April 06, 2016

#NorthernIreland2016 Interview Series - John Kyle


John Kyle is A Progressive Unionist Party (PUP) councillor at Belfast City Council. He is contesting the Stormont Assembly Elections 2016.

Brian John Spencer: "When did you first learn about the Easter Rising?" John Kyle:
"I’m not sure. At school I was better at science than arts subjects.  I didn’t do much history after 3rd form so by the time I left school my history knowledge amounted to the Boston Tea Party, the Plimsoll Line and nuggets from ‘1066 and All That.’ Since the ‘Decade of Centenaries’ began I have felt the need to become more familiar with our history, but I still have a lot to learn."
BJS: "Do the men, the act or the stated ideals in the proclamation mean anything to you?" JK:
"They are not something that I feel a part of. Reading the Proclamation today it sounds melodramatic, speaking of a mythical past and of a country, Ireland, that I do not recognise.  Speaking of Britain as an alien government and the British as a foreign people may have reflected a reality at the time but jars with today’s politics."
BJS: "When did you first learn about the battle of the Somme?" JK:
"I first learnt about it talking to the Ervines, David and Brian, and Philip Orr.  That would have been about 10 years ago."
BJS: "Does this act, the men and their determination to show their loyalty to Britain mean anything to you?" JK:
"I do not think that any of my forbears fought in the Somme although I have not researched our family history.  I visited the Somme 5 years ago.  The experience was emotionally challenging, visiting the graves of thousands of young men some in their teens. It impressed on me the horror of war but also the sacrifice of men prepared to die for their country.  I find it easier to identify with these young men than the men who died in the Easter Rising."
BJS: "As a Northern Irish person is the 1916 Rising important to you and your sense of identity and sense of belonging on this island?" JK:
"No. Like the poet John Hewitt I feel my identity is as an Ulsterman but I am also both British and Irish.  I am comfortable with that.  However I do not see the 1916 Rising as having a particular importance to me."
BJS: "As a Northern Irish person is the Somme offensive important to you and your sense of belonging to this island?" JK:
"The Battle of the Somme was of historic significance in the creation of the State of Northern Ireland therefore it has had an influence on me because I have been shaped by growing up here. In recent years I have come to understand why it has such symbolic significance for unionists, but I am conscious we now live in a very different world and we need to look to the future as well as the past."
BJS: "Will you be commemorating or celebrating either of these two events in April and July this year?" JK:
"I have no plans to join in the commemorations of the Easter Rising however I will respect the fact that for many the Easter Rising is significant. I expect to be joining the commemorations for the centenary of the Battle of the Somme."
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)?" JK:
"I respect the fact that the Irish State has gone to great lengths to prevent Commemorations of the Easter Rising becoming a glorification of violence and a justification for continued violence.  I think we do need to reflect on the events of 1916, listen to each other’s interpretations and learn lessons.  If nothing else it is an opportunity to become more aware of our history."
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?" JK:
"I think these are days of considerable uncertainty and upheaval in Europe and the Middle East. People are fearful and that makes coping with change more difficult. I think we have made impressive progress over the past two decades in becoming more cosmopolitan but difficulties persist. The impact of austerity cuts and economic uncertainty makes assimilating newcomers more complicated. The more confident people are in their identity and their place in society the less threatened they are by those who are different." 
BJS: "What are your hopes for the future of this divided province and island?" JK:
"For the province, a population with a growing and robust sense of what it means to be Northern Irish.  For the island, a creative energy that comes from the mingling of traditions."
BJS: "Please share any further thoughts these questions may have stimulated." JK:
"This year of centenaries has already given rise to some very thoughtful exchanges and conversations.  I am sure these events help us to understand ourselves and each other better which can only be a good thing."
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