JHISS Days 4 & 5!

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Day Four

The JHISS was brought right up to date on day four of the Summer School when Dr Paul Nolan, research director on the NI Peace Monitoring Report, took to the stage to discuss ‘Aspects of the Northern Ireland Peace Monitoring Report’.

Peace, he said, meant different things to different people:

  • a sense of security
  • equality
  • the political process cohesion and sharing

Dr Nolan said that the NI Peace Process was seen as “a beacon of light” and was indeed, the most successful peace process – what better example than this year’s G8 Summit in Fermanagh – a message to all that it had worked.

There were many current and worrying issues about NI laid bare throughout this talk however, such as NI’s unemployment rate being the lowest in the UK and therefore “unsustainable.” Despite this however, NI remains the “most peaceful part of the UK, with less than 1% of crime registered as hate crime last year.”

Worryingly however, suicide is where the province is suffering most, with figures now running at about five times the level of road deaths, said Dr Nolan. These numbers have risen by 100% over the past 15 years, giving NI the highest suicide rate in the UK and saw 300 deaths in the year past, compared to just two security-related deaths. Despite the association of NI with violent deaths, the reality now, said Dr Nolan, was that suicides outstripped all.

“Our suicide rate greatly accelerated during the economic boom and the early success years of the Peace Process, not during the downturn,” he said. “There are more suicides per year than there were deaths per year during The Troubles…”

And the most afflicted age group? 30-35 year-old males – those who had been growing up at the time of The Troubles… “They were children during the worst years of the violence and have undischarged trauma from The Troubles,” said Dr Nolan. “It’s a legacy of The Troubles.”

Other matters touched on during this talk included references to the fact that NI is now a society composed of minorities.

‘The slow movements in population shifts are responsible for the most profound changes in history…’

Protestant and Catholic numbers have converged, we were told, and were in fact now almost equal, according to the most recent Census figures. “We are heading towards a six-county state that has a Catholic majority,” said Dr Nolan. He added that for Unionists, their narrative was seen as “one of loss,” whilst for Catholics, it was “one of gain.”

However, the break-down shows that 40% of NI residents class themselves as British, 25% as Irish, 21% Northern Irish, Two or More 9% and Other 2%. What is new, is the increase in the Northern Irish option. Meanwhile, 57% hold British passports, whilst just 19% have Irish, 19% have none and 5% have ‘other’.

“We’re going to have a lot more Catholics, but it would be a deep mistake to think they’re all going to turn into Nationalists and vote for Sinn Fein or the SDLP,” said Dr Nolan. “We’re all a minority now. Dominance is not an option, but the desire for dominance continues to unsettle society…”

So, lots of interesting facts from Dr Nolan’s talk, which again, tied in neatly with the week’s theme I think! We are indeed a fragmented society and increasingly global –  looking at how this will effect our day-to-day lives, both now and in the future, certainly makes for some interesting discussion.

ImageThursday’s poetry readings meanwhile, came courtesy of Noel Monaghan and Pat Boran, with a great mixture of work read by both. From Noel we heard the likes of ‘Diary of a Town’, Statue Park’, ‘Evening Prayer at the Grave of Robin Marsh’, ‘Ode to a Ghost Estate’ and ‘The Funeral Game’, whilst Pat entertained with work such as ‘Let’s Die’, Children’, ‘A Man is Only as Good’, ‘Skipping’ and ‘Walking up Main Street’. ‘Children’ had connotations of what Carlo Gebler had told us on day one – that we never grow up – and was a nice way of looking at this in poetry.

Deirdre Madden was the lunchtime reading for the day, with selected extracts from her new novel, ‘Time Present and Time Past’. As a children’s author as well, Deirdre said: “My books for adults are very idea-driven – not so much narrative – but with children’s books, they’re completely narrative. It was a totally different experience.”

Thursday finished up with a panel discussion entitled ‘Aftermath – the relationship between displacement and hospitality’, which saw Will Glendinning, co-ordinator of Diversity Challenges, chair the session and look at victims and survivors of conflict and those displaced by conflict in Ireland and elsewhere. This was subsequently followed by a little light entertainment in the form of… ‘Affluence’ – a play by the Bardic Theatre which conjured up more than a few laughs!

Day Five

On the last and final day of this year’s JHISS, the packed programme continued with a talk on ‘Religion and Politics in NI’ by Professor Lord Paul Bew from QUB and poetry readings from Julia Copus and Conor O’Callaghan, followed by a much-anticipated lunchtime reading by Anne Enright, who wowed the crowd with her words and saw some special visitors pop along from the north coast and beyond just for the pleasure!

Us creative writers from the workshops were also given the opportunity to read some of our work in the afternoon, although I sadly missed this due to a family wedding. I have been assured however, that it went very well, with lots of great work produced from those who took part!Image

The day then drew to a close with a final panel discussion entitled ‘Ideals and ideas: the difference between what we inherit and what we learn’, which saw participation from Baroness May Blood, Arlene Foster MLA and Naomi Long MP. I missed this as well, so am looking forward to catching up with my fellow Coleraine bursary holder Elaine to hear how it went, as well as the Mayoral reception which followed and which officially closed the Summer School.

It was subsequently left to the Lord Mayor of Armagh to mark the end of a fantastic week of literary and cultural events and present the JHISS participants with their certificates of attendance. All I can say is… Thanks to the Coleraine Borough Arts Committee and the JHS for enabling me to attend this year and… I’ll see you there in 2014!

[pic one: Me, Coleraine Alliance Party Cllr Yvonne Boyle and fellow Coleraine bursary holder Elaine Donnelly; pic two: Elaine reading her poem on the final day!]

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