Thousands of young people rally for peace at Maze site

James Hamber, aged 10, from Rowandale School in Moira  makes his pledge during the Amazing the Space event at the Eikon Exhibition Centre

James Hamber, aged 10, from Rowandale School in Moira makes his pledge during the Amazing the Space event at the Eikon Exhibition Centre

Thousands of young people have taken part in a major cross-community gathering to call for a more peaceful future at home and across the world.

The Amazing the Space event at the Maze/Long Kesh site near Lisburn fused musical performances from local young people with messages from international speakers with experience of living in conflict zones.

The initiative was the brainchild of Dr David Latimer

The initiative was the brainchild of Dr David Latimer

The initiative, held on the UN’s International Day of Peace, was the brainchild of high-profile cleric Dr David Latimer, from Derry First Presbyterian Church, and has been developed with the support of Co-operation Ireland and the Stormont Executive.

As well as the main show at the Eikon Exhibition Centre on the former prison site, there were five satellite events in Ballymena, Magherafelt, Londonderry, Enniskillen and Bessbrook.

A steering group of young people was integral to shaping the event programme.

A number of pupils read out “peace pledges” made by their schools, which were attached to a specially designed Peace Pledge Tree.

This 4.5 metre (15ft) stainless steel sculpture, designed by artist Maurice Harron, is set to become a piece of public art at the site.

More than 400 primary and second level schools, as well as youth clubs, have created peace pledges to demonstrate hope for a peaceful future.

One of the international speakers was Yasmin Kayali, from Aleppo in Syria.

Ms Kayali, who runs a charity for refugees, said: “As somebody who has seen their own city and country destroyed by war over the last five years, I am delighted to get the opportunity to come to Northern Ireland and speak about the need for peace in Syria.

“Northern Ireland has known conflict but has now moved to peace. It is my wish – and the wish of millions of Syrian refugees across the Middle East and Europe – that the conflict in Syria will end and that we can begin to rebuild our lives.”

Dr Latimer said young people had an important role in peace-building.

“Young people, with open minds, fresh ideas and positive energy are the key to a brighter future in Northern Ireland,” he said.

“The young have the power to forge a path of good hope that shimmers with peace and prosperity. This central idea is the catalytic touchstone of the Amazing the Space initiative.”

Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness and Junior Minister Alastair Ross attended the event.

“Today celebrates young people’s role as ambassadors for peace,” said Mr McGuinness. “It is particularly encouraging to see so many taking part and leading the way in building a united community.”

Mr Ross added: “Amazing the Space is a truly worthwhile, youth-driven, initiative which provides an opportunity for young people to play their part in peace-building.

“Events like this are vital to a shared, united and reconciled society and I am delighted the Executive Office is supporting Amazing the Space through its Central Good Relations Fund.”

Peter Sheridan, CEO of Co-operation Ireland said: “Co-operation Ireland believe that young people should be actively engaged in shaping lasting peace and contributing to justice and reconciliation locally and globally.

“Their participation is an important signal in building sustainable peace. Amazing the Space has been led by young people, they have been part of the planning and the decision making, it would not have happened without their energy and enthusiasm.”