Feeling“trapped in the shadow” of the Peace Process – By Julie Anne Corr-Johnston

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‘2,400 lives saved in Northern Ireland by ending of the troubles’.

This Belfast Telegraph article reminded me of a conversation I had some five years ago.

“You have no idea how lucky you are”. He took a sip of his pint before he continued. “It’s not perfect but it’s a damn sight better than the bloody memories that, to this day, haunt my sleep”.

The man was, of course, talking about the Peace Process. “No!” I barked back. His eyes widened. At risk of wearing the remainder of this stranger’s pint, Idrew a breath and protested  “I didn’t live through it. I’m glad I didn’t. It saddens me that you did – it saddens me that it happened at all, but I won’t feel guilty because I didn’t and I am sure as hell don’t feel lucky. I feel trapped in its shadow.” I’d had a few myself and so my response, much to my shame, lacked the appropriate level of sensitivity and sympathy due.

He didn’t seem to mind, mind you. It may have been shock, or that I had gone off on a such a tangent that he couldn’t get a word in edgeways, but he didn’t seem to do anything – besides raise the glass to his lips.

I took his silence as a signal that I could continue. I did. I can’t recall the monologue that followed verbatim however it was (if memory serves me) an expression of frustration having inherited such complex issues born out of a conflict in which I played no part – a resentment that the unborn and their unborn were condemned to the same so long as we continued to avoid the legacy of the past rather than address it.

He bought me a pint and apologised. I know. I asked myself, and him, the same question – Why? I’ll never forget his answer “Love, you and your generation were at the forefront of our minds when we opted for peace. It wasn’t meant to be like this. We were supposed to be moving toward reconciliation and instead, the lack of progress, has allowed the conflict to claim a new generation, a new type of victim.”

I’ve no idea if this man came from the Unionist or Nationalist community, although I’m not sure it matters. I’ve no idea if he’d want to associate himself with the weight his comments carried in altering my perception that my views were a hindrance rather than a help in a post conflict Northern Ireland.

I was a twenty-four year old then who held strong political views but would never have crossed the door of a polling station. I’m a thirty year old now, a voter, an elected representative, a citizen of this country with twenty years lived experience of Northern Ireland’s Peace Process. Moreover I am mother of two beautiful, innocent children whom I so desperately want to be part of the  generation that enjoys the benefits of peace and reconciliation.

I fear however, that should the practice of exclusion in the most recent endeavour to address the legacy of the past persist, then my children – and yours – will too inherit ‘such complex issues born out of a conflict in which [they]played no part.’

Those who are considered part of the problem must be part of the solution. Progress requires inclusion and on the subject of legacy I believe it ought to be the rule and not the exception. It’s time to bring Loyalism in from the cold.

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About Author

Eamonn Mallie

I am a regular contributor to discussion programmes on TV and radio both at home and abroad. An experienced political editor and author specialising in Politics, Security and 20th Century Art.


  1. “It’s time to bring Loyalism in from the cold.”

    Loyalism doesn’t need to come in from the cold – it creates it’s own heat, with a little help from the Conservative and Unionist Party (aka ‘The Stupid Party’).

    On the contrary, it’s time Loyalism was frozen out from all civilised discussion – it’s not fit for public consumption.

  2. Michael Ribble on

    The conflict began with inequality. “One Man One Vote” was but one example of that.
    Loyalists are represented in the process by those they elect. They elect MLAs & MPs. Mostly DUP.
    Are Loyalists to be given double representation? Are those they don’t vote for going to have seats at the table as well as those that they do vote for?

  3. Paul Crawford on

    Unlike the dismissive comments which have preceded my own, I have thought about this article and read it more than once before becoming comfortable in my own response to it. And I always form my own opinions (which does not always go down well).

    I’ve never met Julie Anne but I think this is a genuine contribution. Every contribution or opinion is valid and none should be dismissed – indeed, providing they are not abusive, all opinions should be considered.

    While I don’t think it good to verbally attack (rant) at a stranger you make very valid points. It’s disgraceful that legacy matters remain outstanding. In addressing the past we are actually addressing the future and the issue of transgenerational trauma is a big one – hence you are exactly right to cite your children and the children of all in this society.

    You say “Progress requires inclusion”, absolutely – but this requires the participation of all without preconditions or bad faith, or cover-up, with organisations accepting responsibility for the role they themselves played and not merely seeking to justify while heaping blame on others. This appears to me to be the stance of the British Government (fixation on a Statute of Limitations for example).

    Legacy issues should be addressed through the agreed structures of the GFA/SHA and NOT through the media or the ‘dogs in the street’.

    The ICIR, in particular, cannot be expected to deliver truth recovery successfully without participation from all ex-combatant groups, including loyalists, republicans and the state forces. This will also require the ending of discrimination against ex-prisoners. In short – we need a level playing field.

    I am neither Unionist nor Loyalist and don’t pretend to have a full understanding of their thinking but I do think loyalists need to come in from the cold – not be brought in. The input of all sides is vital. Your input gives genuine cause for thought and should not be summarily dismissed.

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