Marking Twentieth Anniversary of Good Friday Agreement, 6th-7th April 2018

18/04/2018

Dr. Stefanie Lehner discusses legacy of Good Friday Agreement through reading of two 2015 theatre productions

INTERNATIONAL experts including Dr. Stefanie Lehner, discussed the impact and legacy of the Good Friday Agreement at an event on 6th -7th April 2018, at the Irish World Heritage Centre, to mark the landmark political development’s twentieth anniversary.

While various aspects of the 1998 Agreement have been astutely criticised, perhaps especially in view of current political situation (regarding both the Assembly’s suspension as well as Brexit), Dr. Steffi Lehner's paper attempted to reclaim the promise that is evoked in the 1998 Belfast/Good Friday Agreement through a reading of two 2015 theatre productions:  Stacey Gregg’s play Shibboleth and Abbie Spallen’s Lally the Scut. By recourse to the late Jacques Derrida’s thoughts trauma and promise, she argued that despite the traumatism that underpins the plot of both plays, they contain and give rise to a promise that is marked by the ability to respond to the ‘other’, affirming our response-ability for the other, for the future.

Outline of Presentation

In the 2015 production of Stacey Gregg’s play Shibboleth at the Peacock stage of the Abbey Theatre, the entire performance suddenly comes to a grinding halt after the foreman of the brickies, employed to build and extension to an already existing peace wall, responds to a councillor’s desperate optimism that ‘change is possible’, sharp and simply: ‘No love. Things don’t change.’ In Tinderbox’s 2015 production of Abbie Spallen’s Lally the Scut, at the MAC in Belfast, the whole play seems to depict a state of suspension for the eponymous protagonist who desperately seeks to rescue her son, who has fallen down a hole in a bog. Herein, both plays seem indeed representative of the ‘state of suspension’ that, as several critics suggest, underpins Northern Irish politics and culture in myriad ways. Indeed, this analysis is confirmed when we consider that the Northern Irish Executive has remained suspended since January 2017, with Northern Ireland being, once again, under direct rule from Westminster. Hence, in contrast to John Brannigan’s 2006 suggestion that ‘suspension can seem the best means of avoiding repetition’, with hindsight from 2018, we can say that the current state of suspension in indeed just another repetition. Notably, in both plays the depicted states of suspension are, themselves, framed by two moments of recurrence: In Lally, the story of the child down a bog-hole is a repetition of Lally’s own story, who fell (or, rather: was abandoned) down a well as an infant. In Shibboleth, the scene repeats the same dialogue which caused the play to presumably break down. These repetitions suggest the traumatic impact of these occurrences, evoking the notion of history as trauma that has infamously underpinned many readings of Northern Irish history, politics, and culture.  Are both plays, then, collapsed in a traumatic paradigm? By recourse to the late Jacques Derrida’s thoughts trauma and promise, the paper argued that despite the traumatism that underpins the plot of both plays, they contain and give rise to a promise that is marked by the ability to respond to the ‘other’, affirming our response-ability. This promise, Dr Lehner suggests, is evoked in the 1998 Agreement, whose anniversary was being marked.

Topicality

The conference included free events that members of the public were invited to attend – features writers, academics and journalists from across the world discussed the cultural, social, and political legacy of the agreement, which paved the way for power sharing in Northern Ireland and ended years of sectarian conflict.  Experts also looked at where the agreement stands now – following last year’s breakdown of the Northern Ireland Assembly and as the subject of a hard border continues to be discussed as part of ongoing Brexit negotiations.

 

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