Northern Ireland's quiet revolution
'Im not British or Irish, I'm a human being'
Daniel Jewesbury Artist and writer
I’m 40 this year, and I moved to Ireland when I was 19; I’ve now lived longer in Ireland than I ever did in Britain. But I am not and cannot become Irish, nor would I want to.
As someone half-Indian born in London, I was used to much greater fluidity and specificity of identity. I am often, in the lazy shorthand of these things, described as a “Northern Irish artist”, which amuses me a little. But I can’t bring myself to recognise the validity of any of these terms. My nationality is British, because that’s what it says on my passport: that’s a statement of legal fact, not an aspiration or a tribal marking. I wish that we could stop talking about Britishness, Irishness or Northern Irishness . . . I’m not British or Irish, I’m a human being.
'What I find difficult is the intense marketing'
Hugh Odling-Smee Director of Belfast Book Festival
The way we regard ourselves has changed, but the underlying nature is the same as it ever was.
Although I’ve lived here virtually all my life, I come from English parents, so in some ways I’ve always been an outsider, slightly at a remove. Do I feel Northern Irish? Yes, but not to the detriment of my Irishness. I feel Irish and Northern if that makes sense. There’s a lot I like about the North, not least the fact there are two cultures. I like the piss and vinegar, the harshness and the hardness. I don’t want to live somewhere that has ironed out all its narratives.
What I find difficult is the intense, PR-driven marketing of this place, both internally and externally. I don’t think we’re really like that.
'Will this be a place for children in the future'
Trevor Ringland Former Ireland rugby international; member of NI Conservatives
My question is whether Northern Ireland will be a place for our children in the future or will we pass on the mistakes we made in the past? We should be building relationships across the island, maximising our potential. We live in the most beautiful part of the world, we have a great people, but there is a dark side, too.
Without a genuinely shared future we will be failing our children. It’s time for a wake-up call to the politicians. All the issues – whether that’s identity, religion, education, socioeconomic problems – all of these can be addressed.
The Belfast Agreement said that you could be Irish, British or both. Many of us are quite comfortable moving between those identities.
'Northern Irish is my preferred identity'
Glenn Patterson Novelist
Things have changed for the better, but they haven’t changed for the best. I have concerns, fewer than I had a few years ago, but they are of the same order. I have always feared – and I do still – that far too much has been tolerated in arriving at this point. If this was where we wanted to get to, we didn’t have to put up with things like the Northern Bank robbery and the murder of Robert McCartney.
The amount of equivocation there has been has made this a more difficult process for those who voted for it. I don’t agree that we had to tolerate all that to get here.
We equivocated and connived, and we were invited to do so in order that we would just get over the line. In many ways we let ourselves off the hook far too easily. It’s like tying yourself in knots and then expecting to be congratulated when you somehow untie yourself. I infinitely prefer the Northern Ireland I inhabit today to the one in which I grew up, but I hope for better still.
Northern Irish has been my preferred identity for a number of years. I think of it like a Venn diagram: the place where my identities overlap happens to be here. I believe my Northern Irishness would not be assailed, whatever the political future. I don’t imagine it will diminish. Whether the N is capitalised or lower case, it best expresses how I feel.
'No one wants us, the orphan of the isles'
Clare Bailey Green Party of Northern Ireland
It’s when I look at my children that I see how things have changed compared to how it was for me at the same age. They may be hanging out in town, just as I did, but their understanding is different. They’re bright and breezy, open in a way that we never were.
Whether there has been a real cultural or attitudinal change is another question. We’re getting a lot more visitors to Northern Ireland, and it’s becoming a more multicultural place. But I don’t think we’re shifting away from the old sectarian battles. In fact I despair that it’s all becoming more institutionalised.
I do call myself Northern Irish, but I think it’s a kind of invented, artificial identity. No one really wants us. We are isolated by everyone we are supposed to be connected to: an orphan of the isles.
'Belfast is a changed, confident city now'
Niall O’Donnghaile Sinn Féin
This place is changing for the better. That’s down to a lot of hard work and commitment. And there’s been a lot of sacrifices, a lot of compromises along the way. Many people have had to leave established views behind in order to make peace. Take Belfast as an example. It’s a changed, confident city, now known across Europe and the rest of the world for all the right reasons. We had the MTV awards, the ‘Titanic’ centenary, but all those cultural aspects are only possible because of the absence of conflict.
As a republican I take a broader view than just the six counties, and you can see how peace has brought benefits right across the island . . . things like increased co-operation across Border counties, co-operation between the Assembly and the Oireachtas.