Northern Ireland – a legacy of division | FT Film

it's 7 a.m in a pretty victorian park in north belfast as parents take their children to school a steel gate is being unlocked every day at the same time a warden opens these gates that separate two communities from each other it's called a peace wall.

Almost 25 years since the good friday agreement i've come to see how much northern ireland has moved on before i moved to ireland last summer i hadn't been in belfast since 1994. i was astonished to find out that today there are more peace walls separating communities than ever before.

This wall is about one of a hundred in belfast that have been built since the 1960s the name peace war sounds like a contradiction in terms the barriers range from simple fences to towering metal walls that cut through.

The city's working-class communities so i wanted to find out why northern ireland is having such a hard time leaving all these physical political and economic barriers behind to try to understand all this i'm going to talk to people from northern ireland's past present and future.

Some who took up arms during the troubles some who were born since the cease-fire and some who are educating the next generation their aim to get northern ireland to stop punching below its weight.

This is belfast today it's busy and vibrant and it's come a long way since the bombings and terror of the troubles but it's still struggling with problems that are deeply rooted in the past the linen and shipbuilding industries that put it on the map even before northern ireland was created by.

Partition in 1921 have long gone by almost any measure today it's a region that badly lacks the rest of the uk part of the history of north ireland has been events politically and socially have often got ahead of economic problems being addressed and that's been.

The case right through the past 100 years compared with the rest of the uk northern ireland today is poorer its productivity is lower and an exodus of young people seeking better opportunities is stunting its future prospects researchers say young people move away.

Because of segregation sectarianism and politics that they believe are stuck in the past and then there's brexit which has become a hugely divisive issue in a region that overwhelmingly voted to remain but today's barriers are not just physical in northern ireland your name or where.

You live can mark you out as being protestant or catholic that might once have affected your job prospects the shipyards mostly employed protestants for example during the troubles it could have put your life in danger today many people say that the once automatic reflex to identify people has.

Gone but not when it comes to education look at this chart students here overwhelmingly go to schools that are either protestant or catholic only eight percent of schools are fully integrated in northern ireland even education is divided so i've come here to visit one.

Of the very few schools that isn't dude hi arya hello you're very welcome the hazelwood integrated primary school in the wonderful north belfast with a beautiful backdrop of the kiev hill shall i take her in the school and show you some interesting things maybe i should start off with telling you.

Some of the backstory of the school so about 45 years ago i grew up parents two of which are still employed in the school met in a kitchen and had a dream a vision as an alternative to segregated education as jim the headmaster explains while the troubles raged in the 1970s some parents.

Were convinced that education needed to be mixed they managed to set up integrated schools for children of both faiths and for both nationalist and unionist communities the first was established in 1981 but tensions were so high that there had to be armed police outside.

But times have changed people may identify as belonging to one or another tradition but church attendance even before kovid was on the wane and mixed marriage is on the rise jim says northern ireland is still grappling with hatred and distrust.

So this is defaulting we talked about the sort of the figure that runs to our community here from um and one community on this side and the second community on that side and we talked about those things as well so that's the nationalist community that's the unionist community like everything.

Else in northern ireland you know use very clumsy crude language to group a whole group of people into one pigeonhole and that's that's not only it's on keynes usually unfair so predominantly we have a nationalist community in this a predominantly we have a unionist community on that side.

And and this was a flash point for a long time paul caskey from the integrated education fund says that today these are safe but not neutral spaces for people from all sides i'm very proud to say that today we have 69 integrated schools educating over 25 000 children and think of that ripple effect where you have 25.

000 children possibly maybe 40 000 parents and more grandparents so it reaches out into the community it shows that it can work and we've demonstrated that this wasn't some sort of wacky woolly liberal group of of people these kids are facing an uncertain future.

When it comes to jobs productivity and wages northern ireland is bottom of the class in the uk no wonder some people decide to leave but some decide to come immigrants started to arrive in northern ireland in large numbers about 20 years ago to work in meat processing and the health service.

Then a few years later came an influx of people from new eu member states attracted by relatively free labor market access but the immigrant population is still tiny and it doesn't make up for the number of people who move away every year a recent survey by pivotal a think tank.

Found the number one reason people want to go is sectarianism number two is job opportunities carl frampton's way out was boxing i meet the two times world champion in tigers bay a unionist area where he grew up this is a real like flash point here just so this is tigers bay my street was the first the first.

Street in tigers bay and that's the new lodge their good friend called sam his brother um glenn got got blew up at the bottom of the street with a paper that's why carl's mum made him start boxing when he was seven to keep him out of trouble.

That's also how he met catholics for the first time now he promotes integrated education and sees the results at home it's a better place than it used to be northern ireland certainly belfast as well but it's i think we're still you know my kids generation it needs in these damn guys to come through kids.

Like my daughter who doesn't know the difference at 11 years old between a catholic and a protestant but for some people he admits peace hasn't brought change fast enough the area if i'm being honest it hasn't changed that much i feel like people talk about places being left behind just down the road from carl's gym harry.

Smith and kate clark are trying to get opposite communities to focus on what they have in common not what keeps them apart it's not easy this was a flashpoint area during the troubles and it's where the latest flareup in violence happened just last year loyalists are already collecting wood.

For a giant bonfire one of thousands traditionally lit every july to commemorate protestant king william of orange's victory over the catholic king james in 1690 we have communities that rely on peacefuls for community safety for feeling safe in their homes at night what our job is to do is to try and.

Promote and engage with those residents who aren't normally engaged with promote peace barrier removal re-imaging or redesigning but that's easier said than done kate lives behind steel fences here in the nationalist new lodge estate over the road from tigers bay.

And what's what are we seeing here these are the gates that um close off dunker and gardens these are pescates these it's like they open at half seven close at six o'clock and is there no other way in or out no so if you're in and you've.

Got to buy something yeah so if you're in you're stuck you know if you've you've been living beside a barrier for 20 or 30 odd years sometimes 40 years you know yeah it's like a comfort blanket for you as well and it's pretty hard to let it go you know you have to have to show people.

That there's another possibility another life in northern ireland younger people don't remember the troubles older people can't forget them republicans were fighting for a united island and loyalists to remain british paddy hart has been working for more.

Than 30 years to rebuild relationships he says it's too soon to expect things to have moved on entirely and brexit is reviving old divisions lots of the gains lots of the hope lots of the positives out of the good fighting agreement have come under pressure in recent years because of brexit in the protocol and.

The uncertainty that they bring people then began to begin to uh move back into the the the the binary version of northern ireland so um she has lots of progress um uh but incredibly a lot a lot a lot more a lot more to do but also understandably given what northern ireland's been.

Through it would be too much to expect that um 25 years on everyone would have left all of what happened behind pauline hegney used to work at the europa hotel which was bombed more than 30 times during the troubles her husband carl a catholic was murdered.

Because he was walking home from the pub on the wrong side of the road in those days in 1991 you would have walked on one side of the road going down the road you would walk on the right hand side if you were catholic and on the left-hand side going down if you were protestant.

And he was on the right hand side of the road going coming down the road and someone was standing in a just in a doorway along the gas works wall and as carl approached they the god man just walked up to him and shot him point.

Blank range in the stomach and when he fell then he shot him point black range in the back but pauline who's also a catholic thanked the predominantly protestant police for taking him to hospital that was something that didn't sit well with some people in the community i lived.

And one saturday night my car windows smashed and there was paint thrown around them and everything so and it was because i thank the rgc something i don't regret doing a lot has changed but sometimes the old orange and green divides resurface like housing her son is looking to buy a.

Place with his protestant girlfriend he's in a relationship with the wee girl from the other community in the country and she could live anywhere with him in any catholic area i don't know if he could live in any protestant area rigid divisions between communities can also extend to gender.

Opportunities but prospects for women aren't always better eileen weir has been working with the shank hill women's center in the heart of belfast's protestant unionist community for three decades today employment rates for women are stubbornly low and we're not seeing that.

Peace dividend that that we thought we would have we need jobs for our young people common three we've probably about three generations here that never worked and never knew what work was fixing that will help put northern ireland on a path to higher growth north island has the biggest proportion of those with low or north no skills in the.

Uk or of any region in the uk but there's also the problem of those with higher skills and northern ireland has the lowest proportion of those who have a tertiary education so that's university degrees but also further education those kind of vocational qualifications.

It's not just about jobs divisions in northern ireland are all about identity language and sport are two key expressions of that and they can be political you see this area here we ask belfast there's 80 000 inhabitants and ten thousand people from here were in prison.

Jake mcshakish is a former ira prisoner he now runs a gaelic football club it's already considered a nationalist game but here they play in irish i joined the republican movement when i was 10 years of age i joined the youth wing of the republican movement i always had a great admiration for the.

Generations of irish people who had resisted british rule and i knew that i was a captive second class citizen in a state which was hostile to me at every level his love of the irish language grew he perfected it in prison in the notorious h blocks where 10 ira prisoners died on hunger strike.

Irish has long been a political football a law to give it official status has been promised but has still not been passed when jake set up his club all he asked was that people could kick a ball and speak irish fluently today he even has some protestant players but identity and culture are complex.

And it's that conflation of political allegiance with cultural identity that causes a lot of problems i mean if you go into the unionist or protestant community there are evangelicals adventists presbyterians free.

Presbyterians non-aligned presbyterians church of ireland all sorts of methodists there's one catholic identity but there isn't one protestant anthony it's it's it's so multi-layered on the other side of the historic divide.

Another former fighter is trying to build bridges i meet robert williamson in the historic house where king william of orange stayed when he first arrived in northern ireland robert grew up on a housing estate that was predominantly paramilitary but now he works with loyalist.

Communities to change some of the famous murals that illustrate the past we would go to various streets and we talked to individuals and families and we talked to local community groups and that and we try and get a buy-in from them when you come to a meeting um and basically say listen guys that waller when it was painted 20 years ago.

It was fresh and new but you know what it's peeling off the wall it's a disgrace to this neighborhood we're trying to rejuvenate clean the place up and you try to get them to see that and say is this so important to you that it has to stay or could you have a conversation about rheum isn't it bill wolsey is one of northern ireland's.

Most successful business people a self-made man he runs a string of high-end hotels and pubs he grew up in a working-class unionist area but his parents were socialists i made it and i have no clue how i made it um some luck and some judgement um but i i went over to arsenal to play football.

And that didn't work out and i got into printing which i hated and then at night school i went to college in westminster and got into hospitality industry and loved it and made a little bit of money in in england and then came back to buy a pub that was run by paramilitaries we were able to purchase this.

Um this pub and we had sort of two years of hell um but at that stage that new online was very dark difficult days but we were determined that a we wouldn't pay protection and b we would absolutely let everyone enter.

Our pub we didn't care about religion politics but we did have uh we we wanted them to respect our rules and sounds pretty obvious now but was difficult and that's safe he says brexit is one way politicians perpetuate divisions because of the good friday agreement most people couldn't countenance who.

Returned to a hard border on the island of ireland a quarter of a century of peace has reduced a once fortified boundary to this an almost imperceptible line in the tarmac in its place a customs border was put in the irish sea everybody knows here that.

If you appeal to the national side on the union aside that's pretty much split 40 40. it's the 20 percent in the middle who absolutely are reconsidering where this country should go and they're looking at on the basis what would be best for my children do i still feel european how are we on social progress.

And where will i be economically it's no longer driven by orange and grain today tech and service companies have relocated here the movie business has taken off shipbuilding and linen have gone and many young people are just bored by constantly harking back to history benji wallace a 19 year old poet and.

Rapper tells me that for his work the past is not prologue a lot of it isn't it's not inspired by all of the the conflict and the kind of division it's about the fact that i don't care about it and it's not relevant really anymore not forgetting the past but letting it.

Letting us learn from it but not keep acknowledging it northern ireland's future whether to remain part of the uk or to unite with ireland is just one of the many things that divide people here unlike all the other social cultural political economic and educational divisions it's going to take time to.

Settle but there's plenty of optimism too take benji unlike many of his generation he doesn't want to leave northern ireland but he does want things to change i am resilient days turn to months months turn to years upon years we are all different this.

Wasted potential is turning our hopes into fears this is the barrier never acknowledged artists forced to leave are we country is about to get weirder if you don't truly believe in the youth of the nation fill our frustrations doubts and hopes cut us loose from the industrial rope creative time bombs about to explode we are young but you'd.

Better take notes we're a wild rock the cultural boat we are strong keep this nation afloat innovate because we're ditching your cultural roadNorthern Ireland - a legacy of division | FT Film

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