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Dublin: 1°C Wednesday 12 May 2021

Opinion: My generation has only known peace on this island, but I’m afraid that’s about to change

Brexit and the possibility of a resurrected border loom over us like a hammer ready to crush our fragile peace – and we aren’t prepared for the consequences., writes Emily Duffy.

Emily Duffy

DESPITE GROWING UP just 10 minutes drive from the border with Northern Ireland, I never felt its influence on my life in any major way.

As a millennial kid growing up in Monaghan, my big concerns were the same as most other teenagers in a hopeful ‘Celtic Tiger’ Ireland.

Unlike my folks, I could expect to go to college, get a decent job and travel freely without the expectation of violence or injustice.

I didn’t care who was Protestant or who was Catholic or whether someone was from the North or the South and I never needed to.

The ‘border’, in my mind wasn’t much more than an arbitrary line we drove over on our way to pick up cheaper heating oil, booze or clothes from Topshop.

I’d notice the signs turning from green to white, kilometres to miles, green and orange to red and blue – and then back again without much fuss.

I had just a few vague memories of trips to Newry or Armagh town as a kid before the Good Friday Agreement; the barbed wire and soldiers with guns leaning in the window of the car, my mother and grandad falling silent as we went through the checkpoint, the feeling of tension and oppression, the violence and anger in the air.

These aren’t pleasant memories, but they aren’t particularly traumatic ones either.

The traumatic stories were ones I heard from family; memories of the Monaghan bombing, friends killed and wounded, beatings, shops refusing to serve Catholics, raids at border checkpoints and many near misses with often merciless soldiers.

But mostly, the tales of ‘The Troubles’ my family told were laced with hints of nostalgia. Humour would be carefully woven through what were objectively miserable stories.

I’d feel grateful for the sacrifices that were made for the peaceful world I got to live in, never really connecting with the deep trauma that lay just beneath the surface of the people I loved.

It’s that sense of naive nostalgia felt by many young people along the border that frightens me now.

Brexit and the possibility of a resurrected border loom over us like a hammer ready to crush our fragile peace – and we aren’t prepared for the consequences.

The young people who are at Brexit’s mercy, have no living memory of the war or the violence and trauma that came before us. We don’t fully understand how precarious and precious our peace is or how high a price our parents and grandparents paid for it.  

But if the hard border comes, we’ll see armed police and maybe even soldiers on windy country back roads that we used to pass through freely.

Our cars will be searched, we’ll lose employment opportunities as trading routes are cut off and our town will once again dwindle into economic despair.

The border that was for so long invisible, will once again cast a long shadow over our lives.

The freedom to decide our own futures and to escape outdated identities like ‘Nationalist’ or ‘Unionist’, ‘Southerner’ or ‘Northerner’ will be taken from us. We will once again have to decide what side of the line we stand on.

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Without the living memory of the trauma of war to immunise us, many will be sucked into a renewed violence that’s bred from despair, disempowerment, mistrust and paranoia.

We need to do everything in our power to stop any kind of border being erected because it is going to create the conditions for violence and division to flourish.

We’ve already seen letter bombs sent to London and car bombs in Derry in response to the mere threat of a hard border.

The values we’ve held dear since the Good Friday Agreement can only hold strong if the foundations are in place to bend us towards reconciliation, forgiveness, trust and faith in a shared and flourishing future.

Violence is only made possible when oppressive structures are sanctioned and upheld by those in power, but peace can blossom when we build the right structures to nurture and strengthen it.

As the people who’ll suffer through Brexit’s consequences, it’s time for us to make ourselves heard by decision makers in Ireland, north and south, the UK and the EU.

Our peace is not a bargaining chip and our freedom and hope for our future are not up for negotiation.

Already more than 73,000 people across the UK and Ireland have signed an open letter telling Theresa May to take our peace process off the negotiating table.

Will you add your name to our petition and publicly stand up for an Ireland of peace and hope rather than one of violence?  

Emily Duffy is the Deputy Director of Uplift, a people-powered campaigning community with more than 200,000 members across the island of Ireland. 

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Emily Duffy

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