Border poll could unleash ‘Troubles scenario’, says Belfast writer Rosemary Jenkinson

Borderlines: Rosemary Jenkinson on identity, culture and resisting being pigeonholed

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A Border poll could unleash “a sort of Troubles scenario”, according to Belfast writer Rosemary Jenkinson.

The playwright and author, who was a guest on The Irish Times’ Borderlines podcast, said fiction writers from Northern Ireland should focus less on the Troubles and more on contemporary life.

“What is it right now? Is it a distraction from the current politics: the Brexit, the protocol? There’s a lot of questions. Why are we looking at the past? Is it because it’s inconvenient to look at the present or much more convenient to turn away from the present?”

Jenkinson said she had never written directly about the Troubles and objected to what she described as attempts from British publishers to pigeonhole writers from Northern Ireland.


“I’m interested in the present rumblings that could potentially unleash another Troubles scenario. And I suppose a Border poll we always think there could be some sort of Troubles scenario, depending on the vote.”

However, she said she had no problem talking about the possibility of a Border poll and unionists should talk about it. The “endgame was not decided”, she said, “the vote will decide that, which is nothing to do really with the discussions before that”.

“I don’t think anything should be off the table and vetoed. We have freedom of speech. Everybody should be talking about this.

“For me as a writer a Border poll would be wonderful because I would have loads of writing material to write about. Upheaval is great. I’ve always said that for writers. So we welcome change and all of those difficult conversations.

“So definitely there needs to be more discussion on the Border and what to do about it.”

She said her identity when she was growing up was “very British”.

Describing her time at university in England, she recalled her shock, as a Northern Ireland Protestant, at being called a “Paddy” in the street.

“In my early 30s I went to Palestine. It gave me another perspective on a conflict that wasn’t Northern Ireland. It also made me understand how maybe it would have been perceived from a Republic side in west Belfast.”

Growing up, she saw British army and RUC personnel everywhere, “but it wasn’t a threat, whereas I can understand that it was a threat to some but to me it wasn’t, it just was sort of a protector rather than a threat”.

She has described writing a story as being “like having sex with a stranger in the dark” and her latest collection of short stories, Marching Season, is out now.

Freya McClements

Freya McClements

Freya McClements is Northern Editor of The Irish Times

Mary Minihan

Mary Minihan

Mary Minihan is Features Editor of The Irish Times