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Youth of Belfast

“If I had been born at the top of my street, behind the corrugated-iron border, I would have been British. Incredible to think. My whole idea of myself, the attachments made to a culture, heritage, religion, nationalism and politics are all an accident of birth. I was one street away from being born my ‘enemy’ “. Paul McVeigh, Belfast-born novelist. I have been documenting the daily life of teenagers in British working-class communities for almost two decades. After the Brexit referendum I focussed this work on Belfast in Northern Ireland. There was a serious concern that the final implementation of Brexit will threaten the Peace Agreement of 1998 that ended the armed conflict between Protestant Unionists and Catholic Nationalists who live in homogeneous neighborhoods that are divided by walls till today. These two communities in Belfast who seem to have irreconcilable differences, are more similar than they’d both like to admit. While they still stick to their own symbols of their identity and tradition, they wear the same clothes, have the same haircuts, listen to the same music, drink the same beer, take the same drugs and often the same worries such as violence, unemployment, social discrimination and therefore, lack of prospects. They seem to have the same DNA! But 25 years after the Peace Agreement people still live in parallel societies, there is no contact in everyday life of working-class communities. Only 7% of pupils in Northern Ireland go to integrated schools. Problems with the practical implementation of Brexit have increased tensions. And the fact that, for the first time, there are now more Catholics than Protestants and that Sinn Féin, a pro-Irish party, has won a majority in Parliament, opens the door to reunification with the Republic of Ireland. This will lead to further controversy in the years to come. It is definitely time to overcome old rifts and ideas of identity or belonging and to look forward – in the sense of a better future for all young people in Northern Ireland! For many years I have been documenting the youth of Belfast. The teenagers of yesterday are now young adults with own kids. The new generation of young people still share many of the same problems, but some of them are easing – there are more and more cross community couples and the fights at the interfaces are decreasing.

Photographer: Toby Binder @tobybinderphotography

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