Peter Olphert was 14 when IRA gunmen killed his father. Forty years later, he says it’s time to let go of the past.
Mark Thompson, whose brother was killed by British army bullets, is another victim of 30 years of “trouble” in Northern Ireland. He believes society can move forward only by confronting the unfinished business and holding accountable those responsible for some of it.
This month marks the 25th anniversary good friday agreement The bloodshed that left 3,600 dead, around 50,000 injured and thousands bereaved is largely over.Northern Ireland is celebrating the anniversary of the reunion of key players in the peace process U.S. President Joe Biden visits.
A peace deal may have stopped the fighting, but deep divisions over the legacy of the conflict remain – making it difficult for some of Northern Ireland’s 1.9 million people to escape the conflict.and Britain’s exit from the European Union It will only complicate matters, create political tensions and shake the foundations of the peace agreement.
“In my mind, it’s time to draw the line and move forward,” said Alvert, who recently retired after 30 years as a police officer — his father, John Alvert, served as the same officer. For his work, he was shot dead by masked gunmen in the family’s store in 1983.
In some ways, Alvert made the decision to leave years ago. As a grieving teenager, he said it was “very easy” for him to join one of the pro-British Royalist militias to fight IRA militants in a neighborhood clash that also involved British troops.
“There was that invitation there, and let me say, I should go that route and get revenge. It was never for me,” he said. “The more you perpetuate what happened in the past, the more future generations will have this pain.”
But Thompson argues that for many bereaved families, moving on isn’t that simple — and moving on without fully battling the past can inadvertently set the stage for more conflict.
After his brother Peter was shot dead by undercover British soldiers in Belfast in 1990, he co-founded Justice Kin, an organization dedicated to uncovering the truth about killings involving British security forces that few This filed a lawsuit.
“To say we drew a line means we didn’t learn from it,” Thompson said. “The lesson for any society emerging from conflict is that you can’t sweep it under the rug because … it does rekindle some of the grievances that lead to further conflict.”
Ending Trouble Means Balance competing identities A century ago, when the rest of Ireland gained independence, Northern Ireland remained in the United Kingdom.Irish nationalists in the north – most of them Catholic – sought union with the Republic of Ireland, while Protestant trade unionists mainly wanted to remain in the UK
The Good Friday agreement was reached on April 10, 1998, after nearly two years of U.S.-backed talks, promising to stop fighting by armed groups, end direct British rule and create a Northern Ireland legislature and government with unionist and nationalist parties share power.
“Today we have a feel for the prize that is before us,” then-Prime Minister Tony Blair said on the day the deal was struck. “The work of winning that prize continues. We cannot, we cannot let it slip away. “
The success of the peace deal has been far better than many feared, although sporadic attacks by dissident armed groups last month prompted British authorities to raise the Terrorism Threat Level to Critical, meaning an attack is very likely.
In times of turmoil, Belfast city center is a ghost town at night, surrounded by a ring of steel security. Today, busy pubs, trendy cafés and microbreweries line the Victorian streets. The University of Ulster’s gleaming new campus is helping revitalize a battered city centre.
Steve Malone, a guide who leads walking tours focusing on Belfast’s bloody past, said: “When you talk about Belfast, people really only know two things — they’ll think of trouble, they’ll think of the Titanic,” the doomed ocean liner being built in the city’s shipyards.
“It’s a very different place now,” he said. “Even in terms of physical infrastructure. We now have a transport system that connects the west, Catholic side of the city with the east, Protestant side of the city. That didn’t happen during the conflict.”
But the threat of violence has never entirely disappeared, and Katie Hayward, a professor of political sociology at Queen’s University Belfast, said one goal of the peace deal had been overlooked: reconciliation.
She said the agreement emphasized the release and reintegration of prisoners imprisoned for their involvement in the conflict. As a result, ex-militants “remain powerful and influential” in their communities, often to the exclusion of peacebuilders.
“We’ve never properly addressed what’s causing some communities to still glorify violence,” Hayward said.
The British government’s plan to end prosecutions for alleged crimes committed by militants and British soldiers during the Troubles will only further bury hopes of holding perpetrators accountable. It was met with widespread opposition.
The potential for violence is why a 25-foot (8-meter) reinforced “peace wall” still separates some nationalist and unionist neighborhoods in Belfast. Hostile murals of masked IRA fighters and gun-toting Royalist militants adorn the streets on either side.
Britain’s departure from the European Union has left Northern Ireland uneasy between the rest of Britain and EU member Ireland, and has also upset delicate political balances, including the power-sharing system established by the peace deal.
The Northern Ireland Parliament has not met for more than a year after the main unionist party quit the government to protest new trade rules imposed on Northern Ireland after Brexit.
Some believe the power-sharing structure no longer applies in changing Northern Ireland, with more than 40 per cent rejecting the old sectarian labels as neither nationalist nor unionist.
Catholics now outnumber Protestants for the first time, and the question of whether Northern Ireland remains in Britain or joins the South in the long run – a question that fueled trouble – remains unresolved. The Good Friday agreement mandates a referendum on Irish unity if opinion polls suggest it may pass.
“In many ways, it’s an imperfect peace,” Thompson said. “(But) thousands of people may be spared injury, bereavement and incarceration today because of the agreement.”
Alvert said his children, now in their 20s, have grown up in a society transformed from the divided and dangerous place he was once familiar with.
“They don’t know what that’s like, and I don’t want them to know what it’s like, because that’s in the past,” he said. “For this generation of kids who are growing up, troubles are now history. That’s good.”
—Jill Lawless, Associated Press