“Peace, it’s up to us”

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President Barack Obama at the Waterfront Hall in Belfast as he arrives in Northern Ireland for the G8 Summit in Enniskillen, Co Fermanagh.

President Barack Obama at the Waterfront Hall in Belfast.


(You can follow Brian John Spencer on Twitter by clicking here)

It doesn’t matter what anyone else says. Fifteen years after the Good Friday Agreement, Northern Ireland is a different, better place. Its capital city like any other in Europe: a bustling metropolitan centre lined with coffee shops and boutiques; stocked with an ambitious, well educated and outward looking people. The surrounding towns, provincial villages and scattered communities aren’t much different.

“Chic” as Obama put it.

And whether the people are Protestant or catholic they generally want for one thing: to be normal, to prosper and to get one with life. But then of course there’s a problem. The jackboot thugs, unmentionables and extravagantly delinquent types wreck all this “chic”-ness for everyone else.

Fanatical loyalists purport to support the union, but then don’t vote and then go buck mad when a consequence of their political apathy backfires and their union flag is removed from city hall. And in their spasms of apoplectic rage they do nothing but drag the union flag and all that is good about unionism through the mud. Fanatical republicans do much the same and in the pursuit of “liberation” desecrate everything that republican principles stand for.

But there’s hope. There must be.

And if you take one thing away from the Obama address at the Water Front Hall it’s this: if you want stability and prosperity in this province, you’re going to have to get off the fence and wage peace.  As Obama said, quoting Helen McCann: “Peace is harder than war.” Obama continued:

“It’s within your power to bring about change.  Whether you take a stand against violence and hatred and tell extremists on both sides that no matter how many times they attack the peace, they will not succeed. That is in your hands. That’s up to you”

“The terms of peace may be made by political leaders but the fate of peace is up to all of us.”

That means that the silent majority need to wake up from their slumber.  I’ve spoken about the “chic”, middle class and their tendency for coasting before: when in March a blowhard mobocracy were driving Northern Ireland back into the past, the cappuccino drinking middle class were snuggling up at a TED event at Stormont.

But the informed, civilised and “chic” majority must come out of this cosiness. Next time loyalists make violence the rule of the game and then say that PSNI are a corrupt force because they get heavy-handed, then the “chic” section of Northern Ireland needs to say no. When fanatics use language about politics that is completely foreign to mainstream thinking, then the “chic” class needs to say no. When people break the law and march in contravention of the Public Procession Act then the “chic” middle class needs to say no. When the Orange Order and bands march headlong into a catholic area in the full knowledge there’ll be violence, then we the “chic” class needs to say no. When Stephen Farry cheers graduates into university in the face of facts that say there’s no jobs, we the “chic” class need to say no. When 25% of our young people are unemployed, we the “chic” class need to say no. Because of course: “jobs and opportunities are central to peace” (Obama).

The silent majority needs to stand against the shrill minority of anarcho-republicans and anarcho-loyalists who live in a pre-1998 world and say a very firm “no, this is our country too.”

The mute majority must break its silence. Christopher Hitchens  said that ‘silent majorities do not make history’ (‘King Billy’s Scattered Legions’, New Statesman, 1972). But we can show this false.

And how the majority do this?  Well as Obama made clear, and as others did on the subsequent radio and television debate, and as people said on social media: we need to empower the young – let them drive and determine the public debate and discourse.

Our current leadership are locked in a curdled mess of old enmities and unbending prejudices – as Napoleon said: “To understand the man you have to know what was happening in the world when he was twenty.” Objectively our leaders may be physically in the 21st Century, but the minds of Peter Robinson, Martin McGuinness and other politicans are locked in the 60s and 70s.

And so Alex Kane is absolutely correct when he said on Twitter that “the present generation of politicians… can’t be the vehicle for next steps forward.”


Hannah Nelson of Methodist College Belfast introduces Michelle Obama during her visit to the Waterfront Hall.

Hannah Nelson of Methodist College Belfast introduces Michelle Obama during her visit to the Waterfront Hall, Belfast.


Let’s give the people like Hannah Nelson an actual space in society. We need people like her to be an anchor, a reference point and a communication conduit for and into the majority normalised section of Northern Ireland. Otherwise we pass our destiny and fortunes into the hands of extremists.

Young people like Hannah Nelson can be our Malala Yousafzai. Just as Malala rallied against the no-brained, sewer suckers in Pakistan that wanted to turn the country back into a tyrannical theocracy, so we need someone to stand up to the jackboot lunatics who seek to push our Province back into the dark ages of the 70s and 80s.

This may appear like swivel-eyed thinking, of course would to a parochial Northern Ireland, but new thinking, ambitious measures and extraordinary leaps of faith are required in this new age.

(You can follow Brian John Spencer on Twitter by clicking here)

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About Author

Brian is a blogger, political cartoonist and digital media strategist commenting on politics, the economy and developments that affect the legal profession. Brian also has a passion for youth unemployment and regularly provides career guidance and writes on the deficiencies of second and third level education. Brian writes for the Huffington Post (http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/brian-john-spencer/), has his own blog (http://thetweetinglawyer.blogspot.co.uk/) and blogs for the Guardian (http://careers.guardian.co.uk/careers-blog/blogging-unemployment-career?CMP=twt_gu)

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