A guest post by journalist and blogger Theo Macdonald.
The term ceasefire babies describes those of us who have grown up in an era when the threat of regular bombings, shootings and other displays of violence is no longer the norm on the Island we call home. The relative stability bestowed on the younger generation is a testament to the years of struggle and hardship of past leaders who helped to craft and negotiate the document that is now 25-years-old The Good Friday Agreement
Speaking to MPs in Westminster earlier this year former Taoiseach Bertie Ahern heralded the current generation “who are now growing up in an environment of an imperfect but perpetual peace,” adding that, “we should hold this generation up as our greatest triumph.”
However, for some the generational term ceasefire babies has become a pejorative used to scold younger cohorts for their alleged ignorance of the past.
Much fanfare was made of recent polling conducted by The Sunday Times that found a void in knowledge about the troubles was prevalent amongst young people. According to polls a quarter of youths in Ireland admitted to being unaware of portentous events that occurred during the troubles such as the massacres at Kingsmill, Ballymurphy and the maiming of the Miami Show band.
Both Taoiseach Leo Varadkar and Tanaiste Micheál Martin used the findings to scold the main opposition party Sinn Féin for its attempts to “rewrite history”. The implication being that young people have fallen under the hypnotic spell of Gerry Adams memes and Mary Lou Tik Toks.
As a member of the ceasefire generation I reject any notion that I am ignorant of the troubles. I still remember harrowing tales from family members of my father’s side who grew up in the predominantly Catholic enclave of west Belfast on the Falls Road during that period. My aunt once recalled how when she was only a child walking down the streets of Belfast with her Mother, my Grandmother, at the height of the troubles and witnessing a British soldier shoot a dog at point blank in the head; my father often describes how he was taunted and chased by loyalist gangs on his way to school who recognised his St Malachy’s Catholic School Boy’s crest and demanded that he denounce the Pope. These tales remain seared in my memory and will never leave me no matter the time elapsed.
In a recent Irish Times sponsored debate at the Royal Irish Academy, I defended my generation in opposing the motion that young people are ignorant to the lessons of the troubles. During my speech I mentioned that it was young people who were continuing the central lessons of the troubles that violence begets violence and the only way to achieve your aims is through peaceful and democratic means: young people have been at the forefront of peaceful resistance to Ireland’s old shibboleths. Indeed, polls show that young people, on both sides of the border, are open to a United Ireland with bread and butter issues ranging from health, wellbeing, sustainability and addressing inequality as their top concerns.
Despite this, older generations still attack the ceasefire babies using the past as a weapon against them.
It is certainly true that for many young people their perception of the troubles is confined to Bloody Sunday and the hunger strikes. However, given the time lapse between the ceasefire and the present, certain events that occurred during the conflict are invariably going to be shrouded in nebulosity among both older and younger cohorts.
In 2017 then junior minister of finance Patrick O’Donovan blamed the 1974 Dublin and Monaghan Bombings, conducted by the UVF, on the IRA; in February last year TD Neale Richmond called on those who know where the body of IRA victim Jean McConville is to step forward with information, seemingly unaware that her body was discovered in 2003 having been savagely murdered in 1972; and last year after the Irish women’s football team received a show trial punishment for singing The Wolfe Tone’s Celtic Symphony a group of older passengers at Dublin Airport were filmed singing the exact same verse.
The younger generation are not solely ignorant of the troubles. Of course, young people would benefit from re-educating themselves on seminal moments during that period and developing greater sensitivity around the singing of bombastic songs.
Likewise, it is incumbent upon older generations, particularly policymakers, to adhere to the promises made following the ceasefire.
In a perceptive essay penned by the now deceased Derry journalist Lyra McKee she mentioned that on promise after promise young people in Northern Ireland had been betrayed. While the Good Friday Agreement promised the land of milk and honey for Northern Ireland, in many ways, the opposite has happened. Economic malaise and intermittent violence still pervade the province. At the end of the essay McKee presciently states: “With the peace deal, the days of young people disappearing and dying young would be gone.
“Yet this turned out to be a lie, too.”
After writing this she was shot and killed by the so-called New IRA in the deprived Creggan estate in Derry aged just 29.
Northern Ireland and indeed the entire Island has come a long way since the signing of the Good Friday Agreement. Pitting old against young is futile and only sows more needless divisions.
We could all do with revisiting and learning from the past.
Theo McDonald is a freelance journalist from Dublin who regularly writes about Northern Ireland on his blog.