February 23, 2016

#NorthernIreland2016 Interview Series - Ian James Parsley

Ian is 38 and his home village is Groomsport, Co Down. Though he grew up and was educated largely in England and Germany due to his father’s work, who himself is a Londoner. Ian's mother is from Belfast. Ian now lives in Co Antrim running a small management consultancy which also offers classes and translation services. Ian is a member of (though holds no position in) the Alliance Party.
Brian John Spencer: "When did you first learn about the Easter Rising of 1916?" Ian James Parsley
"I genuinely cannot recall! I read Robert Kee’s History of Ireland in the mid-‘90s, so probably there."
BJS: "Do the men, the act or the stated ideals in the proclamation mean anything to you?" IJP: 
"Not to me personally, no. I reflect that they mean something to my fellow countrymen and women. I should record that I personally regard both the Rising and the response to it as grossly disproportionate acts which were without democratic basis and caused unnecessary division among Irish people of different backgrounds. It also placed the power of the gun rather than the idea at the centre of Irish politics. In other words, it is understandable to some extent that it happened, but very regrettable."
BJS: "When did you first learn about the Battle of the Somme?" IJP: 
"I was aware of the Battle of the Somme because my grandfather participated in it. But it was not a particularly stand-out battle, as far as I was aware."
BJS: "Does this act, the men and their determination to show their loyalty to Britain mean anything to you?" IJP: 
"Not to me personally, no. I reflect frequently on the appalling sacrifice that men of that generation made over the whole course of WW1. However, it is also worth reflecting how many rejected any notion that they were fighting for any “flag” (cf. the 1973 ITV documentary “The World at War”, which interviews people who fought in WW2, none of whom say they were doing so for their country as such). They may have been fighting for an idea of home, or for an idea of freedom of some sort, or to protect their family’s and friends’ economic well-being and/or way of life. I am not sure they thought of it in terms of “loyalty to Britain”, however."
BJS: "As a (British/Irish/Northern Irish*) person, is the 1916 Rising important to you and your sense of identity and sense of belonging on this island?" IJP: 
"I would regard myself as Northern Irish and British, in that order.
I do not regard the Rising itself as significant. Clearly, the implications of it and the period of uncertainty and violence which followed matter, not least in that they led inevitably to partition. It could be, however, that partition was inevitable anyway. So I wonder whether we place too much emphasis on a single event (in fact, I am certain that we do)."
BJS: "As a (British/Irish/Northern Irish*) person, is the Somme offensive important to you and your sense of identity and sense of belonging on this island?" IJP: 
"I am aware that men from Ulster were disproportionately affects specifically by the Battle of the Somme. However, again, I would not like to see this overstated – men from all over Ireland and all over the UK were affected, in quite appalling numbers. I think it is important to mark the Somme, but not to glorify it. War is no doubt a necessary thing on occasions, but it is always grotesque."
BJS: "Will you be commemorating or celebrating either of these two events in April and July of this year respectively?" IJP: 
"Inevitably, the centenaries will be widely marked and no doubt I will read the more thoughtful articles about both with some interest. I have in the past attended Somme commemorations given my direct ancestor’s direct involvement, but I reject any notion of marking it in any way other than to mark the general sacrifice of young men (as it happens, my grandfather then was 35, near enough my age now). I reject any notion of using such commemorations to attempt to make political points now, other than the general desirability of promoting reasonable compromise and consensus over violence and unnecessary loss of young life."
BJS: "As a person on (or from) the island are you happy with the where we are now at in terms of culture, cosmopolitanism and broad-mindedness?" IJP: 
"No, not remotely. Past sectarianism has morphed into ostracism of and outright discrimination against particular groups, in a way which is exactly what we fought against in WW2. Most notably, we still have a situation where too many “Unionists” and “Nationalists” believe this part of the world belongs to them and them alone, and that they should have preferential status in it. Basic generosity and sharing are in short supply. It is easy to blame the politicians for this, but who elects them?!"
BJS: "What are your hopes for the future of this divided province and island?" IJP: 
"I would like to see a fundamental recognition that we will get nowhere for as long as we are an economic backwater focused on the past.
Without creating wealth and jobs, we will continue to be dominated by “the State” (and will thus jostle for control of it on behalf of individual groups rather than the whole community) and we will continue to rely on money transferred from elsewhere – rendering any constitutional debate redundant. I would like to see Northern Ireland be much less reliant on other places and much more confident in itself. We cannot do that while everything is about “the State” – we must do much more for ourselves.
One thing necessary to achieve this is that we must place much less emphasis on history (which can only be divisive) and much more on the future. There is little point in spending too much time looking at the past – we are not going that way!"
BJS: "Please share any further thoughts these questions may have stimulated." IJP: 
"To some extent we just have to live with the fact we have different and even competing historical narratives. There is not a lot of point in dwelling on that – it cannot be resolved.
A much more interesting question is, what is our future narrative? Never mind who we were, who do we want to be? Maybe we could spend the second half of the year focusing on that?!"
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