Thursday 22 August 2019

Gerard O'Regan: 'Younger generation has seen the light - but blinkers still on in the North'

The DUP's Arlene Foster (left) with Sinn Fein's Mary Lou McDonald and Michelle O'Neill. Photo: Charles McQuillan/Pool via REUTERS
The DUP's Arlene Foster (left) with Sinn Fein's Mary Lou McDonald and Michelle O'Neill. Photo: Charles McQuillan/Pool via REUTERS

Gerard O'Regan

Jessie Buckley is but the latest. The 29-year-old has emerged as an actress and singer with that certain something propelling her to stardom. She made the trek to London - like countless other Irish people over the decades - to make her name. It is a never-ending trail.

The heartland of British artistic and creative life provided the all- important primer she badly needed. She was helped to bring her acting and singing skills to a new level.

There was a time when the bright lights of Piccadilly might have seemed a long way from her native Killarney, but not any more. London is now 'just down the road' for a new hyper-connected Irish generation. In the age of the internet and mass technology, the world is their oyster.

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And so Jessie is part of a long line of young hopefuls from this country who found crossing the Irish Sea opened up a world of possibility. The age-old trek over and back - with many eventually returning to Ireland having honed their talents in the UK - continues apace.

Against the brooding backdrop of Brexit, and ever-present tremors in Northern Ireland, this is a very real manifestation of Irish-British relations. The intermingling of two neighbouring peoples continues.

Of course, high-end politics plays its part in how things stand between these islands, but all the while real-time living has its own power, regardless of machinations in Westminster, Leinster House or indeed Stormont.

And despite a generalised whine-fest suggesting relations between Dublin and London are 'strained' because of sundry Brexit battles, evidence on the ground suggests things are ticking along fine. This is especially so for those labelled the younger generation.

In many cases unburdened by the past - and more in thrall to the future than those who are older - the legacy of the Northern Troubles is simply not on their radar. In the Republic, the best-educated and most-travelled youth cohort we have ever produced spread their net far and wide.

North of the Border, the scenario is inevitably more complex. The opportunities afforded to those coming of age have transformed the life chances of many. But the dark side is that the residue of the ghetto smothers the aspirations of others, striving to break free from the instincts of their tribe.

Generations of endemic poverty and its tentacles of dysfunction have cultivated a legacy in which hope of better times is lost in a far distant horizon. Add in the bile of blinkered nationalism or unionism and the temptation to freewheel where the bomb and bullet is an outlet for grievance, real or imagined, is all too easy.

The sprawling Creggan estate in Derry is one such hothouse. There is now a sickening realisation those who should know better are trying to despoil another generation with blood and hatred. The utterly shameful murder of Lyra McKee was a signpost to a new cavern of darkness. The nihilistic ideologies of those who would once again fight old wars is grievously out of step with a tentative dawning, north and south.

Meanwhile, a massive Marshall Plan-type initiative by the British government to combat deprivation in blighted urban areas in Northern Ireland is surely needed. Such an initiative - however unlikely in the current climate - might be more effective than anything else in copper-fastening the peace process.

All the while, politicians of the extreme remain as fixated as ever on their core support base. It's 'not an inch' all round as the moderate middle ground in Northern Ireland is blighted on the sidelines. Arlene Foster and Mary Lou McDonald were conspicuously out of sync as the congregation clapped the cry for a new beginning at Lyra McKee's funeral. They couldn't bring themselves to respond with fervour or gusto. Neither could be seen as being in the mood for any kind of concession.

Revulsion abounds at the thought of yet more blood spilt on the streets of Derry. There is an ache for leaders who can break the mould. Can Foster and McDonald unshackle themselves from the weight of all that has gone before? The way things stand we can but be hopeful - rather than confident.

Irish Independent

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