Day 1: The Foundation of Home



I first learned about the Good Friday Agreement when I was nine years old, during morning assembly at my school.

In April 1998, I was attending one of the few integrated primary schools in Northern Ireland. We were told by our headmaster that the then-Secretary of State Mo Mowlam would be coming to visit our school, and we all had to write her a letter about the importance of going to an integrated school.

The best four writers would get to meet her and read out their letters to her.

Naturally, my precocious nine-year-old self wasted no time in penning the very best letter Mo Mowlam would ever have the privilege of reading.

Full disclosure: I didn’t win.

The accolade instead went to my eight-year-old brother, who upon winning, said: "Mum, I think I get to meet that man Mo Mowlam." Those of you with competitive natures and sibling rivalries can imagine my frustration.

I was perhaps too busy with my letter writing to notice during that time how Northern Ireland's political leaders had just made history with the signing of the Good Friday Agreement.

Change was on the horizon, but I was more concerned with winning a school competition than paying attention to the importance of the moment. I was nine, after all.

My next encounter with the Good Friday Agreement came when I was a 16-year-old student beginning A-Level Politics, and Northern Ireland was experiencing its fourth period of direct rule since 1998.

I remember being far more giddy than most teenagers should be at the prospect of a week’s work experience on the hill. That excitement soon subsided.

With no assembly debates to watch, I ended up writing incredibly dull fake press releases during a day’s stay at the Department of Education, a tour through the empty press basement was mind-numbing and the only politician I managed to meet while I was there was then-SDLP leader, Mark Durkan.

Not long after that, the DUP leader Ian Paisley denounced the Good Friday Agreement in its entirety and said it had been “buried in a Sadducee’s grave from which there is no resurrection”.

To 16-year-old me, doing exams about a legislative system that didn't look like it was coming back anytime soon felt pointless. I questioned the existence of political structures at Stormont when they couldn't seem to work for anyone for very long.

I had teenage dreams instead then of moving to America - a country I naively saw as having at the very least, a functioning government, and a political sophistication that was lacking in Northern Ireland.

Just a year later and power-sharing was back up and running, albeit amended slightly with a new agreement in the guise of St Andrews, but the principles of power-sharing set out in the Good Friday Agreement were still very much present.

That September I started university in Belfast, where I studied politics, and it was during those three years that I decided against leaving Northern Ireland.

Further study of our very complicated past - and how remarkable it was that the Good Friday Agreement had ever come about - made me reassess much of what I thought I knew.

It was only now that I really began to appreciate the efforts of those who had sacrificed and made compromises in a bid to make Northern Ireland work.

As a young aspiring journalist, I also imagined the importance of reporting on the political events of 1998 and hoped to cover similar stories myself one day.

What I am trying to say is that everything about the Northern Ireland I know always comes back in some way to the Good Friday Agreement - and the hope that people from all communities can put aside their differences to live, learn and govern together.

It has been the foundation for the home I have known, and part of why I want to stay and report on how the GFA came to be and how NI moves forward

Never has there been a better time to be a political journalist, and I count myself fortunate to have both the opportunity and responsibility of doing so.

I often wonder how many others have been persuaded to stay in Northern Ireland by the Good Friday Agreement and what it represents to them - and what we'll be saying about it in another 20 years.

Jayne has worked as a journalist for BBC News NI in Belfast since 2013. She presents a weekly radio show on BBC Radio Ulster called The Sunday News, and spends more time than she should on her phone.

She is soon taking up a role in BBC News NI’s expanded digital team as a political reporter, where she will continue to spend far too much time on her phone. She also enjoys the odd bit of reality TV.

#20Years20Days #JayneMcCormack

challenges ni

2020