Is the past really a foreign country?

Last night Stephen Nolan launched his new TV series The Top Table. Debuted in the mouth of 8 June’s General Election, it sets five articulate young people against a panel of five experienced politicians.

Often in a political stalemate – like the one we currently face in Northern Ireland – the most vulnerable, of which young people can be categorised, are the first to feel the tightening of the purse strings. Recent youth work cuts implemented by the Education Authority, extensive school amalgamations and the dissemination of local projects and groups in the absence of a budget are but a few examples of this.

It is largely agreed that it is our younger generations that inherit the burden of our troubled past, and that we must move on ‘for the sake of our children’.

During last year’s Assembly election campaign, Nolan hosted a similar programme to drive home this very point, involving perspectives from ‘the Good Friday Agreement generation’ – those young persons born in 1998, the year that marked the end of the Troubles.

Usually this narrative points to economic and social legacy of the Troubles, such as lack of housing due to sectarian division or the impact of a fractured economy on young people in times of political impasse.

However, in light of last night’s show, it’s clear it isn’t just socio-economic issues that have been exacerbated by our divided past.

As each year passes, a mentality that is fixated on the past continues to live on in our younger generations; a mentality of division, of cultural entitlement and of over-obsession with the constitutional status of Northern Ireland.

Whilst Stephen Nolan is renown for asking tough questions and leading conversations down uncomfortable avenues, last night’s show seemed to steer onto that road with little help from the presenter.

This piece does not set out to be critical of any articulate young person who wishes to express such views, but it does open up a conversation as to whether or not we are normalising these issues to the point of no return.

Do we need to do more to refrain from continuing debate around divisive issues? Is it distasteful for the media to use such a platform to press young people on divisive matters? Or is dialogue and debate, like that of last night’s show, the way forward?

Either way, something must give. Otherwise we will continue to have these same conversations with our ‘St. Andrews generation’ or ‘Stormont House generation’ which, given the current crisis, does not seem like far-fetched speculation.