THOSE born after 1998 in Northern Ireland have been afforded a very different experience of growing up than their parents, one that is free from the trauma of war.

The Good Friday Agreement did not eradicate all paramilitary violence, nor did it heal the sectarian wounds that continue to divide Catholic and Protestant communities. But it would not be overstating matters to say the accord, signed in Belfast 20 years ago today, has had a transformative effect on life for the 1.8 million citizens who live in the Province.

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Visit Belfast now and you will find a vibrant and diverse European city that relies on financial services, the tech industry and tourism. Indeed, it can be difficult to believe that only a generation ago British troops patrolled the streets, their presence welcomed by one side of the community, despised by the other. Life went on during the 30 years of The Troubles, but it was frequently shattered by bombs and bullets, and few families on either side of the sectarian divide were untouched by the violence. More than 3,600 people were killed and many thousands more injured as paramilitary groups and the security forces waged war.

The psychological toll is not so easy to measure and continues to impact many. But as the years go by, more distance is put between the violent past and the peaceful present that is all the younger generation has known.

The process that led to the Good Friday Agreement was long, hard and frustrating. There were many false dawns and walkouts. But the fact that the opposing Unionist and Nationalist sides eventually signed up to a power-sharing agreement, with the support of the British and Irish Governments, still seems miraculous. Thirty years of bloodshed was over; the people of Northern Ireland had voted unanimously for a different future.

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The road hasn’t always been smooth in the following years; indeed, the assembly and executive at Stormont was dissolved more than a year ago – ironically over a corruption scandal - with the Democratic Unionist Party and Sinn Fein, the two largest parties, failing to find a way forward.

But this cannot diminish the many positive changes that have taken place since 1998, not least the embrace of peace and the gradual ability of the people of Northern Ireland to look beyond the divide.

One of the key facets of the last 20 years has been the strengthening economic and social relationship between Northern Ireland and the Republic. As part of the Good Friday Agreement the people of the Province were able to express their identity and culture more freely – including through passports - whether that be British or Irish. The border between the two countries disintegrated and a healthy interdependency, at least in terms of trade, has flourished.

The Brexit vote, with the accompanying uncertainty over the status of that border, puts this hard-won relationship in jeopardy. The thought of guards patrolling a hard border puts a chill in the heart of many who lived through the Troubles, and this situation must be avoided at all costs.

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But, as the last few months have shown, no easy answers exist to this uncomfortable scenario, especially since the UK Government’s negotiating position is so weak. All parties say they do not want a return to the hard border of the past, but none has yet come up with a way to avoid it. Indeed, some in the extreme pro-Brexit camp seem prepared to sacrifice stability in Northern Ireland if it allows the severing of trade ties with the EU.

This is a dangerous approach indeed, and Prime Minister Theresa May must find a way to show the people of Northern Ireland - as well as the rest of the UK - that Brexit cannot and will not undo the legacy of the Good Friday Agreement. Peace and prosperity is simply too precious.