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2020

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Brexit Threatens Peace In My Hometown

Updated: a day ago



I grew up in Ballymena, in Northern Ireland. It’s often popularly known as the City of 7 Towers – slightly misleadingly, as we’re neither a city nor do we have 7 towers.

The majority of my hometown is Protestant. It is in fact Ian Paisley’s hometown, and it’s now his Ian Paisley Jr’s constituency. We’ve been called Northern Ireland’s Bible Belt, and compared to 20th Century Mississippi, because of our treatment of the minority Catholic community there.

And despite its challenges. It’s my home. It’s the place where I grew up and its where my family are from. Life wasn’t great growing up, but I knew that what I had to suffer through was better than my parents.

Even more than that, because of the Good Friday Agreement, years of work by elected politicians of all stripes and support from – yes – the European Union, I knew my young sister’s life could be better than mine.

But that is now in danger.

In the run up to the 2016 EU Referendum, I despaired. Not just because of the tone of the campaign. Or the spurious lies which were propagated – but because the future of my family wasn’t deemed important enough when debating whether we remained or left the European Union.

I was always pro-European – I believe in an outward looking and tolerant Britain, and that global challenges require global responses. But the thing that made me most passionate was growing up in the town close to the heart of The Troubles in Northern Ireland.

And the rest of the United Kingdom often under-estimate what was and still is happening in Northern Ireland, and what leaving the European Union means. That’s why we voted to Remain.

Anyone who grew up with me can tell you that The Troubles didn’t finish with the Good Friday Agreement, but it’s hard to convey how different my country was before it, and the jubilation that met its passing.

The fact that there currently isn’t a hard border between Northern Ireland and Republic Ireland, meaning there is an agreement of rules for the free movement of people, services and goods is a key underpinning of peace.

George Mitchell, the US Senator who chaired the peace talks that led to the Good Friday Agreement, says it wouldn’t have happened without the European Union.

That means I feel permanently indebted to the EU. For me, this isn’t political. It's personal.

That’s why it’s particularly galling to me when Barry Gardiner MP – Shadow Secretary of State for International Development – says that The Good Friday Agreement has been ‘played up’. As if the people of the North and Republic of Ireland are patting themselves on the back.

Only someone who doesn’t know what it’s really like to live under the yoke of fear growing up could say that.

Because, I’m one of the 25% of Ballymena who consider themselves Catholic.

Growing up, there were areas of my home town that I couldn’t walk through. Why? Because you could tell my uniform was from a Catholic School.

One of my first memories was living on an estate called Clonavan, and my family being one of two Catholic families who lived there.

We were terrorized.

Our cat was – I’m not making this up – murdered, and the video sent to my mum as a threat. My little sister and I were lined up against a wall, so other kids could throw rocks at us, simply because we were catholic. She was 4.

And that’s a world I’m happy we’ve - broadly - left behind.

Since 1994, The EU has given funding for economic and social co-operation projects. Bringing together North and South, Catholic and Protestant. It’s almost certainly one of the reasons why my friendship group as a teenager were from mixed communities – although I couldn’t have told you that at the time.

My family now live and travel freely across both countries, happily knowing that the days of armed border checks are long gone.

Anything less than what we have now would be disastrous. The ability to travel between NI and the Republic is a necessity for thousands of people going to college, university and work. I have little faith in the Government being able to deliver a Brexit that won’t be a disaster for my country.

That’s why I’m part of a student-led Anti Brexit campaign group, called For our Future’s Sake.

We’re based across the UK, and our sole aim is to call for, instigate and win a people’s vote on the terms of a Brexit Deal.

We are firmly of the opinion that young people’s lives and their futures are far too important to allow politicians to decide by themselves.

So go to FFSakes.uk, and join myself and hundreds of other young people from Northern Ireland, Scotland, Wales and England to fight for our futures.

Rosie McKenna is an activist who focuses on women’s rights, LGBT+, and stopping Brexit. She has a pet hedgehog, and currently lives on trains traveling around the UK.


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