Obama urges next generation in NI to forge "new identity"

Cliona McCarney asked Barack Obama about the Peace Process
Cliona McCarney asked Barack Obama about the Peace Process

US President Barack Obama has called on the next generation of Northern Irish people to forge a "new identity".

He made the comments at a 'town hall' question and answer session in London yesterday.

21-year-old Cliona McCarney, from Belfast, asked Obama about the role of America in the peace process in Northern Ireland, and how it will continue to be involved.

In response, Obama said: "You know better than I do, but one of the things you see in Northern Ireland that's most important is the very simple act of recognising the humanity of those on the other side of the argument.

"Having empathy and a sense of connection to people who are not like you.

"That has taken time, but you are now seeing that among young people who are interacting more.

"It requires forging a new identity that is about being from Northern Ireland as opposed to unionist or Sinn Féin, just deciding the country as a whole is more important than any particular faction or any particular flag.

"This is a challenging time to do that because there is so much uncertainty in the world right now because things are changing so fast, there's a temptation to forge identities, tribal identities, that give you a sense of certainty, a buffer against change."

He added: "And that's something, our young people, they have to fight against, whether you're talking about Africa, or the Middle East, or Northern Ireland, or Burma.

"The forces that lead to the most violence and the most injustice typically spring out of people saying, 'I want to feel important by dividing the world into us and them. And them threatens me, and so I've got to make sure that my tribe strikes out first'.

"And fighting that mentality and that impulse requires us to begin very young with our kids.

"One of the most encouraging things in Northern Ireland is children starting to go to school together and having a sense that we're all in this together, as opposed to it's us against them." 

Cliona later took to Twitter to share her pride at having represented Northern Ireland at the conference.

The SDLP member was also praised by the party's deputy leader, Fearghal McKinney.