To mark the 20th anniversary of the Good Friday Agreement, we gathered around 20 people to discuss the past, present and future of Northern Ireland. Below, research assistant Lauren Agnew shares her reflections from the event.
A few weeks ago we held our 20/20/20 event, gathering around 20 Christians, in their 20’s, 20 years after the Good Friday Agreement.
It was an informal evening (pizza included) with 3 talks which were followed by a time of discussion and personal reflection. We framed the evening of discussion by giving context to the Good Friday Agreement. We acknowledged that each of us came from differing backgrounds, with a range of understanding of Northern Ireland’s turbulent political past. We wanted to provide room for reflection and discussion during the course of the evening, and channel that discussion into practical, tangible engagement with what reconciliation can look like. We considered the past and lessons learned, the present perspectives and challenges within our communities, and our vision for the future of Northern Ireland.
Those present were passionate about seeing Northern Ireland flourish and committed to being part of writing a better story for Northern Ireland’s future. That said, even though we planned a small gathering, it was smaller than planned. Is it because many people my age are not interested in engaging with issues of the past? Indeed- should they? Maybe we don’t feel equipped to engage? Does it all depend on which area of Northern Ireland you were brought up in? Is it a class issue? Is it a generational issue? Is it a priority for the Church? The evening did not set out to provide all the answers, but to get us all in one room talking about reconciliation in the first place.
It was a discussion infused with hope, as we considered how we could reimagine the story of Northern Ireland. In terms of practical scenarios, it was interesting to take a look at how the Church is, or in many cases isn’t engaging with reconciliation efforts. One scenario we considered was whether the Church should have any sort of presence at bonfires - perhaps providing an ‘alternative’ to the annual burning of tires, crates and flags every July. Does this simply add fuel to the fire? Are there other ways the Church can help communities celebrate and commemorate without enflaming the burning embers of bitterness and hurt? The evening encouraged me to consider the role this generation should play in reconciliation efforts, and how the Church can and should speak hope into our society. As someone who hasn’t really given much thought to times gone by in Northern Ireland, the discussions challenged me to delve deeper into my understanding of the past, to better equip me to engage with the present, and indeed to shape the future.
What I enjoyed most was that each of us were given the opportunity to write out our own personal vision for the future of our country. These visions for Northern Ireland were hopeful, expectant, and urgent. They raised the question of what Northern Ireland will look like 20 years from now. Will we have helped shape the future of ‘our wee country’ by our actions in the present?