February 17, 2016

#NorthernIreland2016 Interview Series - Jude Collins

Jude Collins is an Irish writer and broadcaster. He attended primary school in Omagh (Christian Brothers) and boarded at Seamus Heaney's alma mater, St Columb’s College. University was in Dublin (UCD), in Winnipeg (Univ of Manitoba) and in England (University of Newcastle). 
Jude was a high school teacher in Derry and Dublin, and then for some eight years in Canada. In 1979 I came back to Ireland and worked as a lecturer in the Ulster Polytechnic, which in the 1980s morphed into the University of Ulster.   Jude has published six books to date including, 'Whose Past Is It Anyway?' with The History Press. Jude writes daily political blog, www.judecollins.com, which attracts some 1500-2000 page-views per day. He also writes a weekly column for The Andersonstown News/ Belfast Media Group. In the past he wrote a weekly column for The Irish News. 

Brian John Spencer: "When did you first learn about the Easter Rising of 1916?" JC:
"I’m not actually sure. Probably at primary school. Or maybe at home. At least sixty years ago."
BJS: "Do the men, the act or the stated ideals in the proclamation mean anything to you?" JC:
"They mean a great deal. They were enormously courageous – certainly the leaders knew they would be defeated and probably executed but they went ahead in the belief that this was necessary to jolt the Irish people into an awareness of the need for Irish independence. Their ideals as outlined in the Proclamation are flaw-free, with the possible exception of calling God into the equation if you happen to be an atheist. In many ways the Proclamation remains a document that, if it were realised, would produce  a hugely improved Ireland."
BJS: "When did you first learn about the Battle of the Somme?" JC:
"Mmm – probably at secondary school. We learnt about so many battles then. That was what history was about : battles, kings and dates. I wasn’t particularly aware that Irishmen played a part in it, but that’s not terribly surprising, since Irish history didn’t feature until A Level, and even then it was an option as distinct from required."
BJS: "Does this act, the men and their determination to show their loyalty to Britain mean anything to you?" JC:
"It fills me with a mixture of sadness and rage. The men in that battle and in so many others during the ‘Great War’ fought in the interests of the British Empire, which had an inglorious history in so many ways. They were sold so many lies: it’d be over by Christmas, it was the war to end all war, it was the war that would bring about Irish Home Rule.  I’m sure many fought to show their loyalty to Britain; if they were Irish I’d consider that loyalty tragically misplaced."
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?" JC:
"If the Rising had never taken place, I’d still feel I belonged on this island and I would know that I am Irish. I suppose the Rising, by showing the courage of those who died so that the Irish people might be self-governing, reinforces my sense of Irishness and the negative impact that British rule has always had in Ireland."
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?" JC:
"No, not at all.  As I’ve said, it shows the way in which Irishmen were courageous but in a tragically irrelevant arena."

BJS: "Will you be commemorating or celebrating either of these two events in April and July of this year respectively?" JC:
"I’m not sure what commemorating or celebrating involves. I’ll be in Dublin to see the public ceremonies commemorating the Rising. I won’t be particularly interested in the commemoration of the Somme – maybe glance at what’s on TV but little else."
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)?" JC:
"No I’m not happy with the events put on by the Irish state (i.e., the Dublin government). The ridiculous video they initially produced which had Bono and Co but no mention of Pearse and Co showed that they wanted to avoid looking at what happened and why. The costly and much-trailed series ‘Rebellion’ on RTÉ takes a similar line: it keeps the signatories as bit players, while inserting love stories stage centre (and even that is a mess.) I can see why the Irish state would want to avoid looking too closely at what happened and why they would want to avoid any too-close attention to the Proclamation: because people might see the chasm between present reality and 1916 aspirations. 
As for Arlene Foster’s response – she’s not interested in attending any commemorations of the Rising – I wasn’t surprised and to be honest I don’t really mind. Some say she’s First Minister for everyone but I think that’s a bit simplistic – she’s a unionist leader and she’s unlikely to attend an event which commemorates/celebrates the effort 100 years ago to break that union."
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?" JC:
"No. If we’re talking about the north, I think Irish culture is being given a lot more space but it’s still rather frowned on as a Catholic thing – witness the response to Linda Ervine’s efforts in East Belfast with the Irish language, witness Gregory Campbell’s contempt for same. And witness of course the failure to follow through on the GFA and deliver an Irish Language Act.  As for the north being cosmopolitan and broad-minded: don’t make me laugh, I have a hernia.  I think there are some unionists (such as yourself) who are broad-minded and cosmopolitan, but  you’re an exception rathr than the rule in my experience. Not that there aren’t narrow-minded and parochial nationalists/republicans – there are – but I think the unionist community or a vocal part of it is the opposite of broad-minded and cosmopolitan. And no, saying that doesn’t mean I’m as bad as them…"
BJS: "What are your hopes for the future of this divided province and island?" JC:
"My hopes vary. Overall, when I’m feeling optimistic, I sense a surge of interest in things Irish, a stronger sense of pride in being Irish and an awareness that grown-ups should be left to rule themselves, not have it done by the man next door. At other times I am struck by the intransigence of so many unionist politicians and their failure to even observe the normal civilities, and I feel near despair."
BJS: "Please share any further thoughts these questions may have stimulated." JC:
"I think the Anglo-Irish Agreement was a game-changer, in that it made official the right of the southern government to have a say in the affairs of the north. Of course that say is often mere window-dressing but it still points up the fact that the north is a part of Ireland. I think Sinn Féin’s electoral advance (so far) indicates that a lot of people believe in the notion of an equal and re-united Ireland. And I think the demographics will sooner or later force unionism to sit down and seriously consider where they fit in an all-Ireland context.  Were a referendum to be held, it would help concentrate the minds of all, as Scotland showed.  And as with Scotland, even if an Irish referendum for independence weren’t won, it’d still encourage people to talk and think about the central question which at present gets brushed aside with slogans – or promoted in slogans."

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