‘We can’t have full peace without prosperity and I do feel what is there to celebrate?’

Younger generation voice their views on the impact of the Belfast Agreement

As the North marks the 25th anniversary of the Belfast Agreement, what impact has the peace deal had on the generation that followed?

Eóin Tennyson

Born five days before the referendum on the Belfast Agreement in May 1998, Tennyson is the North’s youngest MLA.

“My parents would have spoken about how they voted for the agreement and had aspirations for me and my generation, how we wouldn’t be exposed to some of the things that they witnessed.

“I think we have got that relative peace. But they also aspired to more – prosperity, building an integrated society in terms of housing and education, protecting human rights and all those issues where I don’t think we’ve made all the progress that was promised.”


Growing up in the village of Maghery in Co Armagh, Tennyson had “no real exposure to politics or the Troubles beyond the odd bomb scare”.

He studied accountancy at Queen’s University Belfast – where he joined the Alliance Party – and did a Masters at UCD before working at Deloitte.

“I didn’t have any engagement with politics growing up.

“The trigger for me and the first time I really became aware of politics affecting my life was in 2015, whenever the Assembly had to vote for equal [same sex] marriage, which was then blocked by the DUP’s petition of concern [a mechanism of the Belfast Agreement].

“I remember being incensed by it. I thought it was a real injustice and affront to democracy. I went then and started to research the agreement and why we have the structures and institutions we have.”

Tennyson and two of his Alliance colleagues were the first openly gay people to be elected to the Northern Ireland Assembly following last May’s poll.

He experienced “low level” homophobic abuse at school and “much more sinister stuff” since becoming an elected representative. “It’s mainly online abuse. It’s par for the course for me. Water off a duck’s back by this stage.

“I remember there was one particular incident coming out of lockdown when we were queuing outside a nightclub. It wasn’t targeted specifically at me but it was a homophobic hate crime where someone had attempted to ‘bottle’ a number of us in the queue.

“But, undoubtedly, there has been real change in legislative terms for LGBT people, in terms of marriage equality.

“We now have a majority in the Assembly who are pro-LGBT rights, pro-equality and pro-abortion as well. Those are big seismic changes in society and people’s voting habits.

“I want to build upon the progress of 1998. I don’t see the agreement as the ceiling of our ambition, much as I’m grateful for it. I think there’s still a long way for us to go.”

Díarmuíd Brecknell

Born a year after the agreement, Brecknell grew up in the south Armagh village of Cullyhanna.

During the late 1980s, the area’s skyline was dominated by 18 British Army watchtowers.

Brecknell, who graduated in law last year, has no memory of either watchtowers or British troops.

“I have a vague memory of the telephone poles with IRA on them.

“But what I do remember is the really heavy police presence. If anything was going on, the police treated it as quite hardline and maybe four or five police officers with really heavy machine guns would arrive. As a child that really bothered me because I can remember thinking, ‘there’s no need for that.’”

“But, I can’t draw any comparison between my growing up in Cullyhanna and what my parents’ lives were like 30 years ago.”

His grandfather, Trevor Brecknell, was among three people shot dead in a south Armagh pub by loyalists in 1975.

Originally from Birmingham, he had just visited his wife and two-day-old baby girl in hospital in Newry.

“Because Granda was killed, I asked what happened to him so it was something that had to be crossed for mum and dad earlier – they explained the Troubles to me earlier – whereas, I suppose, that’s something that happens probably a lot later in life for other people.

“It had a massive impact on me and it’s why I did law. It’s what my dad does now. He works in the Pat Finucane Centre in Derry. My dad is an advocate for victims. It’s his life now and it led me down the path of law and human rights.

“I can categorically say I would not be doing what I’m doing – and I’ve thought a lot about this before – but what happened has really impacted two generations down.”

Rebecca Doherty

Rebecca Doherty left Derry in her late teens to study at Cambridge and pursue a career as a film composer in London.

She credits the Belfast Agreement with giving her the freedom to go to school and have “no threat of anything bad happening to you”.

“I went to a primary school which is really close to the border at Muff,” the 24-year-old says.

“Thinking back on that, when I was going there, there were no militarised borders.

“Something as simple as going to school, my generation can just do that.”

As a teenager, she travelled “up and down the country” to music competitions and festivals.

“Before the Good Friday Agreement, you would not have been able to travel freely to certain places, depending on where you came from.

“I travelled to competitions without any restrictions and fear and also, crossed the border to see my mum’s family in Dublin.

“My dad is from Derry and some of the stories he would have told me, it does feel like it was a completely different world. It’s sometimes hard to fathom.”

Despite the progress, Doherty feels the North didn’t offer enough career opportunities.

“Northern Ireland did have some great opportunities but it was just too small for what I wanted to do, to go into the film industry and be a film composer.

“I didn’t start composing until halfway through my music degree in Cambridge.

“Then Covid hit and I had 18 months back in Derry. Not really seeing the outside world meant that I got the chance to explore composing a whole lot more.”

During a lockdown border walk with her mum, she recalls an incident that made her realise the impact of the agreement for her generation.

“We were coming up to that border area where you go across a little bridge and there’s a few small pillars that go up until your knee – that is the separation between the North and South.

“I stood right between them and put my right foot in the North and left in South, stretched my hands out. At the time I thought, ‘This is hilarious. I’m technically standing in two countries at the same time, even though it is one.’

“But, the fact I was able to do that, something so trivial actually can hold so much more emotional meaning. I was thinking, ‘Is anyone going to notice me doing this’ – as if it’s anything out of the ordinary.”

Julie Porter

Julie Porter has played the silver flute for a marching band since she was 13 and works for a centre involved in cross-community work.

A preschooler when the Agreement was signed, she believes it’s given her generation an opportunity to “build upon relations and the peace that’s been put in place”.

“From a young age, I remember things like the odd bomb scare but I don’t remember any of the Troubles at all.

“My family never really spoke about politics but I think once the Good Friday Agreement was signed, everybody just breathed a sigh of relief.

“My parents always encouraged us to form our own opinions. I took part in many cross community projects growing up. I’m very much of the view that I don’t care who you are or where you come from, I will treat everybody with the same respect that I would hope that they would treat me as well.”

Porter has worked closely with an arts group based in the Fountain area, which is the only unionist area within the city side.

“They’re made up of groups that promote highland dancing, bands and drama – a consortium of different Protestant groups trying to showcase our culture and show that it’s nothing to be scared of.”

A member of the Churchill Flute Band, she practices all year round.

“People just seem to think we pop up in the summer and go away but we actually practice once or twice a week and it’s our chance to showcase what we’ve been learning.”

She works in a community centre at an interface close to a nationalist area.

“Coming up to the summer months, especially when parading was going to start, there was always some sort of conflict going on here but, in recent years, it’s become very peaceful.

“There’s been a lot of cross community work going on behind the scenes to ensure those living on the interface – there is no physical interface there. You wouldn’t even know if you [were] walking down but everybody knows where each area starts – can live in peace.

“Nobody wants their homes attacked. It’s just to ensure that everybody is free to live in the way that they want.”

Bethany Moore

Bethany Moore went to Thornhill College in Derry, the convent school that Channel 4′s comedy drama, Derry Girls, is based on.

The 24-year-old describes herself as a feminist community activist.

“It took me until I was a bit older to realise the history of Derry.

“The first time I heard about barricades or riots would have been when I was seven or eight.

“I didn’t know what a barricade meant or what a riot was, whereas they were part and parcel of the everyday experience for my parents and grandparents.

“It wasn’t until I was starting secondary school that there were more frequent bomb scares in Derry but I remember always feeling quite calm about them because I think there is that resilience built into people that live in the North.

“You’re used to it.”

For Moore, the agreement has become “more of a conversation” as she’s got older.

“I work in the women’s sector locally so literally every day I meet people who have more information to share, more stories to tell, more history.

“I think every day is a school day, as people say.”

She welcomes the peace which the agreement has brought but says it has not benefited the most marginalised in society.

“I absolutely love Derry and am proud to be a Derry girl but I think we can’t talk about Derry without addressing the fact that [it] is the poorest region in the North.

“We’re in the middle of a cost of living crisis in the North. We’re in a healthcare crisis. Our rates of femicide and violence against women are among the worst in Europe.

“I think, for me, it’s really hard to listen to these conversations about the Good Friday Agreement and see them being so celebratory.

“There’s a lot of high profile politicians visiting here. And yes, there’s not as much violence on the street but we have a relative peace. We can’t have full peace without prosperity and I do feel what is there to celebrate?

“There are so many social issues that affect every single person living here. People here are exhausted. They’re just trying to survive.

“There are so many issues that still have to be addressed.”