The Joint Committee on the Implementation of the Good Friday Agreement’s other recommendations included ‘Establish an international task force with experts in security so that plans to meet any risks may be devised and implemented.’ In February of 2019 I worked on compiling a report with UNESCO Chairs Professor Pat Dolan and Professor Mark Brennan, both of whom are experts in the areas of Countering Violent Extremism (CVE) and Counter Terrorism, along with Michael Ortiz who was appointed by the US State Department in the Obama Administration as the first US diplomat on countering violent extremism (CVE) policy. The full report can be found at the link above.
Fortunately, youth living in Northern Ireland have not had to endure the violence that previous generations experienced. However, they do still live in a post-conflict environment with residual issues such as levels of deprivation, covert on-going paramilitary activity, and sporadic violence. Young people are also coming to terms with the present and future implications of Brexit, which could lead to the introduction of a hard border between Northern Ireland and Republic of Ireland, leaving young people to consider what this means for their opportunity to work, travel and study. Conversely, a very possible referendum on the unification of the island of Ireland has major implications for all young people but notably for the unionist youth community. This paper explores the implications for youth including probabilities, as well possibilities, of a return to violent extremism among young people. In as little as six weeks it is possible that a hard border could materialize due to a no deal Brexit, triggering a return to violence in Northern Ireland. All indications are that without direct efforts to engage youth and citizens of all backgrounds, there will also be a return to violence in the event of rushed border poll on the island of Ireland. The only question in both scenarios will be the scale of the violence.
This policy paper focuses on youth in the context of Northern Irish society, Brexit, and the fragile environment which would be thrown into chaos should a hard border be put in place and/or a rushed and ill-timed referendum for unification be called. Without careful consideration and deliberate interventions designed to bring citizens of all backgrounds together, youth and others could be quickly drawn into the conflict and escalating violent extremism. Apart from the potential of ‘history empathy’ education as a key tool to help understanding and healing in school contexts, the role of the arts including music and music technology, drama visual arts and creative writing are highlighted as having specific potential in supporting youth towards peace building in Northern Ireland.
Included in the paper are thoughtful considerations of the contexts and concerns of the various traditions and communities in Northern Ireland. Not least the issue of loss of memory of harm not being transferred across generations leaves youth unaware of the human experiences of horror and death that went before, and at risk of false romanticisation of the past. The paper also seeks to provide a path forward to avoid the emergence of conflict and navigate a continually changing Northern Irish society. To do so, detailed discussions of youth development research, civic engagement, community development, global citizenship education, empathy education and local capacity building efforts are all provided. While the authors recognise the excellent work being done for youth in Northern Ireland across and between communities, this urgently needs to be scaled up. These serve as a foundation for peacebuilding and cross community coordination to thwart extremism and violence. They also serve as critical precursors they must be in place long, long before people begin to talk about what Northern Ireland might look like in the future, let alone begin serious discussions of referendums. The paper concludes with a series of detailed considerations and recommendations.