A really strange story in the Saffron Walden Reporter, it ought to be uplifting but I’m concerned about it…
It’s the story of how Stansted Youth Centre sent a group of young people over to Corpus Christi Youth Centre in Ballymurphy as part of an exchange programme.
The idea clearly is for young people to make new friends, and to learn and expand horizons a little. Stansted will return the favour and host Corpus Christi next year.
So while they were here, these young people met with MPs, heard a talk from the PSNI chief constable and took part in a Youth Fringe debate along with the Lord Mayor of Belfast etc… sounded like a really great programme.
I went on to the Stansted Facebook site and among a load of pics of lots of activities these had been posted up:
- Note label to the machinegun says: ‘Type of weapon used in the cause of Irish Freedom’
Of course, when young people are hosted within a republican community they will inevitably be exposed to something of that community’s values, experiences etc etc. But I do wonder about about including The Republican Museum within an official itinerary when it includes modern sub-machine guns presented like this?
The use of this machine gun is presented as legitimate contribution to something positive – why have kids leave Belfast with a fuzzy notion about weapons like this?
On a secondary point…
Corpus Christi is one of four centres involved in the ‘Away from Violence’ project. This project – funded by International Fund for Ireland’s Community Bridges Programme, and the Department of Education’s Community Relations Core Funding Scheme – ‘helps young people to explore the nature of violence’. (Some might say that far from turning children away from violence, they brought them directly to a place that exults in it.)
Was this exchange visit funded via Away from Violence? If so, was the visit to The Republican Museum funded in any way by the Department Of Education? It would be interesting to find out the funding sources for this.
This sort of story is completely appalling. But that memorial and this youth visit show us that sectarian blots on the landscape are increasingly becoming part of official visitors’ experience for this region.
While progress on how we remember the past is slow, a cottage industry is springing up around us and its playing an active and semi-legitimate/authoritative role in NI’s visitor experience. The past is presently being dealt with by myriad groups, each with their own agenda and narrative (appalling or otherwise). The overall effect of this ad hoc-ery and mainstream influencing by marginal story-telling is messy to say the least, and its not without broader consequences for society here. Surely enjoying a shared and constructive future will be made more difficult within such an unregulated, fractious and discordant system. Central planning is needed, and fast.
Eg, whatever next? Some tourist or young person is bound to have a ‘Loyalist Museum’ inflicted on them soon, complete with display cases of AK47s labelled as ‘neighbourhood defence equipment’ (as opposed to terror weapons).
I’m not saying there isn’t an explanation for a visit to the Republican Museum (it comes down to personal tastes and preferences), just that when put alongside MPs, the PSNI chief Con and the Lord Mayor, Uzis and plastic bullets and Republican cottage history assumed the appearance of being part of an official, genuine Belfast experience for young people visiting from England. And that thought does make me uncomfortable. (Also, the quality of the itinerary makes me suspect central funding for the trip, but I may be wrong…)
In the interim I’ll pray for the day when society here gets a grip on all this stuff and when every guest here can enjoy their time in Northern Ireland and take away some lasting connections without being subjected to a barrelful of aul’ piffle.
PS. What about the parents of the kids from Saffron Walden? Were they consulted about the visit to The Republican Museum? Perhaps they were – but had parents known the type of exhibition their children were going to would this have changed their decision?