, There’s movement here, the conflict is over, the issues are going to be addressed. 20 years on, that’s not the reality. The root cause was not dealt with 20 years ago. And if you don’t deal with the core issue, the causes of conflict are still there. The question is not whether you’re for or against armed struggle; it’s about violation of national sovereignty.

The republican community has sacrificed a lot, but nothing has been delivered apart from ex-republicans being invited to royal events. On the ground people have gained very little: unemployment is the same as it was; demand for social housing is the same; young families live in fear of benefit cuts.

We still have the issues of Orange marches, a British policing system, Diplock courts. Nothing has changed from a working-class point of view.

‘We kid ourselves that we have a peace process’

Billy Hutchinson Leader of the Progressive Unionist Party The first thing to remember is that 18 months after the IRA called a ceasefire 20 years ago, the bomb at Canary Wharf in London exploded, killing two British citizens. For the last 20 years Sinn Féin has used the threat of republican violence as a way of getting political gains. Look what they got from Tony Blair on [on the runs]. Tourists are told it’s not as bad as it was in the dark days, but we kid ourselves we have a peace process. We don’t have peace.

What pollutes the atmosphere is this notion Sinn Féin has introduced: the demonising of loyalist and Orange culture. Republicans need to recognise that this community exists, and it’s no use saying that the culture is wrong. Right or wrong, the right to parade should be enshrined. It’s about accepting that other people are different, and Sinn Féin refuses to do that.

‘We don’t have a perfect peace, but we’re getting there’

Paul Wyatt Politics student at Queen’s University Belfast. Born the year of the ceasefire There’s a lot I take for granted. The small stuff: when you’re walking back home from nights out you don’t have to think about where you’re walking or who you’re walking with. I can’t remember anything of the Troubles apart from a few checkpoints when I was younger. We don’t have a perfect peace, but I think we’re getting there. But it’s obviously not a normal place: look at the peace walls, the Orange halls all gated in and reinforced. It’s ridiculous that we still need all that.

I’m from a Protestant background, but I don’t think Martin McGuinness gets enough praise. The transformation in his head must have been quite amazing. Peter Robinson deserves some credit as well. He’s still in government with Sinn Féin at the end of the day.

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