In a week’s time, the world’s media will arrive in Northern Ireland to report on the anniversary of the historic peace deal.
he Good Friday Agreement/Belfast Agreement, call it what you will, is an easy-to-understand document that has changed our society for the better.
The three days leading up to the peace agreement are vividly portrayed in ‘The Agreement’, currently on stage at the Lyric Theater in Belfast.
Watching the piece, I noticed that given the very different characters involved in those conversations, it was a feat of diplomacy and masterful negotiation to pull it over the line.
People who had very different agendas and worldviews managed to find a compromise.
Queen’s University, Belfast, will be the focus of commemorative events this month to mark the 25th anniversary of the agreement.
The organizers are to be commended for putting together such a comprehensive program that shows young people, who grew up in peace thanks to events from 25 years ago, what it means.
It is an understandable frustration that Part One of the agreement which “provides for a democratically elected Assembly in Northern Ireland, including membership, is able to exercise executive and legislative powers, and is subject to safeguards to protect the rights and interests of protect everyone”. sides of the community” is currently not working.
However, that does not mean that society has not benefited from what has happened.
The majority of young people have enjoyed a better life, free from the fear of violence as a result.
But the events of the past few weeks have only reminded me that while there are people who have benefited from the peace dividend, there are also people who have been left behind.
The ongoing North Down loyalist feud is a clash of older men who have used much younger recruits to do their dirty work.
The origins of the feud are very much in the UDA.
One of the factions can be linked to the West Belfast paramilitary group, which was founded by Johnny Adair in the north of Down when he tried to expand his own reach.
The other is a satellite faction of the South East Antrim UDA, which broke away from the mainstream organization in 2006 and is widely regarded as one of the largest criminal gangs in Northern Ireland.
The outing of crooks is no surprise.
Paramilitary organizations are a pyramid scheme of toxic masculinity with profit-sharing leadership and foot soldiers doing the dirty work.
I was on the streets of Newtownards last week when a mob of masked men showed up.
They were on their way to Weavers Grange to attack homes when they were intercepted by local police, who were initially outnumbered.
Having masked men roaming the streets in broad daylight in 2023 is bad enough, but the age of those involved was depressing.
The eldest would have been in his mid to late twenties, while the youngest was in his late teens.
They had not yet been born or were still toddlers when the Good Friday Agreement was signed – a document filled with promises for a better life for all citizens of Northern Ireland.
These young people have failed politically. Raised to become paramilitary gangs with the promise of status and money.
It is no coincidence that the areas still with the highest levels of paramilitary activity are those with high levels of social deprivation.
Young people with little education and little employment are easily recruited for the kind of gang crime that comes with membership in a paramilitary organization.
They see someone who, like them, has little education but lives a lifestyle they pursue, financed by crime.
It seems like an easy way to gain power and status, but the truth is that once sucked into an organization like the UDA, it’s almost impossible to get out.
These are organizations that have had an official ceasefire since October 1994 and have continued to recruit.
The reasons for this relate to internal battles and the idea that there was strength in numbers, but also because these young people are cash cows to the leadership they serve.
Ending the recruitment of young people should have been part of any government-sponsored transition process.
Not a penny of money should have been spent on a group that continued to exploit a new generation of young people.
Paramilitary groups would have died out organically if they had stopped recruiting new members in 1998. Instead, they have simply supplemented their ranks with hundreds of young men.
The situation in Newtownards raises a number of questions about the police’s ability and willingness to deal with loyalist paramilitaries.
While arrests have been made and people brought to justice, the setting on fire of a car outside a police station, which was the main evidence for an attack on a man in a mall, damages public confidence.
On the 25th anniversary of the agreement, there is much to celebrate, much to rejoice about.
But it can never be considered a complete success as long as young men are still recruited under the banner of loyalty or dissident republicanism.
Will the Good Friday Agreement ever really be completed while paramilitary groups still exist, pressuring a new generation of our youth?
As we look forward to the next 25 years, we must ensure that we do not leave young people behind and that paramilitary groups are allowed to maintain control at the expense of another generation.