In Dublin this week for their twice-yearly meeting, the Elders are taking the opportunity to hear from young leaders about their work promoting peace, human rights and inclusion in Northern Ireland.
Three Elders, who are in the Republic of Ireland for their biannual meeting, will meet young activists from Northern Ireland this morning to discuss the challenges of building a shared future for their communities.
Although Northern Ireland is not a focus of their work, reaching out to those who feel marginalised and forgotten – especially young people – has been an important concern for The Elders since Nelson Mandela founded the organisation in 2007. Gro Harlem Brundtland (who will chair the meeting), Ela Bhatt and Martti Ahtisaari look forward to hearing the views of young community leaders working for reconciliation.
The fourteen young leaders are all actively involved in civil society movements and groups whose aims span politics, culture and community. Their areas of work include advocating for a Bill of Rights for Northern Ireland, offering frontline support to young people at risk of violence or paramilitary involvement, and promoting the rights of minority ethnic groups in Northern Ireland.
Having emerged from “The Troubles” – three decades of brutal sectarian violence committed by extreme Unionist and Nationalist groups – Northern Ireland is working to implement an historic peace deal, the 1998 Good Friday/Belfast Agreement.
Fifteen years on, Northern Ireland is a much more peaceful place, but division, tension and violence persist.
The two communities live largely separate lives, with education and public housing almost entirely divided along community lines. Sectarian violence has flared in recent months and in disadvantaged communities paramilitary violence is widespread. In Derry/Londonderry, for instance, punishment beatings, shootings, and expulsions from the city are common, carried out by paramilitaries acting as “community police”. Marginalised communities – whether they are Protestants, Catholics, or from ethnic minorities – suffer severe poverty and social disadvantage, which exacerbate existing tensions.
The success of the Northern Ireland peace process is internationally recognised, but The Elders are aware that more needs to be done to attain a lasting and meaningful peace. It is clear that many young people are angry and disillusioned with the political system which, they feel, is failing to address the needs and concerns of a new generation.
For updates from the meeting, follow @TheElders on Twitter from 10.15 this morning (UK time). A short video, focusing on issues that emerge during this discussion, will be released later in the year.