Panel discussion at Quaker Service event at Stormont
By Kathryn Johnston, VIEW deputy editor
A storytelling project encouraging young people to tell Northern Ireland politicians about the difficulties they face every day was launched at Stormont this week by Claire Bailey, Green Party MLA for South Belfast.
The project, My Story, co-ordinated by family support charity, the Quaker Service, focused on young people in north and west Belfast and how they felt about the Good Friday Agreement 20 years after it was first signed in 1998.
The Northern Ireland Assembly has not met since the resignation of the former Deputy First Minister, the late Martin McGuinness in January last year. Following the failure of the NI Executive to form a government, the empty corridors of Stormont were a potent metaphor for our current political stalemate.
Janette McKnight, Director of the Quaker Service, said that the charity, which works with marginalised and excluded teenagers and families, wanted to give a platform to people not often heard by officials and decision-makers.
“The families and young people we work with tell us that violence, poverty and pain are still an everyday experience, 20 years on from the Good Friday Agreement,” said Ms McKnight.
“We wanted to create a space where they could tell their own stories, frankly and freely, to decision-makers. Young people and women often bear the brunt of the legacy of the Troubles and today’s social problems, yet are least likely to be heard by those with power and influence to make a change.”
Ms McKnight added: “We also wanted to include people who are newly arrived in Northern Ireland, often from conflict and crisis elsewhere – again we don’t often hear first-hand from asylum seekers and refugees what it’s like to live in our communities.’
One speaker said that less than 20 miles from Stormont, men and women were being detained in Larne House Short-Term Residental Holding Unit in Larne, Co Antrim (https://www.gov.uk/immigration-removal-centre/larne-house-antrim)
• The centre can hold up to 21 male and female detainees for up to seven days, although the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission has raised concerns with the UN Committee Against Torture that, in spite of the opening of Larne House, some detainees have been held in police custody suites for longer periods.