In this episode of What Northern Ireland Means to Me, we meet Paul Gosling, who is a researcher and writer.
My ex-wife is German. She came to live with me in England, hated England, and we both loved Ireland. I met someone at a conference who told me how wonderful Derry was as a place, and persuaded me this was the right place for me to move to. I’ve lived in Derry for 21 years and love the city.
Well, during the Troubles, Northern Ireland, the North, was absolutely awful. I was on an anti-internment demonstration in Belfast, and someone very near to me physically got killed by rubber bullet in the chest. So during the Troubles, even as a visitor, you got a very clear sense of how dangerous the place was.
Since the Good Friday Agreement, clearly Northern Ireland, the North, has been transformed.
It’s my home. It’s my adopted home. It’s the place where my kids grew up. And it’s a place where most of my friendships, my social life, my work life is orientated towards. I’ve done a lot of work, in particular with the Holywell Trust, but also elsewhere in terms of peace and reconciliation work. It’s important to try and learn lessons from elsewhere. The peace solution in Lebanon is very similar to the peace solution in Northern Ireland, and it’s all unravelled in Lebanon. I think that should be a clear warning to people in the north of Ireland, that just because we’ve got the Good Friday Agreement doesn’t mean that peace is concrete; it can roll back just as it rolls forward.
As far as I can see, Northern Ireland is probably too small. It really needs to be part of an integrated all- Ireland. And that really logically, we need to have a single island as a governance structure. The question is why we are not getting people that are willing to accept a different solution to the one we’ve got at the moment.
I think it’s important to recognise that Northern Ireland is not unique. There’s a global situation politically where identity becomes more important than anything else. Brexit was that. For most people it was an identity issue. What we’ve got in Northern Ireland, or the north of Ireland if you prefer, is an identity conflict.
The British government, for example, needs to say to anyone in the Republic that they can have British identity, they can have a British passport — that’s not true at the moment. So, we need to, I think, have in the same way that people who identify as Irish in the north can have an Irish passport, people who identify in the south as British should have a British passport. That should happen immediately — shouldn’t have to wait for a referendum debate. But we need to have something which plays down the significance of identity.
What I would say to people from a republican background, from a loyalist background, from a unionist background, from a nationalist background, is that we have to get Northern Ireland working as a political and economic and as a social entity, and that is the way forward, whatever the outcome. So, actually, for republicans, they are going to have to persuade people in the south that they want to have Northern Ireland as part of a united Ireland. So the way to do that is to make Northern Ireland work immediately as best as possible. And unionists should say to people in Britain, “Look, if you want us, we are going to be doing everything we can to make Northern Ireland work as a place.”
What Northern Ireland Means to Me is presented by Julia Paul and produced by Shared Future News, to mark the centenary of Northern Ireland, with funding from the Heritage Fund on behalf of the Northern Ireland Office.
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Images © Allan LEONARD