March 29, 2016

#NorthernIreland2016 Interview Series - Olwen Dawe

Olwen Dawe is a businesswoman and economics student, undertaking an MEconScience in Policy. She is based between Westport, Co. Mayo and Dublin City. She is a feminist, arts enthusiast, music obsessive and politics junkie.

Olwen was the former Project Director of Yeats2015 and President of Network Ireland. She is a graduate of the National College of Industrial Relations and is an advisor to economic and social development agencies, including cross-border projects.
Brian John Spencer: "When did you first learn about the Easter Rising of 1916?" Olwen Dawe:
"At secondary school - the Rising, War of Independence and Civil War were central elements of the history course.  Looking back on it, most of us were between fifteen or sixteen years of age when we began to learn about the foundation of the State, it felt somewhat intangible for many of us, I think - but remains deeply engrained.   I remember visiting Kilmainham Gaol as a teenager and feeling the eery chill of the Stonebreakers' Yard - that doesn’t leave you."
BJS: "Do the men, the act or the stated ideals in the proclamation mean anything to you?" OD:
"I think the ideals of the Proclamation were worthy and resonant, for example, setting out an Ireland which would recognise the “religious and civil liberty, equal rights and equal opportunities to all its citizens".  However, this particular stated aim hasn’t materialised, in fact within a matter of a number of years, many of those progressive attitudes were beginning to be eroded. Gender equality remains an issue today. The recent General Election saw an increase in female representation to 22%, a positive increase worth marking, but still a very long way to go. The Sufragette manifesto issued in the early 1900s suggested that a government without equal representation was not a true government - in the centenary year of 1916, this equality does not exist."
BJS: "When did you first learn about the Battle of the Somme?" OD:
"I was fortunate enough to see ‘Observe the Sons of Ulster Marching Towards the Somme’ by Frank McGuinness, when it toured internationally in the mid-nineties.  My Mother, Dorothea, was Director of Communications at the Abbey Theatre and so I consider myself somewhat ‘jammy’ to have seen many great productions in my youth.  Frank’s play showed the reality of the decisions made by those men, the terror of war, the friendship - it’s truly powerful.  Actually, it’s the power of theatre, in general - it takes you out of your own world and deposits you in someone elses’ reality.  Sometimes an uncomfortable experience but a very important one."
BJS: "Does this act, the men and their determination to show their loyalty to Britain mean anything to you?" OD:
"It does; I think it’s important that people understand the decisions people make in light of their view of identity and loyalty.  That may be simplistic and of course, there’s much more complexity involved in the conflict that has arisen from our shared history, but the future must involve a different vista."
BJS: "As an Irish person, is the 1916 Rising important to you and your sense of identity and sense of belonging on this island?" OD:
"I see the Rising, and the period that followed, as part of my identity - as an Irish person, I recognise and respect the decisions of others based on what they felt must be done for Ireland to be a free, sovereign nation. In particular, their bravery as, in some cases, very inexperienced young men and women, fighting for independence. Like all wars, though, many needless casualties ensued - and the unresolved quality of independence has led to much more unnecessary bloodshed, terror and torment."
BJS: "As an Irish person, is the Somme offensive to you and your sense of identity and sense of belonging on this island?" OD:
"No, I think it is a reality of history - as it unfolded - at that time."
BJS: "Will you be commemorating or celebrating either of these two events in April and July of this year respectively?" OD:
"I will definitely be choosing several events to attend over the coming months - there are great lectures, performances and events planned throughout 2016."
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)?" OD:
"There’s a really diverse sequence of celebrations planned, and I think it’s particularly beneficial that schoolchildren are taking part through performance - it makes history more engaging for them.  Last year, we celebrated the 150th anniversary of W.B. Yeats’ birth, and much like this year, it provided an opportunity for everyone to reflect on what that meant - historically, culturally, socially - what has changed, what is still to change? I feel these anniversaries / celebrations give everyone the time to consider more fully what their identity means to them.  Personally, I think that appreciation of history and conflict is important - but we must look to the future too. With that in mind, I am genuinely disappointed at the First Minister’s decision not to attend or take part, in any way, with the 2016 programme - it may not be something that she, or others, wish to engage in, for many reasons, but as a politician, surely the real test of leadership is looking beyond those issues? Peace and cohesion needs leadership, not issue-led stalwart attitudes."
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?" OD:
"I think we’ve got a bit to go yet! However, culturally and socially, we have made strides since the 80s. The advent of low-cost travel has definitely had an impact on our outlook - access to new cultures, societies, as well as economic / industrial growth (which has experienced plenty of flux of late) - obviously there’s a bigger debate happening around BrExit but undoubtedly, being part of a wider European society has affected attitudes, broadened horizons. We’re less insular in some respects."
BJS: "What are your hopes for the future of this divided province and island?" OD:
"Honestly, I suspect I am probably joined by members of my own family who are from or live in Northern Ireland - when I say that peace and cohesion is paramount.  People just want to get on and live their lives; go to work, bring their children to school, enjoy their nights out in the city.  Friends of mine, regardless of religion or identity, based in NI, love their cities and towns - violence is not in their name.  
Ultimately, the only way to safeguard this type of future has to involve real leadership and vision - I hope Stormont can provide that - sometimes, I wonder whether the politicians can see beyond their own agendas… however, as the Dáil is currently in stasis, the same view could apply!"
BJS: "Please share any further thoughts these questions may have stimulated." OD:
"Being the child of parents from the West (Mayo) and the North (Belfast), I feel I’m fortunate to have had perspectives on the island’s various identities, that others may have not. This complexity is not easily summed-up, and ultimately, requires a level of respect and understanding - a narrative which is often blurred in the haze of reactionary rhetoric.  There’s no future in that approach. 
Just this past weekend, I saw David Ireland’s new play, “Cyprus Avenue” at the Abbey Theatre - while often deeply uncomfortable (and absolutely hilarious), it brought, centre-stage, the issue of identity.  Undoubtedly, the arts provide that central tenet of understanding - experience - hopefully, this year, across the island, we can recognise the realities as they were, rather than simplifying them to a reductive political narrative."

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