The religious and political divisions in Northern Ireland, which fueled decades of conflict, known as the Troubles, still exist today.
Last week, residents of two different neighborhoods joined together to form a human link that stretched across both areas. This gesture was unthinkable just a few years ago.
The display in West Belfast, as Northern Ireland celebrates its 25th anniversary, was not only a sign of progress, but also a reminder of how much the two communities share, particularly today.
President Biden arrived in Northern Ireland on Tuesday to celebrate the anniversary of the agreement, and meet with the leaders of Northern Ireland’s five political parties. Next week, the Prime Minister of Britain Rishi Sunak, King Charles III, and Bill Clinton who helped broker this agreement while he was president will all visit Belfast.
Despite the progress made since the Good Friday Agreement in 1998, the two West Belfast neighborhoods can attest that prosperity hasn't always accompanied peace. These two neighborhoods are some of the poorest in Northern Ireland. They suffer from educational underachievement, child poverty and other problems.
Where can we find our next dime to pay for electricity? Demi Griffith who lives in West Belfast's Shankill Road, a predominantly Protestant area, repeated a common refrain. 'It's scary.'
A bitter political disagreement over post-Brexit trading rules has resulted in Northern Ireland not having a functioning government – the Stormont – for months. This has left the poorer areas on both sides with no idea when their economic problems will be addressed.
Paul Doherty is the founder and manager of Foodstock's community response program. The charity provides assistance to families in Belfast. He added that 25 years after the 'Good Friday Agreement', 'the lack opportunities here is an issue we haven't addressed.
A power-sharing agreement was included in the peace accord to ensure that both major parties were represented. The political stagnation has meant that major changes to the health care system or education are on hold, and any additional funding to some social services is being delayed.
Robert Savage is a professor at Boston College and the director of Irish Studies. He said that it creates a vacuum. He added that 'without a local administration, there is instability'. "And this instability can lead violence."
Northern Ireland has suffered from a deep division for generations. The majority of Catholic nationalists want to unite with the Republic of Ireland. While the majority of Protestant unionists want to keep the territory as part of the United Kingdom.
The murals on one side of West Belfast's peace wall display Ireland's tricolor of orange, green, and white, while the Union Jack in red, white, and blue is displayed on the opposite, providing a stark reminder of the deep-seated divisions.
What you need to know about 'the troubles'
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A history of violence. The Troubles is the term for a long-running sectarian conflict that raged in Northern Ireland. This region was created as a majority-Protestant enclave when the Republic of Ireland gained self-government in the 1920s. The conflict pitted those seeking unity with Ireland - mainly Catholics, known as nationalists, against those wanting the territory to stay part of the United Kingdom - primarily Protestants, known as loyalists, unionists, and unionists.
How "the Troubles" began. The Troubles are often blamed on a civil rights march that took place in Derry, Oct. 5, 1968. After unionists announced a rival demonstration, the demonstration was banned. However, organizers decided to continue. Rioting broke out when officers of the Protestant-dominated police force, who had batons at the ready, surrounded demonstrators and sprayed them with water cannons.
Tensions simmering. Years of disaffection soon turned into armed rebellion spearheaded by the Irish Republican Army, and its political arm, Sinn Fein. They positioned themselves as the champions of Roman Catholic minorities. Paramilitary groups loyalists fought against the I.R.A. to protect the Protestant majority. This added another element of violence to the war.
Bloody Sunday. On January 30, 1972, thousands mostly Catholic marchers marched through the Bogside District of Derry to protest a new policy that allowed detentions without trial. British soldiers opened up fire and killed 14 protesters. Bloody Sunday became one of most notorious episodes in the Troubles.
A conflict of great scope. It had the appearance of a civil conflict, with roadblocks and bomb blasts. There were also sniper shots, suspension of civil liberties, and roadblocks. The bombings spread throughout Britain and British troops were hunting down I.R.A. Members as far as Gibraltar. The I.R.A. The I.R.A. received significant support from groups such as Irish Americans living in the United States, and Libyan dictator Col. Muammar al-Qaddafi.
How the Troubles ended. In 1998, the conflict was officially ended by a settlement called the Good Friday Agreement. In 1998, the Good Friday Agreement created a new regional government to allow those who wanted Ireland to be united with the United Kingdom to share power.
Conflict's long-lasting shadow. Violence has continued even after the Good Friday Agreement, which brought some peace. In addition, the shared executive authority established in the 1998 agreement has been repeatedly suspended due to intractable disagreements between the two parties and, more recently, because of the fallout following Brexit.
Professor Savage stated that many people in the deprived areas felt that the transformational opportunities that were presented by the end to the Troubles failed to materialize.
He said that a lot of people are grateful for the Good Friday Agreement. "But I sense that there is disillusionment in both Catholic and Protestant areas of working class."
In the wake of the agreement, there are attempts to build upon the work already done. While schools are still divided largely along religious lines they have implemented extracurricular programs that span communities. Sport teams have been formed that recruit players from all backgrounds. Belfast has become more diverse thanks to an influx in international workers.
Despite warnings by the authorities that sectarian violence could occur, tensions in Northern Ireland have been relatively calm during the anniversary celebrations. This is largely due to the disagreements over Brexit.
A Molotov Cocktail was thrown in one incident at a police car during a Monday parade held by so-called "dissident republicans" who advocate an extreme form of Irish nationalism.
In recent years, sectarian violence has flared up in Belfast neighborhoods. This is largely due to Brexit. The Brexit debate sparked a heated debate on how North Ireland will be treated following the United Kingdom's departure from the European Union.
Foodstock's founder, Mr. Doherty said that at the time, young people were on the streets trying to reduce tensions. He noted that funding has been reduced for many youth programs.
He added that 'people in our communities struggle to put food on the table, to heat their home'. "But these vital services, in terms of moving forward here and being able to speak to our youth, to allow them to make good choices, have also been removed."
Lynsey MCKINNEY, like Ms. Griffith lives in West Belfast's predominantly Protestant Shankill Road. Both women say that their neighborhoods have undergone a significant transformation in the past few years.
McKinney admits, however, that the two communities are largely separate. She remembered how, two years earlier, her oldest daughter asked her, "How do I tell if I'm in a Protestant area or a Catholic one?"
She said: 'And I can only describe it by saying to look out for flags.' She told her that if she saw a Union Jack then it was safe. You should not enter an area if you see the tricolor. She was 15 when I started telling her about history.
Ms. Griffith says she is also concerned about the safety of her children and has a less than optimistic outlook for the future. The cost of living is the immediate concern.
Lisa Lynn, 42 years old, is a community worker who grew up also in West Belfast, but in a predominantly Catholic area called Falls Road. She recalls gunmen firing on a police station nearby.
She said that she had seen a huge change in the safety of the streets. It's a very progressive society in my opinion.
She also stated that without a functioning federal government, the programs -- such as youth programs, education access, and social services -- that have helped lift the community up could be threatened.
She said that, at the end of it all, everyone has the same problems, whether they are unionists or nationalists. Everyone is financially suffering; everyone is suffering because of politicians and the system.
She said that 'their' problems were no different from ours, regardless of which side you are on.