Young generation troubled by Northern Ireland shootings

13th March 2009, Comments 0 comments

The sectarian conflict that scarred their parents' and grandparents' lives -- and left more than 3,500 people dead over three decades -- now threatens to blight the lives of young Irish too.

Belfast -- Frightened by a surge of bloodshed in Northern Ireland, a new generation too young to remember "The Troubles" fears that a decade of calm has come to an end.

The sectarian conflict that scarred their parents' and grandparents' lives -- and left more than 3,500 people dead over three decades -- now threatens to blight their lives too.

"I'm scared," said Kerrie O'Hanlon, 17, a student from Glengormley, north of Belfast. "We're not used to being scared walking in our own city. It's not right."

Their parents hoped their children would never have to live through the fear, bigotry, division and mistrust that made this province a miserable backwater in the 1970s and 1980s.

In the decade since the 1998 Good Friday peace accord, Northern Ireland has seen a gradual return of normality, personal freedom, integration, investment, prosperity and jobs.

But that normality has been shaken in the last week by the killings of two soldiers and a policeman by Republican paramilitaries opposed to any British presence in the province, which they want united with the Republic of Ireland.

And the young generation, which has the most to benefit, in many ways has the most to lose from a lurch back into strife between the Protestant British and Catholic Irish communities.

"For the past few years you've not had to worry about where you go and how you're going to get to places, who you can trust," said O'Hanlon. "We've got much more freedom, your mum and dad trust you to go out into the city. But now they'll be ringing you asking 'Where are you? Are you OK?’"

Mark Cunningham, 21, and Mark Doyle, 20, both students in Belfast, said the peace of the last decade had allowed them to study and live their lives without any sense of division between Protestants and Catholics.

"That's what gets me,” radiography student Cunningham told AFP. “It is frightening. We don't want a return to sectarian conflict. Since we're going to university we are mixing with friends from both sides.

Doyle said: "They are the same as you: they like the same music, the same sports, they like going out on a weeknights and having a few drinks like you do. Even though we're not really old enough to have been around in the Troubles, I, like my mum and dad, was hoping that I would never have to go through that.”

Ruth Cloughley, a student nurse from Portadown, southwest of Belfast, said she feared a return to violence.

"I'm only 20, I'm not really old enough to remember everything that happened in the Troubles before but I've heard enough of the stories, I've seen enough of the trauma that lived on after it,” she said. "There's no way that anybody wants to return to it, young or old."

Thousands of people joined peace vigil rallies in Belfast and other cities this week, after the attacks outside a British military barracks on Saturday, and on a policeman in Craigavon, southwest of Belfast, on Monday.

On Friday attention will switch back to Craigavon, as the funeral is held of policeman Stephen Carroll.

During the Troubles, funerals of conflict victims sometimes became flashpoints for violence, as emotions ran high between Protestant and Catholic communities.

"History could repeat itself,” said Stephanie Moore, 20, who studies English at Queen's University Belfast. “This is not what our parents' generation wanted for their kids. We need to stop it in its tracks."

Robin Millard/AFP/Expatica

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