NEXT year marks the 20th anniversary of the Good Friday Agreement and for anyone who remembers the frantic hours leading up to its signing it will remain a momentous event.
But what if you were born after it was signed? What is your relationship to the document that ended widespread hostilities for the first time in a generation?
It’s that impact – or lack thereof – amongst young people that has spurred North Belfast writer Dr Brenda Liddy to put pen to paper with her new book, Good Friday’s Child and the Good Friday Agreement.
The idea for the book came to her after talking with her GCSE students at the North Regional College in Coleraine.
“I was teaching young people who were repeating their GCSEs and I was filling in their forms to enter them into the exam and I realised a lot of them were born in 1998,” she said. “So it struck me these are the children of the Good Friday Agreement and we were discussing it and they hadn’t a clue about it. Absolutely hadn’t a clue, which is wonderful in one way, but then I thought it would be interesting to write something about the Good Friday Agreement, but seen through their eyes.”
Using Salman Rushdie’s book Midnight’s Children, where the main protagonist is born on the day of Indian independence, as an inspiration, Brenda’s book is seen through the eyes of Patrick Sweeney, an autistic boy with supernatural powers.
“I had been reading Salman Rushdie’s ‘Midnight’s Children’ and the main character Saleem is born in 1947 on the advent of the new Indian state and he uses that to give the child special powers to look at the embryonic state and all that happens up until the time of the emergency and how things got very strained.
“It made me think could I use that as a metaphor for what happened here – the child providing a fictionalised account. I gave the child autism because in some way I felt that with the Agreement some people within the main parties were not relating to each other as they should have been.”
To research the book Brenda trawled Hansard and she said as she read the exchanges between the parties in the Assembly chamber it became clear to her that devolution was not going to last.
“When I read some of the Hansard from the Assembly I felt that it would collapse because I felt that the past hadn’t gone away. You have the victims issue and the disappeared, which haven’t been resolved.
“I only looked at a tiny bit of the Hansard but the discussion I read was about how to commemorate something and there were very angry exchanges. I could see they were making efforts but the only thing they could agree on that day was bird diversity.”
The lack of interest and knowledge amongst her pupils makes her think more effort should have been put into education in the years following the Good Friday Agreement.
“Education is a big thing for me and I started asking myself, has the Good Friday Agreement delivered for the education sector?
“Young people are the future and they will be looking after the north of Ireland so they are the ones I feel should be getting the moneyand power and strength and inspiration and that’s what I was feeling when I wrote the book.
“I wanted to look at the Good Friday Agreement in terms of how a young boy would look at it. The young boy is turning 19 and he reflects the lack of enthusiasm I see in young people’s learning and where is this getting us.
“The people I teach haven’t obtained their GCSEs but they are in my class repeating because they wanted to access engineering courses and child care and they can’t without basic English and Maths.
“When I asked them about the Good Friday Agreement they told me they learned about the Good Friday Agreement in ‘living and learning class’ and as part of their pastoral educational syllabus but I feel that they should be learning about the agreement and know about its strands so I made that connection with the book.”
Brenda is a published author with both academic and memoirs in print, but her latest book is a departure in writing style.
“Those topics are covered but you would have to read between the lines because the book is experimental. If reflects the creative ambiguity of the wording of the Good Friday Agreement – words like ‘may’ are used a great deal. They ‘may’ do this and they ‘may’ do that. That brings in perception and while I think it’s a brilliant agreement perhaps we need to go back and try to get concrete deals – ‘I’ll do this for you but only if you do that for me’.”
Good Friday’s Child and the Good Friday Agreement is on sale now at www.amazon.co.uk.