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Much of the last 25 years has been ‘squandered’ since Good Friday Agreement, warns Tánaiste Micheál Martin

Reconciliation has been “the great near miss” in the 25 years since the Good Friday Agreement and too much time has been “squandered”, Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs Micheál Martin has declared.

“Many communities are as far apart today as they were in 1998. It is only by recognising this failure, by calling it out, that we can make the efforts to address it,” he said.

The debate about identities and the future of the island is soured every day on social media on both sides of the Border by “persistent, often mindless” abuse of others’ identity, beliefs and culture, he said.

Such abuse mars sporting, community events and music, he added: “There is little discussion, and even less consensus, on recognising and responding to the hurt and alienation that some songs, chants or traditions, cause others.”


Speaking to a gathering of the Government’s Shared Island dialogue held in the Abbey Theatre in Dublin, the Tánaiste said: “We have simply not done enough to get to know and understand each other more since 1998.”

Politics in Northern Ireland is still largely defined by Orange and Green identities, where everything is seen as a “zero-sum framing” with competition between communities on every issue.

However, that political competition does not reflect the day-to-day reality of life for most people living in Northern Ireland, where often much broader definitions of Britishness or Irishness exist.

Nevertheless, the political conversation complicates efforts to establish parity of esteem between communities, one that creates a space where people can identify as British, or Irish or both, he went on.

Belfast high sheriff and former City Council member John Kyle said Unionists and Loyalists will not “sign up” for a conversation about the future of the island where unification is taken as being “the assumed outcome”.

People from his political background do not believe that unification will, or should ever take place, but they are prepared to have conversations about a shared island, he told the gathering.

Politics is toxic because of the lack of trust, he said, with Loyalists not trusting Republicans, and Republicans not trusting Loyalists, and Loyalists feeling that they “regarded as the lowest of the low”, he said.

Meanwhile, Sabrina Baptista, one of 80 young people brought together by the Government in a youth forum to set out a vision for a shared future over the next year, spoke about the gulf that exists between them and politicians.

A lot of young people feel, she said, that they do “not have a say” in today’s politics in Northern Ireland, and that they are patronised by politicians who, if they engage with them at all, are more interested in a photo opportunity.

However, Mr Kyle said the Northern Ireland public may see politicians as “a plague on all your houses”, he said, but the public does need to vote, and it does need to engage, especially younger voters.

“Many politicians that I’ve worked with would love to be a room full of people and talk to them about their politics,” he went on.

Dr Maurice Manning, chair of the Expert Advisory Group on Commemorations and Chancellor of the National University of Ireland, joined in criticisms about the quality of the teaching of history on both sides of the Border.

“If you talk to most teachers, getting history onto the curriculum is a problem,” he said, pointedly criticising a past attempt by the Department of Education to “abolish history altogether from the Junior Curriculum”.

The Decade of Commemorations committee had had “a partial victory” in getting that proposal dropped in 2018: “We’re making a very strong recommendation that that not happen [again],” the former senator told the gathering.

Gillian Kingston, a former president of the Irish Council of Churches, agreed, saying: I believe that teaching history, at least to Junior Cert, is fundamental.”