Young people at Derry peace summit questioned GFA dividend for working-class areas

Tim Attwood has told MPs young people at a recent peace summit in Derry questioned the lack of an economic dividend from the Good Friday Agreement in working-class areas.

The Secretary of the John and Pat Hume Foundation told the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee that participants in the summit were well informed about the peace accord despite not having been born at the time of its negotiation.

“I was surprised that some of them had a lot of knowledge of the GFA. The really interesting thing was that those young people were very positive about the future.

"They want this place to work,” he said.

The Good Friday Agreement.The Good Friday Agreement.
The Good Friday Agreement.
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Mr. Attwood who was part of the SDLP negotiating team at the time of the agreement said some of the young people who took part in the summit did advocate a return to violence.

“There were individuals from loyalist areas – 15 year-olds – who said that they wanted to go back to the guns, but they were the exception rather than the rule,” he told the committee.

However, the lack of an apparent economic peace dividend was a more common source of criticism, he said.

"One of the young people said, ‘The conflict was not the problem; the peace is’, because, in so many places, they do not see the dividend. Some working-class people in parts of Belfast or Derry do not see the dividend. Where are the jobs? Where is the investment that gives them the hope for the future?...People have moved on to other issues, but there was unrelenting positivity among the young people about making this place work,” said Mr. Attwood.

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He told MPs that the overall consensus from those who took part in the peace summit in Derry was for continuing on the path of reconciliation.

“As I mentioned, we had a peace summit three weeks ago in Derry as a result of a consultation with people who do peace and community work on the ground and with young people.

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"There was a citizens’ jury element to that. I was surprised. Those people have been at the coalface for 30 or 40 years in some of the toughest parts of the North trying to keep the peace against paramilitaries or criminals,” he said.

Mr. Attwood continued: “There was an energy in the room that they wanted more such conversations. There was an energy about advocating on behalf of the actions of that peace plan, so that we can work with the institutions and with our Governments to ensure that the journey of reconciliation is completed.”

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The former SDLP back-room negotiator explained how the late John Hume had always stressed how the implementation of the GFA and the realisation of the peace process was a long term project.

“John Hume always said that the process would take generations, so you can never take your eye off the ball on any aspect of the GFA and you need to work at it,” he stated.

He also revealed that the last time the Secretary of State Chris Heaton-Harris spoke to the John and Pat Hume Foundation about its ideas and analysis was ‘at the unveiling of John Hume’s bust in London in November’.