There is a strange phenomenon that has infected the majority of the post-1998 generation. Not to be hyperbolic about it, but due to a relentless stream of Government-sponsored propaganda, international diplomatic cheerleading and a complete re-writing of the past, the Belfast Agreement has been elevated to the status of a holy writ. It sits far above normal politics, where one is permitted to challenge policies and legislation. When it comes to the Belfast Agreement, it is protected by a mythical status.
Anyone that dares to criticise or challenge the most immoral elements of the 'peace process' is sneered at and demonised. Due to relentless propaganda, 'peace' and the 'process' -- which is mapped out by the Belfast Agreement -- has become entwined, so as to ensure that criticism of the process is by extension a criticism of peace. It is moral blackmail of the most grievous kind, a vast deception of the post-1998 generation, who have been fed on a diet of pro-peace process propaganda.
A couple of years ago I was invited to speak to a group of 6th year politics students at Methodist College. It was a lively discussion, and one of the key topics was the peace process. Afterwards there was a furious reaction from some of, what I would describe as, the 'liberal elite'. People such as Emmet McDonough-Brown tweeted his disgust that any school would dare invite me, let alone one as prestigious as Methody. The underlying reason for this sort of anger was that my brand of politics is the complete antithesis of the 'peace process' propaganda machine.
In the minds of Mr McDonough-Brown, and those of a similar way of thinking, I am a demagogue, and those with anti-agreement views such as mine should be ignored and denied any sort of platform to articulate a perfectly legitimate political viewpoint. This is a perfect example of the peace process being elevated to a mythical status, the holy writ of politics. You are free to articulate your views, so long as you do not engage in political blasphemy by criticising the prized peace process.
Had I went into the school to champion the cause of the peace process, then the likes of Mr McDonough-Brown would have cheered my presence, as he similarly cheers and welcomes the contributions in the mainstream media of commentators, who just like me have no mandate, but that espouse views agreeable to his brand of politics.
This stands in stark contrast to some of the genuine tolerance I have experienced. None more so than when Father Martin Magill, a North Belfast priest, visited a loyalist bonfire in Bangor and took time to speak to everyone present and listen to their views, and concerns. He was pilloried in his own community for it. It wasn't that he had engaged with a loyalist, it was that he had engaged with an unacceptable loyalist. Put succinctly, it was because he had broke the golden rule of the Belfast Agreement, namely 'acceptable intolerance'. He had engaged with those who oppose it.
Denying the legitimacy of those who hold an anti-agreement viewpoint is deemed as acceptable intolerance, for it is done (the peaceniks will tell you) in furtherance of 'protecting the peace process'. And well, you can get away with almost anything under the cloak of furthering the peace process. One only has to look at the OTR scheme, the tampering with the key tenets of democracy, the destruction of the RUC and the perverse moral equivalence between the illegal weapons of the IRA and the presence of the lawful British Army, operating within the sovereign territory of the United Kingdom.
I think the Challenges NI events and blog is a fantastic piece of work. I have met Jack and Thomas on a number of occasions and had enjoyable debates and discussions. I believe what they are trying to achieve in terms of providing a platform for young people is a vital piece of work, and indeed they really do deserve some substantial investment in their project. I am not sure, but I would hazard a guess that their ideas may very well have provided some of the inspiration for Stephen Nolan's 'Top Table' show.
But I would hope that the Challenges NI blog would not become hypnotised with the sweet aroma of pro Belfast Agreement propaganda, which would naturally lead to embracing the kind of 'acceptable intolerance', in furtherance of the peace process, that I have highlighted earlier in this piece. The fact that they have asked me to write this piece suggests that they have remained rather more open minded.
If young readers of this piece take nothing else from it, then at the very least take this. Do not be morally blackmailed into believing that you cannot objectively assess the merits of the Belfast Agreement, and the overarching peace process, because this would make you anti-peace. Nothing could be further from the truth. If you are blackmailed into believing that the only way to have peace is to acquiesce to a morally perverse, and from a unionist point of view corrosive, peace process then you are allowing your mind to be infected with the kind of 'acceptable' intolerance that has denoted the 'peace process'.
Peace should not be dependent upon democracy being shaped to suit the terrorist, but rather should be a fundamental principle that we must all affirm. If you accept that this is the case, then the next logical step is to look beyond the propaganda and realise that you can have peace without having to bend the knee to the corrosive 'process'.
Ask yourself why some would say that people like me should be kept away from schools, but cheerleaders for the peace process- some of whom are convicted terrorists- should be welcomed with open arms? If the views articulated by the likes of myself, Jim Allister and others are so politically bankrupt, then surely it would be better to have us humiliated and our views forensically dissected in order to demonstrate the merits of the Belfast Agreement?
If the Belfast Agreement is so good, and the peace process so successful, then why do the supporters of same demand a platform all to themselves to tell you how good it is? Why are they so exercised when anyone else with an anti-agreement viewpoint is given the opportunity to challenge their political holy writ?
I would encourage all young people who are politically interested to contribute to this blog, or other platforms. Write and express your views, and do not worry about them being unpopular.
I remember when I was in my early twenties, I articulated the case for direct rule and challenged mandatory coalition as a form of government. The then First Minister Peter Robinson went on BBC television and called me 'politically bankrupt' and a 'village idiot'.
Strangely enough the DUP, UUP, PUP and others have all now come out, at one time or another, in support of scrapping mandatory coalition. And well, we are as close to direct rule as you could come without declaring direct rule.
The moral of the story is this, if you genuinely believe in your views, then don't be hamstrung by the 'acceptable intolerance' of the self-appointed arbitrators of what political viewpoints are legitimate, and what aren't. Don't be put off by the potential that some may mock you or poke fun at you. Pick up your pen and write anyway, who knows, six years down the line it may turn out to be prophetic.
Jamie Bryson is a unionist activist who is a regular contributor in the mainstream media on current affairs, and specifically on issues relating to loyalism. He lives in Donaghadee and has been a long time opponent of the peace process, regularly arguing that it is ‘peace with a gun to its head’.