Northern Ireland is so much more than its past

Belfast City Hall which is illuminated in yellow to mark the National Day of Reflection. Picture date: Tuesday March 23, 2021.
Belfast City Hall which is illuminated in yellow to mark the National Day of Reflection. Picture date: Tuesday March 23, 2021.

Meet Conchúr Dowds, our Northern Ireland reporter

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Being the Northern Ireland reporter, I must be the envy of all the other journalists. Sure, this place is a bit odd but we’re never short of news, it’s full of incredible people and engaging stories, and to be honest, you couldn’t ask for a better patch.

GB News’ launch isn’t the only monumental event to take place in 2021. It is also a big year for us in Northern Ireland. Whether you describe it as a country, province, territory or region; this year, it turns 100 and a number of events - celebratory or otherwise - are taking place to mark the centenary.

File photo dated 30/09/19 of a woman walking past a Belfast peace wall that is exhibiting photos by German photographer Kai Wiedenhofer of the world's border walls, ahead of Brexit. The UK and EU have reached a post-Brexit trade agreement.
File photo dated 30/09/19 of a woman walking past a Belfast peace wall that is exhibiting photos by German photographer Kai Wiedenhofer of the world's border walls, ahead of Brexit. The UK and EU have reached a post-Brexit trade agreement.

But, of course, Northern Ireland’s history doesn’t really start in 1921, does it? So where do I start? Perhaps I could reference a conversation between political journalist Ken Reid and John Major. The then-Prime Minister had to take a phone call while the pair were talking and, upon returning, asked Ken “Where were we?” to which he replied, “Around 1690, I believe.”

I’m lucky to have worked with Ken alongside many other wonderful people in my previous job. He often highlighted there were more than two sides to every story - an incredibly important point in a society so infamously divided.

In many ways, it does present the challenge that awaits me for, as GBN gets ready to launch, we’re preparing ourselves for what could be a rather busy summer in Northern Ireland. Brexit and/or the NI Protocol - depending on who you ask - have seen tensions rise in some communities. Recent months (and years) have seen disorder, protests, and other “shows of strength” on the streets of Northern Ireland.

DUP leader Edwin Poots holds a press conference at Stormont buildings Belfast where he met with the party's assembly members. Mr Poots is expected to announce changes to the partys ministerial team this week. Picture date: Tuesday June 1, 2021.
DUP leader Edwin Poots holds a press conference at Stormont buildings Belfast where he met with the party's assembly members. Mr Poots is expected to announce changes to the partys ministerial team this week. Picture date: Tuesday June 1, 2021.

We’ve also seen political oustings and restarts in the past few weeks, and there have been whispers that an early Assembly election may be on the cards. Not only that but discussions surrounding a border poll have also been doing the rounds. Legacy and how to deal with the past remains an unsolved issue. Just a few weeks ago, 50 years after the Ballymurphy Massacre, the victims’ families were told that their loved ones were entirely innocent.

Meanwhile, the Government is considering an amnesty for soldiers who served during the Troubles – but will that also extend to loyalist and republican paramilitaries? All these important issues to consider while Northern Ireland also tries to recover from the coronavirus pandemic - whether from an economic, social or health perspective. We already have the worst waiting times of any region in the UK.

I want to become a voice for everyone in Northern Ireland. Quite the mission, right? Of course, I’ll be holding those in power to account and covering the big stories that matter, but I also want to highlight the wonders of our part of the world, as well as the incredible feats accomplished by the people that live here. We have world-class actors, footballers, boxers, golfers, racers and more. We have Nobel laureates, champions of peace and literature. We have everyday heroes too, many of whom have got us through this pandemic.

A general view of the Titanic Museum on the site of the former Harland & Wolff shipyard in Belfast's Titanic Quarter.
A general view of the Titanic Museum on the site of the former Harland & Wolff shipyard in Belfast's Titanic Quarter.

These are the stories that will unite us, rather than divide us. There will always be room for hard news - trust me, we’ll never suffer a shortage of it here - but we also want to showcase the best of Northern Ireland on GBN too. I once heard that the gift of journalism is being a witness to history. I can’t help but agree. So, as we dare to make history, to launch something new and dare to try something a little different – we ask you to join us.

Because the stories that matter to you, matter to us.