As part of the Line 18 series on Sky News, David Blevins looks at the divisions that still remain in Belfast, 20 years after the Good Friday agreement. Included short-form documentary.
09 April 2018 | David Blevins | Sky News
“Twenty years after the Belfast Agreement, Northern Ireland is just as divided as it was before the historic deal and, contrary to assumptions, younger people are as polarised as older voters.
An exclusive poll for Sky News found that 51% of people have few or no friends of a different religion. Among 18-34 year-olds, that figure was 58% – as high as any other age group.
In 1994, IRA and loyalist paramilitary ceasefires ended 30 years of conflict and paved the way to political negotiations.
Four years later, the Good Friday Agreement underpinned the fragile peace by establishing a power-sharing government in Belfast.
Senator George Mitchell, President Bill Clinton’s peace envoy to Northern Ireland, brokered the historic deal in Belfast.
The ground-breaking compromise between Unionists and Nationalists also established a new British-Irish relationship.
Pollsters from Sky Data asked a representative sample of the public in Northern Ireland for their honest assessment of life two decades on and the results show they are more divided than they think.
Fifty-one percent think it is less divided now but 24% feel it is more divided and 23% never expect to see power-sharing government restored.
A short form documentary from Sky News
Julie-Anne Corr-Johnston, a loyalist who stumbled into local politics, believes forcing old enemies to govern together has hindered true reconciliation.
She said: “We’ve moved from the bomb and bullet. The weapon of choice is now politics and politics affects everyone’s life. People feel that we’re still very much at war.”
Sixty-one percent of people do feel safer now than they did in 1998 but 23% think the power-sharing government at Stormont has run its course and never expect it to be restored.
Jim Donnelly, a former IRA prisoner released under the terms of the Agreement, said: “Walls are in people’s minds. If we don’t try to break them down, we won’t break the bricks and mortar down.”
Drugs, mental illness and suicide are the real legacy of the troubles. More people have died by suicide since the Agreement than were killed during 30 years of violence.
“There’s a thing called trans-generational trauma which is very prevalent in my opinion in today’s society,” explained Mr Donnelly.
“You can’t go through 30 years of conflict and when I say conflict, I mean 30 years of war. There was a war on our streets. Belfast was a war zone,” he said.
Mr Donnelly works with those on the margins, young men like Dean McComb, 26. Mr McComb’s sister was knocked down and killed by a stolen car. Three of his brothers and his fiancée died by suicide.
“She was very confident and very bubbly. Your average person on the street wouldn’t have thought she was ill, wouldn’t have thought she had mental health problems,” he said.
Ms Corr-Johnston breaks one stereotype. She is a loyalist in a same-sex civil partnership and a mother of twins.
“I think the entire community has its root in religion but whether you’re practising or not, we’re all stamped at birth so we all have religion from birth,” she said.
Our poll found 76% in favour of same-sex marriage, 54% supporting unrestricted access to abortion for women up to 12 weeks pregnant, and 69% backing integrated education.