A-LEVEL students at Drumragh Integrated College in Omagh have been learning about the importance of the internationally-renowned Good Friday Agreement.
The North has made significant progress since that historic peace deal of 1998, and, for the past 25 years, a new generation has emerged free from the death and destruction of The Troubles.
However, young people have still lived through many periods of political instability at Stormont, which continue to hold our society back.
The current period of impasse marks the sixth collapse of Northern Ireland’s Assembly in its 25-year history.
The young politics students at Drumragh acknowledge that the Agreement, and indeed our society, isn’t perfect, but feel we are in a much better place because of the peace deal.
“It’s exciting and interesting to look back on that period,” said Lucy Dillon.
“The Agreement was something really new because it brought peace to the country.”
She added, “Without the Agreement, I don’t think we would be sitting here as students of an Integrated College, so it has definitely helped to build bridges.”
Brogan Kelly described the Agreement as a ‘pathway to peace’, away from the violence and ‘tit-for-tat’ murders which had dominated the 30 years prior to 1998.
She said, “Our parents and older generations lived through fears of bomb attacks and killings.
“But, for people of my age, we don’t even think about what religion people are. And we don’t have that fear of being caught up in violence.”
One of the most challenging aspects of the Good Friday Agreement was the release of prisoners.
Student, Ethan Dobbs, who lost his grandfather in The Troubles, said this was ‘hard to stomach’ for bereaved families.
“I know that, for my family, it was very hard for them to see the people who killed my grandfather walk out of prison free,” he said.
“That was hard to stomach for people, but I suppose they felt it was a necessary price for peace.
“And people were able to live their lives in a pretty normal fashion after the Agreement was signed.”
In the early years of the Agreement, the SDLP and UUP initially shared power as the two largest parties.
However, both quickly witnessed a dramatic drop in their respective votes as Sinn Fein and the DUP came to the fore.
Devolved Government has certainly been a bumpy ride in the North, but the young people feel this was an ‘inevitable consequence’ of the changing face of politics here.
“Many people seemed to drift towards Sinn Fein and the DUP as the extremes after 1998,” said Eimhear Ward.
“But the Agreement showed that there was light at the end of the tunnel after so many years of violence. And it certainly offered something a lot better than shootings and bombings.”
This point is elaborated on by Breanna McCallion, who believes that the violence would have continued if a peace deal had not been reached.
She also feels that it might be time for certain aspects of the Agreement to be renegotiated.
“I think there’s definitely a need for the role of First and Deputy First Minister to be looked at again, and a different format thought up,” she adds.
Tyler Scott acknowledges that, while the Agreement has its faults, it has brought important dividends for the North.
“I think it has been a good compromise despite having its faults.
“It has provided an important foundation for a lasting peace, and meant that many people are still alive today because the violence has stopped.”
Ultimately, the students are enjoying learning more about the Agreement, and the journey towards peace and stability that the North has made since 1998.
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