March 04, 2016

#NorthernIreland2016 Interview Series - Dr Paul Reilly

Dr Paul Reilly is a Senior Lecturer in Social Media & Digital Society at the University of Sheffield. He was born and spent his child and youth in Northern Ireland.

Brian John Spencer: "When did you first learn about the Easter Rising of 1916?" Dr Paul Reilly: 
"I think the first time I heard about the Rising was at school. It was fascinating to learn more about modern Irish History during the period (the mid-nineties) in which the peace process was beginning to gather momentum. I always had an interest in the history of the conflict north of the border, but had never studied the origins of Irish Republicanism before."
BJS: "Do the men, the act or the stated ideals in the proclamation mean anything to you?" DPR:
"Although the Easter Rising clearly had long-term consequences for the people of Britain and Ireland, I don’t personally identify with those involved, nor the ideals of the Proclamation. However, I recognise and respect the right of others to commemorate such events given their significance."
BJS: "When did you first learn about the Battle of the Somme?" DPR:
"I went on a school trip to the World War 1 battlefields when I was in my early teens. We visited the Thiepval Memorial and it was very moving to see all the names of those soldiers who lost their lives during the Battle of the Somme."
BJS: "Does this act, the men and their determination to show their loyalty to Britain mean anything to you?" DPR:
"I am not sure that all those who fought at the Battle of the Somme did so primarily due to their loyalty to Britain. There were other factors that influenced the decisions of those who volunteered.  The recruitment campaign suggested this was a ‘just’ war, that opposing Germany was a moral duty. We should also not discount the fact that peer pressure might have played a role too."
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?" DPR:
"I don't think so. I think my sense of identity and belonging has been shaped more by my own experiences and upbringing rather than the Rising."
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?" DPR:
"Not really. Like the Rising, I see the Somme as an important historic event that should be commemorated by those who view it as integral to their own sense of identity."

BJS: "Will you be commemorating or celebrating either of these two events in April and July of this year respectively?" DPR:
"I live in England now, so I think it is unlikely that there will be any such events that I could attend if I wanted to do so. I don't think I would be comfortable celebrating two events that led to so many lives being lost though. Both should be commemorated in a dignified and respectful manner."
BJS: "Are you happy with the series of commemorative events put on by the Irish State? And what do you think of Arlene Foster's take on the events of Easter 1916 (she has refused to attend any commemorations)?" DPR:
"Clearly it is important for the Irish government to commemorate these events given their historic significance. The invitation to Arlene Foster reflects their efforts to make this as inclusive as possible. However, I think we need to acknowledge that there remains much work to be done on contentious issues such as how to deal with the past. We should also remember that there are Assembly Elections coming up this year. It is therefore perhaps no surprise that unionist political leaders are reluctant to risk alienating their electoral base by attending an event of such significance for Irish Republicans."
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?" DPR:
"I think things are changing slowly but surely. But Northern Ireland still appears to be very socially conservative in some areas compared to the rest of the UK and Ireland (e.g. opposition to equal marriage, the ban on gay blood donation and the ‘gay cake’ row). However we should remember that we are emerging from thirty years of violent conflict and it is perhaps unfair to make such comparisons. Also, those who want to effect change in these areas need to use the ballot box to elect politicians who share their views on these issues, rather than continuing to vote along sectarian lines. Whether this will happen in the short-term remains to be seen though." 
BJS: "What are your hopes for the future of this divided province and island?" DPR:
"I would like to see our politicians set out a comprehensive strategy for addressing the needs of victims and survivors of the conflict. This issue continues to undermine efforts to foster positive peace in Northern Ireland, and will continue to do so until our politicians agree on a way forward. 
I also hope that the decline in turnout at recent elections can be reversed. Young people in particular need to have confidence that the full range of their views are being represented by our politicians up on the hill. There are no easy solutions to this, but it is clear that the support for the current powersharing institutions appears to be dissipating."

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