Twenty years ago there when Facebook wasn’t a thing and tweeting referred to the birdsong that greeted the dawn, on that day that I went out to cast my vote in the referendum that followed the signing of the Belfast Agreement. My first vote was on something that was pitched as the decision of a lifetime.
Social media was in its infancy, instant messaging was starting to appear on dial up internet connections while parents complained about sky rocketing phone bills, but the connectivity we have today was the stuff of science fiction.
For the most part, the politics of Northern Ireland played out on TV and in the newspapers, collusion between journalists and the negotiating parties kept the message on track. Dissent had a limited voice in which to question the goings on now that exploding bombs and maiming people had fallen out of fashion.
Twenty years on, and our accidental politicians trip from one scandal to the next crisis, a hangover from our troubled past. Who votes for these people? They have stifled the political process for their own end.
Good Friday created a vacuum, a peace process on which to build a brighter future, but that it was never fully implemented has left us wondering what if. It looks good on paper doesn’t it? But in the hands of the politically inept it has become nothing but a football and the match is now being played out online.
While the bullets and bombs may have stopped, much like those Japanese who continued to believe that they were at war on their little tropical island cut off from the world there exists a similar situation in Northern Ireland.
There is a pocket of the internet were the troubles rage on, with whataboutery used as a weapon we are constantly being bombarded with the past, as each side try to secure their version of history through an army of trolls, who swarm and attack in order to spread the propaganda of their political masters. Tit for tat tweets have replaced tit for tat bullets.
I played my part in this propaganda offensive, creating a platform which followed in the tradition of lampooning the situation. Like the Portadown News covering the protests at Drumcree before it L.A.D tried to make sense of the situation that arose when Sinn Fein conceded to the flying of the Union 'Fleg' over Belfast City Hall fourteen times a year. As an anonymous entity I was able to say what needed said and that is that this place is nuts and allergic to logic! It really doesn’t take much to cause unionist fury or to upset republicans, making satirising them is a lot like shooting fish in a barrel; fun to begin with but ultimately predictable.
It did however provide me with a unique peek behind the curtain. I saw many friendships formed ‘across the divide”, god I hate that term, a prime example of the language used to maintain the status quo, but I did see what was possible when the lines of communication bypass the elected and the people seek out their own truth. The truth is that there is no longer just two communities, there is a dozen or more. In the Twenty years since The Good Friday agreement, peace has allowed the demographic of Northern Ireland to change at a much more rapid rate than the politics can keep up with. Alas, instead of allowing a new politics to emerge, I suspect that the ultimate plan our politicians have is to bore us into submission so that they can have us live in this post-Good Friday Agreement vacuum forever.
Twenty years on and our failure to truly engage in a meaningful way means we are doomed to make the same mistakes and pass our conflict to another generation, while our politicians continue to get fat from the proceeds of their crimes against progress.
John-Paul's interests include writing in the third person, stand up comedy and taking the mick out of those deserving of it.