Optimism among children of the Good Friday Agreement
- 12 April 2013
- From the section Northern Ireland
Starting the day on Wednesday, I tweeted jocularly that I didn't know whether to attend a UUP event marking the 15th anniversary of the Good Friday Agreement or take the advice of the SDLP leader Alasdair McDonnell by treating the day as a public holiday.
My news editor had no such dilemma, promptly despatching me to the Park Avenue hotel in east Belfast, where I watched Mike Nesbitt tell a group of teenagers from local schools that the UUP had paid a big political price for signing the deal, but had chosen to put the country before the party.
Our news agenda was less consumed by the UUP giving its version of what happened back in 1998 and more by the secretary of state's warning that local politicians could lose out on economic assistance if they don't make swifter progress on improving community relations.
This has been characterised in some quarters as the British government waving a stick at Stormont, prompting both Sinn Fein and the DUP to hit back angrily at the Northern Ireland Office.
However in a subsequent statement Theresa Villiers portrayed what she'd said as more of a carrot dangled in front of Stormont noses, arguing the economic package she was talking about was extra cash, not assistance already agreed.
Back at the Park Avenue hotel I felt more like a historic exhibit than a reporter given that the events of 15 years ago are stuck so clearly in my mind.
I chatted to a couple of pupils from Ashfield Girls School, Grace Mamwa and Sophie Wedge, who impressed me both with their grasp of Northern Ireland's recent history and their optimism about the potential for their generation to move things forward.
Because of time pressures with the lunchtime news looming up, I didn't get to talk on camera to the pupils from Ashfield Boys who were also in the audience. This turned out to be a pity, because the next day I got a message from one of their grannies.
Laurie told me the Park Avenue event hadn't been the first time I'd crossed paths with her grandson Carter. Back in June 1998, when elections were held to the new Assembly, I filmed a report from the Ulster Hospital's maternity suite, which had a view out over Stormont, on the kind of powers the new institutions would wield.
We took some pictures of the newborn Carter and his proud parents. Now Carter is approaching his 15th birthday, doing well by his grandmother's account, and thinking about joining the police. So all the best to him, whatever he decides.
Chatting to Granny Laurie about the events of the last few days, she made it clear that she didn't think it right some people have taken to the streets holding parties to celebrate Lady Thatcher's death. But of course not everyone agrees. Straight after finishing our conversation I drove up to Andersonstown to record an interview with Gerry Adams, which you can hear on BBC Radio Ulster's Inside Politics.
When I emerged from the Sinn Fein office at Connolly House I found a rain-sodden piece of paper under my windscreen wiper. A flyer from a local fast food carryout? No. Someone who'd spotted me parking had written me a note "Thatcher was a war criminal. Put that in your report."
It's a novel way for a hack to get a quote, but it sure beats coming back to your car and finding the piece of paper under your wiper is a parking ticket.