The European Union and its citizens, writers and artists
Answers to the Questionnaire/Interview Questions
AD Anne Devlin
ANG Ailbhe Ní Ghearbhuigh
BM Bernie McGill
BR Billy Roche
CM Christodoulos Makris
CT Colm Tóibín
DK Dee Kinahan
DNG Doireann Ní Ghríofa
ENC Eiléan Ní Chuilleanáin
END Éilís Ní Dhuibhne
ES Evgeny Shtorn
GR Gabriel Rosenstock
JC Jan Carson
JM John McAuliffe
JT Jessica Traynor
LF Leontia Flynn
LMc Lisa McInerney
MD Martina Devlin
MG Mia Gallagher
MM Maeve McGuckian
MO Mary O'Donnell
NND Nuala Ní Dhomhnaill
NH Neil Hegarty
PB Pat Boran
PO Philip Ó Ceallaigh
RJ Rosemary Jenkinson
RO Roisín O'Donnell
SM Sinéad Morrissey
TD Theo Dorgan
WE Wendy Erskine
WW William Wall
The Irish writer and European literature
1. Which European authors & artists have impressed you most?
At present Brecht, Herzog, Gerhard Richter, Pina Bausch, Wim Wenders, Brothers Grimm, Handke. (AD)
When I was on my Erasmus year in Rennes, I went along to a screening of an old Pasolini film, Mamma Roma. It made a big impression on me; it was such a different experience to watching an English-language film. There’s a wedding feast scene early on in the film where the characters sing improvised verses that reminded me of the lúibín in the Gaelic tradition.
I really enjoyed the books I read while studying French at NUI Galway – mostly canonical writers like Zola, Mauriac, Flaubert. There might be a pleasing giddiness in reading a language you don’t fully understand. I adored Apollinaire. Later, I spent a year in Bordeaux as a lectrice and a friend gave me a book of short stories by Franz Bartelt. I read a lot during that time in Bordeaux, particularly the poet Andrée Chedid. When Cois Life, an Irish-language publisher, asked if I would be interested in translating a poet for their ‘File ar Fhile’ series, I immediately thought of Chedid. […]
Most recently, I’ve written poems prompted by the work of Jan Wagner and Italo Calvino. (ANG)
I’ve been intrigued by Pirandello’s work, ever since I read him as a student, in particular his play Enrico IV (Henry IV). It tells the story of a young man, an unnamed aristocrat, at the turn of the twentieth century who, costumed for a masked cavalcade, suffers a fall from his horse. Upon waking, he apparently believes himself to be Henry IV, the character he was playing. His rich family, wishing to spare him further trauma, set him up in a villa fitted out as Henry’s eleventh century court, surround him with servants dressed as courtiers and continue the charade. A series of doctors try to cure Henry. Eventually, after twenty years and in response to his mother’s dying wish, a new doctor is called to the ‘castle’ to examine Henry’s mental state. During the course of the day, it transpires that Henry had emerged from the fantasy some time earlier, but made a decision to continue to live behind the mask of the king in his make-believe court, rather than return to his former life. This use of the mask as refuge seems to Henry to be a more honest form of deceit than the way in which most people live their lives; it is a world in which he has an element of control, in which he is, at least, aware of the constructed parameters. He is a willing actor playing a part in a well-known play.
The relativity of truth is a theme that recurs in Pirandello’s work and is one that often occupies both writers and readers of historical fiction. A member of a book group meeting once asked me what percentage of The Butterfly Cabinet was true. The story is inspired by lived events. Much of the material was gleaned from newspaper reports of the case of an aristocratic woman who was tried for the murder of her young daughter in the north of Ireland in 1892. But to answer the question, you would first have to ask what percentage of the newspaper reporting was ‘true’, and perhaps more importantly, what percentage had been omitted. That is an impossible question to answer. I often find myself reminding readers that I am a fiction writer; I make things up. For some people that would appear to be a disreputable occupation, but it seems to me to be a self-evident and honest admission. I would add that historians are subjective too, as are newspaper editors. Not everyone is comfortable with the idea that ‘the truth’ can be relative to the teller, not to mention to the listener. (BM)
Gustave Flaubert, Günter Grass, Albert Camus, Milan Kundera, Knut Hamsun. (BR)
I do wish to point out the remarkable variety of energy and innovation currently present in the contemporary/experimental/avant-garde strand of the European poetry world. Not neglecting also the great work done by Ireland-born writers/editors/publishers in continental Europe, chief among them John Holten in Berlin. (CM)
The list would go to many hundreds. (CT)
I am no good at lists and have to admit that my Art comes mostly from English-speaking cultures but here are a few names that spring to mind: Dance – Israel Galvan. Playwrights – I love many British playwrights and am really sorry to see them leave the EU: Lucy Kirkwood, Simon Stephens, Bryony Lavery, Nick Paine and many others. Lorca; Ionesco; June Vanessa Montfort; Florian Zeller; Tena Stevicic. Film Directors – Janos Xantus, Giuseppe Tornatore. Theatre Directors – Thomas Ostermeier, Woyzeck Wolanski, Matthew Warchus, Daniel Evans, Julie Taymor, Josie Rourke. (DK)
It is impossible not to be influenced by European art, even if one is not European (which we are, in Ireland). It is true that in the field of literature the Anglophone world (England and North America) has a huge influence on Irish writers. But from childhood I have been reading ‘continental’ writers in translation. The great classics are a powerful influence – so, everyone is reading Ibsen, Tolstoy, Chekhov, Balzac, etc. etc. As I write in a recent story, “Mrs Moffat was very interested in Russian literature, by which she meant Tolstoy, Dostoyevsky and Chekhov. If there were any Russian writers who had not been dead for a hundred years, she had not heard of them.” I read contemporary European writers but mainly from the countries and languages I am familiar with – Swedish and Danish and Norwegian writers, Bulgarians. The Swedes are very good at crime writing and children’s writing, and I know I have been influenced by them in these genres. The Bulgarians are good at fantasy, dystopian fiction. A Kafkaesque wild imagination, obsession with politics, is much more prevalent than in Irish writing, which tends to be lyrical, soft, realistic, and, rather sadly, a-political. (EN)
Gosh. I read Italian writers unsystematically, so Dante to Antonella Anedda with great gaps. More systematically in French when I was younger, especially the nineteenth century. Thomas Mann, Kavafis, and I’m now exploring Romanian poetry. Caravaggio, Rubens, Titian. The European orchestral & operatic tradition. (ENC)
I assume that it is intentional, that the questionnaire starts with the most difficult question. Answering this question would mean that anyone that I haven't named has impressed me less, than those who I named. And if I name Mozart, I will feel very bad about not naming Bach, or if I name both of them, how shall I feel about Erik Satie? Also, it is a difficult question because answering it you feel that you need to somehow pass between Scylla of most canonical names that constitute the European culture and Charybdis of those that genuinely impressed you, but might not be considered as first row authors.
So I will just scoop in my memory one single episode, which only in part would answer this question. It was 2004. I was a student of the St Petersburg School of Drama at that time. We had lessons about the history of Western European Art in the very Hermitage. Nikolay Nikolayevich Gromov, a great specialist in Hermitage collection, was guiding us through the rooms of the gallery. He would tell us the story of the picture, of the epoch and of the country it was created in. He taught us to appreciate art and to interpret it. And only once, when we were in one of the most empty rooms of the Winter Palace, he brought us to a picture and said: “One day, you will come here alone, you will look at this picture, and you will remember something very personal, very yours, very warm. And it will make you cry. That would be tears of liberation and happiness that you have lived and suffered, and lost, and found.” That picture was Madonna Litta by Leonardo. (ES)
Because of my interest in ekphrastic haiku and ekphrastic tanka – that is to say, responding to works of art (painting and photography) with tanka and haiku, the European artist whose work I have recently absorbed is Odilon Redon (1840-1916). Irish is my literary language of choice and I am aware that haiku and tanka have not yet been fully nativised or indigenized – but we’re getting there! Strange as it may be to relate, the visual arts – as we know them in the European sense, and all the various movements in the arts world such as Surrealism, Impressionism, Expressionism and so on, all of these were unknown or marginalized in Gaeldom – the Irish-speaking sphere – and belonged almost exclusively to those who inhabited the Anglosphere. The Irish-speaking peasantry were not knocking on the doors of art schools, nor were they enjoying the Grand Tour of Europe during seven centuries of foreign rule in Ireland. So I am working on the margins in more ways than one. As to European authors, among the poets whom I have transcreated in Irish are Nikola Madzirov (Macedonia), Erich Fried (Austria), Günter Grass (Germany) and Kristiina Ehin (Estonia). With fellow-translator Hans Christian Oeser, I have translated over a dozen German poets, in trilingual editions (Irish-English-German). I would say their influence on the Irish literary community has been almost nil. Why? The books were hardly reviewed at all or mentioned by mainstream media and the culture of reading European literature in Irish is hampered by a number of factors. Local literature, in regional dialects, is still preferred by the tiny percentage of Irish people who read anything in Irish. And yet, a new database for books translated into Irish reveals a surprising amount of titles: https://www.aistriulitriochta.ie/?s=Gabriel+Rosenstock. (GR)
Recently I have been devouring work by the Polish writer and Nobel Laureate Olga Tokarczuk. I absolutely love her style of blending humour, observation and really cutting insight together. She also has a beautiful way with words. Having spent quite a bit of time in the last few years working in Norway I’ve also been enjoying getting to know Norwegian literature and have loved novels by Roy Jacobsen, Per Petterson and most recently the absolutely brilliant Will and Testament by Vigdis Hjorth. (JC)
George Seferis, CP Cavafy; Marina Tsvetaeva, Vasily Grossman, Andrei Platonov, Osip Mandelstam; Inger Christiansen; Thomas Mann, Gottfried Benn, Rilke; Arthur Rimbaud, Francis Ponge, Jules Supervielle; Cesare Pavese, Eugenio Montale, Antonella Anedda… I feel like I could go on listing dozens of others here! And artists too – a list as long as this form could be. (JM)
Taking this question to mean authors and artists from the geographical continent (excluding the Republic of Ireland and the UK), in my formative years, Grass, Dostoyevsky, Tolstoy, Akhmatova, Bulgakov, Gogol, Ionesco, Pirandello, Montale, and more recently, Olga Tokarczuk, and Edouard Louis. (JT)
Possibly the European writers and artists who are most important to me aren’t European at all, but figures who lived or stayed there in the early 20th century. I don’t mean Joyce, who I’m sometimes not sure I like much after A Portrait of the Artist, or the Hemingway/Stein/Fitzgerald American exiles, though I do love Fitzgerald. I think quite a lot about Gwen John in her little solitary rooms in Paris and Meudon, just taking as long on a painting as was required to perfect it. There’s also a fascination in those friendships formed in the 1920s between figures who were in Paris then moved round Europe more widely – like Rilke (who Gwen John knew) and Marina Tsvetaeva: writers and artists who wrote to each other and supported each other in their writing. I suppose I have an idea of exile as enabling, or of Europe during this period standing for Art against the contingencies of rooted, everyday Life. If you write poetry you are liable to be restlessness, or want to escape one sort of reality in order to create your own, and you either do that imaginatively or by actually running off. Beckett’s probably the key figure; I think he described returning to Paris from Ireland as like ‘getting out of jail in April’. I have also visited Elizabeth Bishop’s apartment there at 58 Rue de Vaugirard. It’s all a little romantic, a little celebrity-spotting in the cemetery at Montparnasse, but whatever works. Of contemporary European writers I find Elena Ferrante often revelatory. (LF)
Years ago I was given Suite Française by Irene Nemirovsky as a gift, and afterwards I read everything I could find of hers. More recently, I’ve been enjoying the Polish writer Olga Tokarczuk, with novels such as Drive Your Plow Over the Bones of the Dead and Flights. She is witty, philosophical, has an eye for detail and understands the human heart. I often return to the Austrian writer Stefan Zweig – he wrote plays, novels, biographies and journalism but my preference is for his novel Beware of Pity. (MD)
By European, I’m assuming you mean non-UK. As a teenager I read Sartre and Camus (didn’t everyone? J) and I loved the French realists (Zola, Maupassant). They seemed gutsy and brave and real and the stories were so gripping, I couldn’t put them down. I still remember Thérèse Raquin and Germinal, the corpse in the bed in Thérèse Raquin and the mutilated genitals of the overseer in Germinal. I enjoyed Iron in the Soul and I read some Sartre in the original French but I think I was too young to properly appreciate the nuances.
The first ‘European’ book that made a really deep impact on me as an adult was, I think, The Tin Drum (Günter Grass). I read it, first in translation, then in German, in the 80s and there was something about the scope and wildness that really appealed to me. It seemed to be reimagining history in a way that was intimate and political at the same time. The images – the mother swallowing the canned fish, oil and all, the figurehead on the ship, Oskar’s grandmother in the turnip field – have stayed with me nearly 40 years on. I want to re-read it now.
For a couple of years in the 2010s, I did a German literature class and I loved the books we read there. Es geht uns gut, a contemporary novel by Arno Geiger, Traumnovelle, the post-World War I classic by Arthur Schnitzler (which surprised me because I hadn’t liked Eyes Wide Shut, the film adaptation) and Das falsche Gewicht, set during the decline of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, written by Joseph Roth. I love Patrick Süskind, the precision he brings to the interior world. Most recently I was very impressed by Francesca Melandri’s When Eva Sleeps (transl. from Italian), and last year I read Corfiot Tales by Konstantinos Theotokis – that one was fascinating and weirdly familiar, echoing Pádraic Ó Conaire, cruel little slivers of peasant life. I’ve also enjoyed reading Scandinavian writers, most recently Gunnhild Øyehaug, who’s Norwegian – there’s an atmosphere at work there that feels very familiar, a surrealism that is small-town, rural and big city all mixed up.
My experience of theatre is one where perhaps the European tradition seeps in a more integrated way – my mum was a playwright and I feel I was steeped in the work of the Greek tragedians Euripides and Sophocles, Calderón, Ibsen and Chekhov (does he count as European?), Ionesco, Sartre (again), Dario Fo’s razor-sharp crazy brilliance. Kafka is someone who I go back to. He gets better every time. Marx, Engels, Brecht, Foucault: I studied their ideas in college and later I worked on several Brecht plays, and I think their outlook probably shaped my thinking most as a social actor/citizen.
I notice I haven’t mentioned many women writers here. I’d say the majority of the novels I read are by women, but they tend to be English-speaking. I wonder why I haven’t identified so many foreign-language, or even in-translation, women authors. Did the education system I was part of prioritize men? Is it to do with publishing? Or is it my own failing? (MG)
Rilke and Lorca; four great Russian poets who I think I could label as European since they fitted in more to the context of Paris or Rome especially in the case of Tsvetaeva. She certainly aspired to the condition of poet of Central Europe and ultimately of international and world standard. (MM)
Pablo Picasso; Marina Abrahamovich (although Serbian and not strictly-speaking ‘European’); Elias Canetti, in particular his novel Auto da Fé and his still brilliant Masse und Macht/Crowds and Power; Günther Grass; Max Frisch; Friedrich Dürrenmatt, Brecht; “and the totally faded-from-view former East German writer Christa Wolf”; Rainer Maria Rilke has never failed me, especially his Duino Elegies; Annie Ernaux (MO)
At the moment, I’m rereading Claudio Magris’ Danube, and admiring it anew. As a writer from Trieste, Magris presumably recognized better than most the vagaries and shifting nature of political borders, and understood the importance of distrusting the sense – inculcated by the media and insisted upon by ideologies in manifold forms – that the form of our nation states is eternal and unchanging. The briefest glance at European history disproves any such notion; and Danube – Magris describes the book as a ‘drowned novel’ – seems to reflect this sense of the many flowing channels of our history, in which a multitude of stories call to be remembered. W.G. Sebald writes in a similar vein: when I read Austerlitz and The Rings of Saturn, I feel my understanding and knowledge of history – natural, national, European – expanding with every sentence. In Germany, I admire Jenny Erpenbeck’s fictions, latterly Visitation and Go, Went, Gone. The first of these establishes a European terrain over which change sweeps and blood flows, lives continuing the while; the latter observes the refugee life without false consolation or piety, and offers a salutary reminder that Europe is itself no stranger to homelessness and all the trauma that accompanies it, and a reminder too that ultimately, nothing lasts. (NH)
Juan Goytosolo, Herman Hesse, Proust, Flaubert, Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa (NND)
There are so many European authors and artists to whom I am indebted and without whose presence at some formative juncture my life would have been so much poorer.
As a reader of poetry, I came of age in time to fall under the spell of the excellent Penguin International Poets series of anthologies edited by Al Alvarez and others who took at least as much interest in what was going on elsewhere as on their front doorsteps. The vast majority of those books were (the norm at that time) in English only – that is to say without the original texts – so that one caught only the suggestion the rough texture of the original. In a sense then, the poems on how they performed in English rather than on their original achievement, which is of course to miss so much (to construct a museum out of copies of copies, one might argue). And yet, and yet … For me, the atmosphere, the tone, the political realities and ambitions conveyed even in these monolingual translations had a value in itself: being from outside of my own experience and reach, they offered just enough of the flavour of difference to ignite some spark, both for me as a reader and also as a fledgling writer. Outstanding figures who continue to mean a huge amount to me, in both respects, include Miroslav Holub, Wisława Szymborska, Tomas Tranströmer, Marin Sorescu, Agota Kristof (whose trilogy of short novels, published in English as The Notebook, is one of the great fiction works of 20th century Europe). And already I start to feel bad about overlooking so many others … which is why I’m forced to leave a list of visual artists & musicians for another day. (PB)
Dostoyevsky, Gogol, Babel, Shalamov, Solzhenitsyn, Vasily Grossman, Mihail Sebastian, Max Blecher, Bruno Schulz, Czesław Miłosz, Josef Czapski, Kafka, Céline, Hamsun. (PO)
In my twenties I loved Eastern European writers like Milan Kundera and Franz Kafka. Kundera gave me that sense of a persecuted writer in the communist era. His novel, The Joke, which deals with a political joke viewed in a dim light by the authorities, has regained potency in this era of taboos and cancel culture. I admire Kafka’s short fiction in particular and, while teaching in Poland, I discovered the short stories of Bruno Schulz which enabled me to see the country in a more visual, lyrical way.
I’ve always adored French writers for their fantastic portrayals of women: Flaubert’s Madame Bovary which depicted the crushing entrapment of marriage, Zola’s lurid and melodramatic Thérèse Raquin and the amoral insouciance of Sagan’s Bonjour Tristesse. I also loved existentialists like Camus and Sartre who shaped me to be more hedonistic; Anaïs Nin and the Marquis de Sade who taught me to write about sex in all its guises; Virginie Despentes who reminds me how important it is to infuse my writing with anger. During the eighties I was obsessed with the sensuality of Betty Blue by Philippe Djian.
More recently, I’ve been a fan of the elegant imagery of the Belgian writer, Amélie Nothomb, and I appreciate the brevity of her books. The more books there are in the world, the briefer they should be.
Knut Hamsun’s Hunger is an all-time favourite of mine as it expresses the writer’s quest to be published throughout the toughest of circumstances, but I think if there is one book I would smuggle into heaven it would have to be Zorba the Greek by Nikos Kazantzakis. I first read it when I was teaching English in Athens and it suffused my stay with its soaring sense of spiritual yet carnal joy.
In theatre, I have been influenced by many European plays, particularly German satirical ones like Max Frisch’s The Arsonists, Marius von Mayenburg’s The Ugly One and plays by Brecht. The anarchic and playful scurrilousness of Dario Fo is sublime. (RJ)
I have been instinctively drawn to American and South American art and authors for much of my writing career. However, I also admire many European artists and authors. One of my favourite European (Irish) authors is Elizabeth Bowen, whose prose so effortlessly blends the gothic and surreal with the type of tense symbolism-rich realism that keeps the reader on edge. I studied A-level Art, and spent a lot of time studying the work of the Impressionists; among my favourite Parisian galleries is Museo d’Orsay, and I have always loved Renoir, for the way he captures everyday moments rendered sublime through the eye of the artist. (RO)
Günter Grass’s The Tin Drum is one of a handful of novels I’ve read twice – the first time when I was sixteen, the second time this year. The desire to read this linguistically inventive and exuberant novel in its original language was probably an additional factor in my decision to study German at university. Up until that point, I had read nothing remotely like it. When I re-read The Tin Drum this year, I realized how little I’d actually understood it first time round. Knowing a lot more about the precise context of World War II helped. But I also came to understand how complicated Oscar is as a metaphor. Externally, as a child who refuses to grow up, he’s a counter-force to Nazism because he doesn’t fit the Aryan ideal, and indeed the Nazi government continually sends ‘papers’ to his parents so he can be taken away and euthanized. But internally, with his continual cry of ‘I want, I want’, his habit of killing off those close to him and his astonishing lack of concern for other people, he’s an exact match to the rampant, destructive Id of National Socialism. Oscar is a horror. The complexity of what Grass unleashed in this novel has given me a lot to think about in terms of the ethics of voice and address, and I am still thinking about these things now. (SM)
I take it that this question refers to the wider Europe, not just the EU? So, artists and sculptors: Cézanne, Tapiés, Matisse, Rodin, Buonarroti, Classical Greek sculpture, Chagall, Repin, El Greco. Poets: Graves, anonymous authors of Border Ballads, Marvell, Lorca, Machado, Seferis, Cavafis, Akhmatova, Mandelstam, Pasternak, Heaney, Montague, Carson, Ní Dhomhnaill. Dante, Sappho. Playwrights: Shakespeare, Pirandello, Lorca, Friel, Sophocles, Aeschylus. Novelists: Pasternak, Camus, Doris Lessing, Hesse, Grass, Böll. (TD)
I really like Dutch art from the Golden Age onwards. Vigdis Hjorth is a real favourite of mine in terms of novels. Symphonie Pastorale by André Gide and the writing of Colette were my absolute teen favourites. Later I graduated to Gramsci’s diaries. If we count Russia as Europe, then so much: Chekhov, Gogol, Gorky, Lermontov. (WE)
Most recently I have been deeply impressed by Daniel Kehlmann, Francesca Melandri and Paolo Cognetti. Over the years I have loved Natalia Ginzburg, Leonardo Sciascia, Cesare Pavese, Primo Levi, Maria Luisa Spaziani, Elsa Morante, Simone de Beauvoir, Françoise Sagan, Albert Camus, Marguerite Yourcenar, Thomas Mann, Günter Grass, Milan Kundera, Antonio Pennacchi, Nanni Balestrini, … the list is too long to keep going! (WW)
2. How is your work received on the European continent? Is its reception different from that in Ireland?
The short stories were well received in France and were reprinted twice. In Germany, the short stories were also published, but it was my play Wir ganz alleine (Ourselves Alone) in Hamburg which was very well liked at a time before the Wall came down. (AD)
I am fortunate to have had some great experiences at festivals and conferences in Europe. Memories of Paris, Berlin, Rome, Florence and Prague have been sustaining me as the walls close in during lockdown! In Berlin, Rome and Prague, a number of my poems were translated to the local language by (very fine) people who had learned Irish. It is freeing not to have to rely on English as a lingua franca. In Paris, I tried out a few of my own translations to French which may have endeared me to the audience – or perturbed them, it was difficult to tell! By and large, European audiences are very open to hearing work in the Irish language, and curious about the language. In both Europe and Ireland, the ‘Language Question’ risks overshadowing the work, so it is my job to make sure the work is as interesting as possible. (ANG)
I am thrilled that both my novels have been translated into Italian and I was delighted to have been invited in 2018 to the Pordenone Legge Book Festival in northern Italy. With The Watch House, there is an obvious link to Italy: it is centred around Marconi’s wireless experiments on Rathlin Island in 1898, but The Butterfly Cabinet was published in Italy first and has no obvious Italian connection. I think that the writer is probably the last person to understand why a book is popular or not. My agent says she is often baffled herself by which writers do well with readers of particular nationalities. (BM)
Yes, its reception is a little different I suspect – the ordinary becomes exotic when it is taken from its box. Does that mean that the ordinary is exotic? Yes, I suppose it does which is good news for writers everywhere. (BR)
The ingrained tradition of and openness to innovative modes of composition and presentation of poetry in continental Europe is not shared to a sufficient degree by audiences in Ireland, so yes, there’s a distinct difference in perception. I don’t necessarily mean in terms of positive or negative judgement, but there seems to be – and this can vary by location or platform – a more immersive and rigorous response to it, and a better understanding of intention and its formal or procedural aspects. Poetry in Ireland is still – not exclusively, but predominantly – read and received purely in terms of content and meaning and not enough in terms of its own materiality. (CM)
It is important to emphasize that the term ‘the European continent’ is a geographical term. It has not much meaning culturally. One of the best ways of proving this is to show how a book or a body of work is read in a different way in every country – i.e. nation state – in Europe. I have no readership in France, for example, but my books are well received in Spain, Italy and Germany. But Spain and Italy have little interest in the books with an Irish subject. The most intelligent and warmest reception for my books is in England and in China, as well as Ireland. (CT)
It has been very well received in Europe. It was interesting when a production of Halcyon Days in Poland was praised for its traditional qualities, as that kind of literary theatre would appear to be less dominant there. It is a joy to sit in a theatre and see the audience gasp in the same place or laugh or shift as the play lands on them. I am delighted that my plays appear to have a universal appeal despite being very Irish in tone, I suppose they explore issues that beset cultures everywhere and deal in the extraordinary resilience of people in the face of often extraordinary circumstances. I have had numerous productions and commissions in the UK so once again lament that exit but apart from the UK I have mostly enjoyed productions in Eastern Europe – Romania, Bulgaria, Hungary, Poland. (DK)
As I am in the infancy of my artistic development, that remains to be seen. I can say that it is important to me to have my work read by European readers, and I hope someday that will become possible. (DNG)
Some of my best commentators and critics are Italian, Spanish, Portuguese. Some of my books have been translated to various continental languages. I am not aware of popular reaction, but more aware of the responses of scholars and academics. (EN)
I have been translated into French, German, Danish, Polish, Hungarian, Romanian and Italian. So there is initial interest as with the home reception; after that I feel everything depends on the translator, what kind of audience he/she has carved out. As in Ireland, readers of poetry abroad are a small band, adventurous and curious. (ENC)
I don’t know if my work is genuinely received elsewhere. Some people love my texts, and they live in Madrid, Moscow, Berlin, New York, Buenos Aires, Florence and in lots of different other locations. In Ireland, I am afraid, I am often seen as a migrant or a refugee writer, while outside I have a sense of being free of that label. (ES)
I am not aware of having much of a following anywhere in Europe (or at home). Edition Rugerup published a selection of my poems, translated by Hans Christian Oeser, which was well reviewed. We live in a world in which writers are expected to flaunt their works and behave as prostitutes, selling themselves. I’d much prefer to live and die in obscurity than be part of that bizarre circus. I recently finished a photo-haiku project with Kolkata-based photographer Debiprasad Mukherjee. One US publisher wanted $15,000 to publish it. Is this what publishing has become? We pay the publishers? It used to be the other way round.
Many centuries ago, at the collapse of Gaelic civilization, a poet by the name of Mathghamhain Ó hIfearnáin cried out, “Cé a cheannódh dán?”/ “Who will buy a poem?” Did anybody hear him in Ireland, or in Europe? Who among Ireland’s literary critics and pundits today have even heard of his name – or could pronounce it properly? (GR)
In mainland Europe my work has been very warmly received, however it often requires a little more explanation than in Ireland. Readers and audience members aren’t always terribly familiar with the complex history of Northern Ireland. However, I will say, they have been incredibly gracious and interested to learn about my culture and history. I have also thoroughly appreciated the way readers throughout Europe will often find themes and ideas in my writing which resonate with their own culture and history. For me, this is often, an opportunity to learn about a part of Europe I’m not overly familiar with. (JC)
The work has only been translated into just a few languages – German, Bosnian, Scots Gaelic, some Italian and French versions are out there too, I think. When I have attended poetry-related events, in France and in Spain, one was quite formal, in Paris in association with Irish Studies work, one more broadly cultural in Catalonia with musicians, writers and dancers. Both of them were interesting, and valuable. (JM)
Mostly it is received within the context of Irish studies conferences and programmes, so there is a more academic engagement with the work. Recent expansion of cultural programming through the embassy network and in association with Culture Ireland has allowed for more engagement with general audiences. (JT)
I am not sure, is the honest answer. When I have visited Europe for poetry events, they are often university-based, and I am never sure whether my one reader in Prague/Berlin/Finland is the ex-pat teacher who has photocopied everything for the students. On the other hand, I think I’d know if I was widely known, and I’m not. I keep telling everyone that poets are only supposed to be as famous as the local weather person, but that’s just to cover up a colossal failure of nerve on my part.
Small things are nice though. Some of my second book was translated into French, and, more recently, a translator called Fanny Quément translated sonnets from my first four books for a pamphlet with Waknine Press, which was very lovely. I have a vague idea I might be taken more seriously in France. I also think it is easier to appreciate the rhythms and music of poetry if it isn’t in your native language. (LF)
Not as much as I had thought I would be. I guess the themes or plot or characters are more universal than I'd realised. We're very fond of talking about our own nation's quirks, without realising that actually, people in other countries have similar outlooks or experiences, and certainly all people have the same basic goals: to be comfortable, to be understood. I have never had a problem talking to audiences from different cultures. People laugh at the same jokes no matter where you are. At most, you will need to give some context about Irish history, but the social and cultural references are very easily understood. I think that is a consequence of the curiosity European people tend to have about their neighbours, the openness and friendliness of our interactions (outside of Europe, I’ve felt that same curiosity from Cuban people). The world has become so small; once, in Prague, someone asked if I watched The Young Offenders, which was the last question I was expecting from a Czech reader. Another time in Spain, when I greeted the audience in Irish, the Spanish moderator responded in Irish. But then, all of the languages I've been translated into are European languages, and we are a family, are we not? (LMc)
My work hasn’t been translated significantly into other European languages, so my main experience of having my writing received on the Continent has been through readings/performances. My readings are quite lively and performative and audiences seem to respond positively to the energy of that. Sometimes they seem surprised, though I’m not sure if it’s because they expected something different from an Irish writer, or because they expected something different from a writer, full-stop.
Conversations I have had with continental readers suggest they get a lot of the ideas I’m trying to play with and communicate. But on the whole I don’t know if as a group continental audiences receive or read the work differently to Irish audiences. (MG)
Badly. If anything, the translations into different languages are better received than the original. It is completely independent of what happens in Ireland. Where the novelty of the language is paramount, the movement and rhythm of the original is totally out of the question in foreign languages and I find myself having to read words that I have little thought of or opinion of. (NND)
According to George Moore, “a literary movement consists of five or six people who live in the same town and hate each other cordially.” It is a variation on Goethe’s observation that “the Irish seem to me like a pack of hounds, always dragging down some noble stag,” but in a specifically literary context. It’s not, I think (I hope) that the Irish are entirely more competitive and begrudging of each other’s success, but the size of the rock pool may have something to do with the appetites of the crustaceans therein. One might argue that the huge international recognition of Seamus Heaney, for instance, greatly benefitted Irish poetry and Irish writing in general. But on darker days there are those who subscribe to the thesis that their own neglect is due to the shadow cast by Heaney’s formidable achievement. (I am reminded of G. B. Shaw on his own love/hate relationship with Shakespeare: “It would probably be a relief to me to dig him up and throw stones at him.”) In the main, working in a relatively small and densely inhabited literary environment is not always the easiest, if only for the problem of staying sympathetic to those who struggle with their understandable jealousies while stopping short of adopting their range of prejudices and antagonisms.
The prospect of an international audience (for whom one’s work comes without the local baggage) is a consoling and indeed inspiring one. I don’t imagine there is a particularly large audience for my work anywhere, abroad or at home, but I always hope that the audience it does reach will read it with the same open-minded curiosity as I try to bring to own reading, hoping to encounter the work before engaging with the man or woman who produced it, sometimes against the odds.
Another remarkable aspect of the engagement with a European audience is that one sees new things even in texts already well known. If the challenge of writing is to see, and to see clearly, then the process of editing and ‘finishing’ is one of pulling back, of adopting a more distant, neutral point of view, and sharing new work or work in progress with an international audience often facilitates that distancing to a remarkable extent. The same poem read to its ‘local’ audience will often ‘glow’ in a particular section (like an old house with a single light switched on) while it may fail to glow at all or glow in an entirely different way, before an international audience. Here I don’t just mean that some things will be more obvious while others will require more explanation (though that may be the case); rather that the tacit agreement that can happen between insiders (the national writer and the national audience, as it were) may well be a limitation to the wider possibilities and consequences of the work.
To be translated is a huge honour and a huge boost of energy to the battery of a given piece of work. As a writer I am indebted to those who have taken an interest in my writing, not just for their efforts to see it published in new languages (to go the road without me) but for their always illuminating questions (on language, on nuance, on things I have worried about for hours or days or weeks as well as on things I scarcely noticed at all). From them I learn so much about poetry and what I think of as the ‘proximity effect’ of creative writing, and I am inspired to be reminded that the autobiographical elements of an autobiographical work are seldom its sole or most convincing reason for existing. (PB)
Some reviewers in Ireland seem confused by the setting, the challenge, the point of my stories, maybe find them distorted or fantastical. In Romania, where I live, the attitude is more matter of fact, as though I had simply described something. The only other country where my stories have done well is Italy; I don’t know why. Maybe luck. (PO)
The only time I have seen my work performed on the European continent was with my play, May the Road Rise Up, at the Bozar in Brussels in 2020. As the play was about homelessness, it resonated in Brussels where rough sleepers and beggars are much more prevalent than in Belfast. Naturally, my play contains dialect and quick-fire black Belfast humour which was too fast for the Brussels audience but I don’t consider it necessary for an audience to understand everything. It is more important for a writer to convey sensibility than sense. (RJ)
As of yet, I have not had extensive engagement with readers on the continent of Europe. However, readers from the University of Leuven have been very enthusiastic, and I was delighted to read Hedwig Schwall’s paper on my story “How to Be a Billionaire”. I noticed that Hedwig had written a very accurate analysis of the story’s themes, such as the narrator’s learning disability and his conflicted sense of Irish identity. It was certainly the most detailed, and most accurate, analysis of my work that I have received so far. I wonder if being situated in a different European country from Ireland allows a certain critical distance, enabling greater clarity with which to approach an Irish text. (RO)
I’m not sure it’s exactly ‘received’ in Europe at all, though I did recently win the European Poet of Freedom Award from the city of Gdańsk, and people there were very curious to find out more about Northern Ireland in particular (as the part of Ireland less familiar abroad than the Republic). (SM)
It is difficult to speak definitively about reception because it is to do with individuals who might have very different situated cultures, even within the same country. However, let me take Italy, where my short story collection Sweet Home is published by Atlantide. In the reviews I have read, and the interviews have done, there seemed to be much less interest in the representation of sectarianism and more interest in broader issues to do with class. I suppose in Ireland there can be a readiness to read a work within a particular context or tradition. This can sometimes be profitable but it can also be at times reductive. (WE)
I can really only speak for Italy, where my work is very well received. I am not sure it differs from Ireland very much except that Irish writers are generally very welcome in Italy. (WW)
3. When abroad, which aspect of (your) Irishness did people pick up on/project on you? When you explained ‘Ireland’ to them, what surprised people most?
I visited Köln in January 1990, after the Wall came down; it was a conference organized by the British Council; to my surprise I found great admiration for the Irish and Ireland’s self-determination in 1916. They were puzzled when I explained I still lived in the North as part of the UK. I felt like an East German. So it then became a discussion about violence for political ends and nationalism. (AD)
Well, the first thing I need to explain is my name! I believe it’s related to the Spanish name ‘Alba’ so that can be a nice way in. It surprises some people that Ireland has its own language and government, that it is in the Eurozone, that it is a Republic, etc. (ANG)
I think I was a curiosity in Italy, to be honest. I think the staff and students at the school where I was teaching may have felt a little protective towards me. I remember travelling with a group of students to a concert in Modena by The Cure. The parents of one of the students drove us. I’m not sure if I was meant to be looking after the students, or if they were meant to be looking after me. Many of the Italians I met associated Ireland with horses, which was a bit of a surprise. And the boys were fascinated with UK vehicle registration plates and wanted to know how they were devised. I had no idea. I didn’t realise until later that Italian number plates began with an abbreviation of the city in which the vehicle had been registered.
It wasn’t easy to explain the hybridity of Northern Ireland, its historical complexities, its tensions, its links to both Ireland and to Britain. I did talk to the students a little about the history of the place, and I do remember, prompted by their teacher, teaching some of the younger pupils a few Irish dancing steps! That was years before the popularity of Riverdance. I did wonder if they watched the Eurovision Song Contest in 1994 and remembered any of the steps taught to them by their strange language assistant. (BM)
The Irish accent is a source of interest and our particular use of the English Language. (BR)
That’s always a fascinating aspect and something I am keen to observe, because in my official representation of Ireland at various forums over the years I have regularly sensed an amusing mix of surprise, puzzlement, disappointment and admiration with the fact that how I look and speak, my accent or general demeanour or poetic interests do not tally with the expectations of that of an “Irish” poet, whatever that is. Of course it’s senseless to try to explain Ireland – or any other national territory. Undermining such expectations and blurring these lines without expressly declaring you’re doing so is I think vital in the modernization of an understanding of identity as intersectional, including in national terms. (CM)
I don’t trade on my ‘Irishness’. I am not aware of anyone picking up on it, or projecting it on me. They must do, but I must not think about it. (CT)
When I visit other countries, I always take pleasure in how instinctually people associate our little island with its weather. Inevitably, our weather influences all aspects of our lives here –our writing, too. Irish literature is soaked to the skin; it’s always getting caught in rain storms, leaving it drenched and marked by puddles.
Beyond the usual questions about weather, I am also often asked about the Irish language. As I write in two languages, it’s something people are understandably curious about. In speaking about Irish, I usually choose to speak about my favourite phrase in the language: staighre beo. A direct translation of this phrase might be ‘a stairs which is alive’. In English, the corresponding word is escalator, a word first coined in the early twentieth century to describe that new American invention designed to transport people between floors, with its elaborate mechanism driven by unseen cogs and wheels. Some have suggested that the word escalator’s etymological roots can be traced to the Italian scalata, with all that verb’s connotations of ladder-climbing, akin to the ascension of an escalator. The corresponding phrase in the Irish language is very different, however. Staighre beo evokes for me the throbbing, trembling mechanism of the metallic steps, the squirming ouroboros always in motion within it, always circling and circling as it lifts people from one level to the next. It allows us a brief glimpse into the gaze of those people of ours whose gaze first lit upon an escalator, whose description of what they saw naturally evolved into this perfect phrase.
It is also possible to see staighre beo as a metaphor for the Irish language itself. To speak a minority language in Europe feels similar to stepping onto an escalator, borne along by a system of inherited idioms. This mechanism is driven by an invisible apparatus, located elsewhere. The escalator of a language is perpetually in motion. These metal steps – our words – have carried the people who spoke the language before us, as they carry us now, as they will carry those who will follow. When we take our first step onto it, our bodies veer into its altered speed. This sensation is immediately familiar to a bilingual person. When I speak English, it feels to me like ambling along easily, chatting as I walk. I do not pause to think about the intricacies of muscle and ligament, the choreography of intertwining alignments which enable me to enable my body to move itself. Whenever I visit other countries and I’m asked about Irish, I always say that to speak Irish is to feel as though I have stepped onto a staighre beo. I feel lifted by the words spoken by my ancestors, almost as though I can feel their breath on my cheek. Like the escalator – the staighre beo – Irish is alive. (DNG)
The most memorable response was in India “You mean Yeats was Irish?” In Europe I found people started from Joyce or Heaney and perhaps projected a Heaneyesque rural atmosphere. Years ago, people expected you to write about the dominance of the Church or about the Troubles; they were surprised if you were friendly with a cleric or a nun. Sometimes they were surprised at our lack of gratitude to the British. (ENC)
I am not sure I can answer this question as no one perceives me as Irish, in or outside Ireland, even though I consider it my home. But unlike it happens when people learn that I am from Russia, when they hear that I live in Ireland they smile. Ireland is a country that doesn’t provoke negative feelings, at least this is my experience. (ES)
Well, I am from Northern Ireland, which used to just perplex people. When I was 14 and went to France with my parents for the first time, I quickly discovered that I was a spokesperson for political violence, so I had a short, meaningless speech that I’d give when people asked about the Troubles. When I went back in about 2016, the only thing anyone asked me was about Conor McGregor, the mixed martial arts fighter. Very occasionally people think you live down a lane and keep hens. Then again there are still people in London who think that Ireland is in a different time zone and has no wifi. (LF)
I’ve been to India over a dozen times and have met professors of literature – some of them who were taught at schools by Irish nuns or priests – who had no idea that Ireland had a literature older than Swift. Having to explain that we are a bilingual country – at least on paper – is often the first step. If we wish to talk about Ireland and Europe, have a look at the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages: https://www.coe.int/en/web/conventions/full-list/-/conventions/treaty/148/ signatures?p_auth=7rQpmirc. Guess which country hasn’t signed up? Ireland! (GR)
Quite often people abroad don’t have a very nuanced understanding of the politics and divisions at work in Northern Ireland. If they are aware of a narrative, it’s usually the Catholic narrative which tends to be better represented in the art which has impacted the world outside Ireland. People are occasionally confused or slightly bemused by me being a Protestant from Ireland. (JC)
In a poetry context, at poetry-related events, it is the idea of national poetry, I think, discussing Yeats, say, in relation to Miłosz or Lorca. (JM)
There is often a time lag in how Ireland is perceived, and a tendency for a focus on the literature of past (male) generations. There is often a sense of surprise at the more progressive, modern side of Irish culture and literature. (JT)
Perhaps the informality of Irish social or verbal interaction is on some level a bit unusual. It tends to come up in conversations with my translators. Having to explain the level of offence meant in a swearword or blasphemous statement (most of the time, very little offence, actually). That calling someone a ‘cunt’ can often be much less offensive than calling someone a ‘clown’. That ‘fuck’ is used often as a rhythmical insert in a sentence, even before it might be used as an adverb or adjective. The musicality of a sentence is of practically subconscious importance in Ireland. Or simple greetings, the idea that we default to first names, and deploy surnames often as a jokey or intimate title. I’d only ever call my closest friends by their surnames. I’d call a politician or boss by their first name. And calling someone Mr or Mrs Whatever, or Sir or Ma’am, sounds awkward in my mouth. Almost American. We’d be more likely to call a stranger ‘love’ than Sir or Ma’am. I’m glad of it, too.
The Irish also have a habit of being very curious and sociable from the start of any relationship, very quick to call someone a friend. Perhaps that can feel a bit disarming. Personally I’ve found that other European people react very well to it, though. They might think you’re a bit mad, but they get on board with the madness. I think there is a more complex side to this friendliness, though, that is often mistaken for superficiality; it usually comes up in conversation with non-Irish people who have lived in Ireland for some time. The Irish might be very friendly and might be quick to call someone a friend, but we are also deeply suspicious and react very badly to perceived neediness, or worse again, over-niceness. We need you to have a bit of bite and a bit of independence; we are not too keen on sincere affection, and the shiftiness of Irish vernacular should be a warning to those attempting to know us: in our marrow, we suspect perfidy.
The other side of that madness –the Irish inability to take anything seriously, the ‘be grand’ mentality – might seem charming, but of course, if you actually have to live in Ireland, it can be a very frustrating thing. (LMc)
For me, Northern Ireland was always raised in conversation: the narrative of two tribes unable to live together, locked in a centuries-old quarrel. That is probably because, although I have been based in Dublin since 1995, I grew up in Northern Ireland during the Troubles. After the Good Friday Agreement, I noticed people gradually became less quick to ask if I was Irish or Northern Irish. Differences faded.
When I explain Ireland, I find people are most surprised to hear me describe it as a progressive, modern entity, with increasing separation of church and state (granted, more work is needed there). The 2015 referendum on marriage equality is one example of modernity – it was the first time a state legalised same-sex marriage through a popular vote. Ireland today is unrecognisable compared with my parents’ generation. Even the border with Northern Ireland has been neutralised, although Brexit may undermine that.
European identity has been significant for people in Northern Ireland as a way of sidestepping other, more vexed issues of identity. (MD)
I lived in Germany for a year in the 1980s. Back then, the war in the North of Ireland (aka ‘the Troubles’) was the thing I found continental Europeans (mainly Germans) latched onto most. People kept saying to me, “oh, so you’re from Ireland. What’s it like growing up in a warzone?” As a middle-class Dubliner who had no relatives up north, this seemed strange. I understood where the war came from historically, but at that time it felt to me very much that it was the North’s war, not a war of the country I lived in. I was uneducated, I suppose, about the extent to which the organs of state media and policy had tried to deny the connection, both in the UK and the Republic.
People in Germany also thought I was Dutch, which made me wonder if there is some weird under-the-surface link between the way Dutch and Irish speak, think or behave. You’d think not, but who knows.
What surprised people most when I spoke about my Ireland was when I corrected them about the war in the north. They’d say, Oh it’s about religion, terrible, people fighting about religion, and I remember saying, No, it’s about territory and land ownership.
The urban/modern quality of my life in Dublin surprised some people – that I lived in a city at all and wasn’t overrun by priests or nuns.
I think there is still a general perception that Irish people are friendly, that there is a lot of culture (mainly music), and that the country itself is green. That Irish people aren’t English and that tends to be seen as positive. (MG)
I have found that on trips to European destinations, that the question of what it means to be Irish today in relation to Europe and the world almost always emerges. This question of how one identifies trails Irish writers wherever they go. I often ask myself why, but I also recognise the opportunity to speak about what it means to me to be an Irish citizen. When I travel as a writer, I simply regard myself as a writer first, and an Irish person/woman second, a person who is also a citizen of a country that has finally shrugged off its post-colonial legacy. I am in a position to enter dialogue about the nature of a nation’s sense of autonomy, for example, and how this might grow. The growth of Ireland’s autonomy has been slow, struggling, repressive, anti-woman, and isolated, but in the end it has to some extent blossomed in its natural imperfect way. Which is as it should be, I believe. (MO)
I have always been interested in how knowledge of and interest in ‘Ireland’ and specifically ‘Northern Ireland’ varies wildly according to context. In the course of my travels in North America, ‘Ireland’ is a term freighted with sentimentality and ignorance, a place almost of myth. In Europe, by contrast, my sense is that there tends to be more concrete and useful knowledge, and an awareness of geopolitical and cultural specificities: it is useful, and challenging, to field queries concerning the Border, the Troubles, the meaning, history and future of Northern Ireland. But firm knowledge is of course not always apparent even in a European context – and this is in itself instructive, offering as it does a salutary reminder that most European cultures have had, and continue to have, their own difficulties and traumas to deal with, and that our insular issues are mere elements in a very long list. Latterly, Brexit has become – oh, the irony – a unifying theme, with nearly all parties conscious of its status as a force at once pitiful, lunatic, and pregnant with destructive possibility; and when abroad, I have become accustomed to fielding questions concerning the impact of Brexit on Ireland and on Northern Ireland. (NH)
For my sins, I have all the typical Irish traits, i.e. red hair etc. etc. This is responded to more than my actual work. What surprised them the most is the fact that we don't believe in leprechauns and that we're madly cynical modern people. (NND)
I am not interested in what people project on me as regards my nationality. People aren’t interested in Ireland, except to say they were there for a weekend or their brother works in Dublin. Which is fine. (PO)
People abroad pick up on my love of the pub, my friendliness, my dark wit and loquaciousness which are all Irish traits. One of their biggest expectations, however, is that the Irish are Catholic. If you are a Northern Irish Protestant like me you always feel ersatz Irish as if you haven’t quite passed the citizenship test. Many Europeans are surprised by the fact that Northern Ireland is part of the UK. As far as traditional Protestant culture goes, it’s hard to convey the crazy scale of the Eleventh Night bonfires and the Twelfth of July parades to people abroad. (RJ)
I have to say my physical appearance is often described as ‘typically Irish’ with my auburn hair and freckles. People are often surprised when I explain that I was born in the UK, and that my ‘Irishness’ is fairly unstable. Growing up in England, I generally found that my Irishness was seen in a positive light. However, my parents experienced a certain amount of anti-Irish sentiment, particularly during the Troubles. On mainland Europe, reactions to Irishness are generally more positive. People will often say ‘we love the Irish,’ and will proceed to tell me that there should be a united Ireland. They are quite taken aback when I express some hesitation about this, and when I tell them that a united Ireland is not quite as straight-forward a notion as it might seem. (RO)
Until the signing of the Belfast Agreement, primary interest was refracted through (mostly) ill-informed interest in the armed struggle, and in primary figures such as Yeats and Joyce, with a sidebar interest, so to speak, in traditional music. In France, one sensed a disappointment that one was not a rural mystic and echt-peasant, the English were, frankly, racist and dismissive, the Greeks and Spanish almost always empathetic, the Italians uninterested. One was expected, generally speaking, to be lyrical, a touch unstable, mystical and slightly troublesome when in drink. To the extent that people expressed any surprise, it was usually to learn that Ireland is a complex, predominantly urban and very much up to date society in the usual conflicted modern mode. As a wide generalization, the composite picture of Ireland was, until very recently around 20 years out of date. I stress that these are indeed generalizations – and almost always inapplicable to the circles in which I would have moved. (TD)
I am probably much less interested in Irishness than many other people. I don’t think that many people have chosen me as a person to explain Ireland to them – wisely, probably, on their behalf! During an interview for German TV, I gave the answer, in response to whether I considered myself Irish or British, that I in fact considered myself a Velvet Underground fan. Such a response could be considered facetious, woefully apolitical and annoying, but at the same time I stand with anyone who wants to think of other ways of thinking of complex identities. (WE)
The fact that we don’t freeze solid in Winter! Mostly the people I encounter abroad have a positive view of Ireland, in some cases even a romantic one. We are regarded as highly cultured. Many people have travelled to Ireland and loved their encounters with Irish people whom they find friendly and welcoming. Distinguishing oneself from English people is important as not everyone has the same feelings about England. They all know about the rain! (WW)
I do plan to revisit Germany in some capacity. And I would want to find out what it feels like after unification, for writers in particular. What are the cultural strengths? And ‘outlets’? (AD)
The opportunity to engage with different age groups and people of different backgrounds. (ANG)
Ideally, I would expect to absorb something of the culture, the history, the literature, the language and the learning of the place I was in, and for that to infiltrate my work. As a writer, it is stimulating to find yourself in an unfamiliar place and to sit quietly, unobserved, and do your observing. It is much harder to do that in a place that you know well, because you have to strip back the veneer of the familiar to remind yourself that the extraordinary exists. In a new place, given time, and a quiet mind, you see the extraordinary everywhere you look. The writer and tutor Natalie Goldberg writes in her book Writing Down the Bones: “If we see [other] lives and festivals as fantastic and our lives as ordinary, we come to writing with a sense of poverty. We must remember that everything is ordinary and extraordinary. It is our minds that either open or close.” Spending time in unfamiliar surroundings leads you to question your own way of doing things; it enriches you; it opens the mind. It’s difficult with current travel restrictions to imagine that happening again soon with any degree of confidence, but I look forward to the day that it is possible. (BM)
An unusual cultural experience – in food, music, attitude and the day-to-day coming and going. (BR)
Not much different to being a writer in residence in Ireland – which let’s not forget is itself somewhere in Europe: engagements with peers and audiences from across the arts, as well as academics, students, and writers’ groups in a process of give and receive, an exploration of fresh systems and ways of thinking, potential collaborative opportunities, the provision of time and a new environment in which to continue my work etc. Additionally, of course, there is an expectation of an immersion as far as that is possible with different linguistic systems, as a means to exploring alternative ways of approaching our primary material. (CM)
Really nice rooms. A good library. Narrow streets. Church bells. A great art gallery. A concert hall for chamber music. (CT)
In such a situation, I would have hopes rather than expectations. Those hopes would encompass a hope to be welcomed and accepted into the local community, a hope to learn from those who are embedded in that culture, a hope to secure the time to focus on my writing and to create something that surprises me, something that I feel I could not have achieved in my home environment. (DNG)
Stimulus from culture and language, and good food and drink (ENC)
Have a chance to be on my own and write, think, have a chance to concentrate, to organise my thoughts. To have not to think about what to cook and some other practicalities. Feel that this time is given to you to be able to work. At the same time, it doesn’t have to be an isolated rural space. For me it can perfectly be an overcrowded centre of a big city, the main objective is to feel welcomed and safe. (ES)
I would like to see all writers’ residencies in Europe well stocked with literature in translation, especially from lesser-spoken languages. Much of Europe is invisible and inaudible. We forget that the new science of Ecolinguistics informs us that many of our older languages, and marginalized languages, hold the key to survival on Earth. We have confined much of our European heritage to museums. Let ethnographers study it; that seems to be our attitude. But if you listen to the Smithsonian recordings from Switzerland (https://media.smithsonianfolkways.org/audio/features/sung-in-the-inn_switzerland.mp3), for instance, you will ask yourselves, why do our broadcasters, our educators, and our artists ignore such treasure troves? Is it because interest in such treasure troves is associated with people of regionalistic and nationalistic fervour? I’m not a Swiss nationalist, but I like listening to these sounds. I’m not a Sardinian nationalist, but I like listening to their polyphonic singers, such as Tenores de Oniferi. Of course, I have no time for folk culture that is taken out and dusted down for tourists. It must be vibrant and real, or forget it. (GR)
In a residency I really value space and time to work uninterrupted on writing projects which I’m actually interested in pursuing. Sometimes a residency proposal has to be so strictly tied to the place and situation I have ended up working on something which felt quite forced and unhelpful. I also love having opportunities to properly integrate into the local culture, meeting fellow writers and artists, exploring the city’s architecture and museums. Finally, an opportunity to showcase my writing in front of a local audience is also a valuable way to reach new readers and potentially make contact with the local publishing world. (JC)
Establishing relations with poets in the host country. (JM)
Accommodation and a stipend large enough to cover at least the basic wage. An awareness that a residency is not a holiday for the writer; it is simply them trying to earn their living in a different space. Beautiful surroundings are always a bonus for a writer, but they do not pay the bills. A good balance between time to write and demands around the provision of readings and workshops. (JT)
I would settle for feeling like I’d come out jail in April. I was told that there is more of a writer-in-residence culture than a creative writing culture in France, and that would be liberating. (LF)
Immersion in another culture would be the attraction. I’d welcome the opportunity to engage with local authors, engage with their writing, and hopefully find ways to share it in Ireland. I have a books podcast, funded by the Arts Council of Ireland and supported by Dublin UNESCO City of Literature and the Museum of Literature Ireland (MOLI), and I’d envisage featuring local writers in the course of a residency.
A residency would be a platform for my work, too. In Ireland, we can be insular – absorbed by our own concerns. It is important to realize there’s a wider world out there. Talking about your work in a public setting is a privilege, not least because of stimulation from audience feedback. Questions tend to differ in other countries at these literary events. I think perhaps people are more direct! But they have an inherent respect for the literary tradition.
I have represented Ireland at St Brigid’s Day festivals organized by Irish embassies in European cities including Brussels and Berlin, and this was a key way to meet people in other countries interested in books and ideas. Readers, first and foremost – it’s what every writer wants. But I also met some Spanish academics who are now teaching my work to their students, and they email me with questions about it. And I met booksellers in those cities who were stocking my books, who now follow me on social media. Those are important connections to make. (MD)
Space and time to write. Some connection with audiences there, through a reading or performance. The chance to walk new streets and roads and landscapes, hear the words, watch the sights, smell, taste, and get lost in it all. (MG)
Apart from the general expectation of having a place to write and time in which to write, the cultural milieu is important. There is nothing quite so simultaneously calming and stimulating as being away from one’s own culture and on the land-mass of Europe, where one will encounter people whose socio-historic concerns, as well as literary concerns, differ to some extent from one’s own. A side-advantage to being writer in residence in Europe as opposed to Ireland is that one gradually assumes a greater sense of one’s own autonomy as a writer, which stimulates creativity and a certain sense of liberation. With no local figure to monitor or ‘position’ you in any ranking, a residency in Europe can offer permission within certain parameters to continue to be what one already is: secular, independent, liberal, democratic, exploring, or a version of these qualities. A new location withholds judgement on the stranger, whether one is a bohemian or not, whether one is outwardly conventional or not – so long as the work appears! Furthermore, one has the opportunity to bring new gifts to Europe. (MO)
I would in part turn this question on its head, and ask what a host community might reasonably expect of its guest – to which the answer is: the fullest practicable engagement possible with culture in its widest sense, in local, regional, and national terms – and not only in the field of literature but with other art forms, and most especially with literary translators. As writers, we expect and hope for opportunities to read and to discuss, and my experience suggests that conversations with translators can bring about dialogues that are surprising, enlightening, and more. In discussing my first novel Inch Levels with its French translator, for example, I found myself examining the text in new and unexpected ways: translation creates a new text, set in a new context and readied for dispersal into an altogether new readership; and this idea suggests a natural partnership with a writer temporarily in residence in a new place. (NH)
If I were a writer in residence somewhere in Europe, I would expect people to know a little about our history, i.e. we were still experiencing a famine as recently as 1889. (NND)
The image of Joyce, living in some of continental Europe’s most beautiful cities (but walking, hour after hour, the ‘mean streets’ of his native Dublin) is one that should give pause to anyone thinking of taking writers into their care. Some will be present, in the ‘here and now’, engaged and inspired by their new environments; others will perform, to varying degrees of credibility, the trick of seeming present while being on a tram, a steamer, a spaceship, years and worlds away.
To accommodate a writer in residence, one has to be open to these two almost polar opposite approaches and responses. Essential to both, I think (in my limited experience) is opportunities for interaction: with students, readers, listeners, other writers, translators, interrogators, and the opportunity to burrow down deep for a few days without causing alarm! For out of these engagements, with others and with the ‘dislocated self’ may the seeds of the current piece of work – or as likely – the next be about to emerge.
In short, many things can be a help: a small room, a desk, running water (!), a view of a tree or a bridge or a railway track lined with graffiti; also occasional contact with people who are not themselves writers and who couldn’t care less! But the most important thing is time: long poems take time because they have to be built up, word for word from nothing; short poems take even longer because you have to chip away all the envy that the short poem understandably feels for its longer cousins. Best of all, as on any family outing or pilgrimage, a residency abroad is an ideal place to discover new qualities and talents in companions you thought you knew inside out. (PB)
The great thing about any of those programmes, as well as getting work done, is meeting other people. (PO)
I would expect it to be just like my residency in Leuven last October. I would ideally have another Irish writer for company and a native speaker from that locale to show me the local cultural hotspots and pubs, and to explain the history. I’d hope for a quiet room in which I could write in a district that’s handy for shops and cultural sites. A hippy bohemian writing commune would suit me well. I would also relish reading my work at public events and mingling with writers, academics and those who work in the arts. In my opinion, if you don’t go abroad to seek out inspiration from your experiences you might as well be sitting writing at home. In fact you might as well be sitting knitting in your slippers! (RJ)
I would look forward to the experience of meeting scholars and students from another culture, and exchanging ideas. At the moment I have very young children so it would be difficult to take part in any such residency. Perhaps an online residency would be a concept worth exploring (particularly in light of Covid restrictions). Online residency would definitely be more accessible for single parents with young children, for example, or writers who have to work outside of their field in order to support themselves financially. I think this could be a really interesting way of exposing students in Europe to different voices – those of writers who could not take part in a normal in-person residency. (RO)
What I would expect of any residency: time, space, a basic degree of comfort and enriching conversation with other writers. I have had two European residencies, one at the Literarisches Colloquium Berlin and the other at Château Lavigny in Switzerland, and both were rewarding in precisely these ways. The most interesting aspect of international residencies is how little nationality seems to matter. (SM)
A quiet retreat, peace and tranquillity, the chance to mingle unremarkably with ordinary life, proximity to the sea and access by public transport, ideally rail or sea, to an old city. (TD)
I suppose I am really interested in how place shapes individuals. And I suppose I am interested in this at quite a micro level. So, say I was a writer in residence somewhere in Europe, I’d expect to spend a lot of time observing how place impacted on the lives of the people I encountered in terms of specifics: the school system, the shops available to them, housing, religion and so on. Living somewhere else would challenge quite a few assumptions relating to what I, as a middle class person from a particular part of Belfast, regard as ‘normal.’ (WE)
It seems to me that a residency is or should be primarily a learning experience for the writer. I would expect to be lodged comfortably and be paid a stipend sufficient to feed myself. After that the dynamic requires me to engage with the place, culture and people as best I can. I would not require that the residency provide activities such as visits to cultural sites or encounters with other writers, academics or publishers, but I would regard them as bonuses. I would want the residency to respect my work patterns. I would also expect occasional liaison contacts with the organizers. (WW)
THE IRISH WRITER AND THE EUROPEAN UNION
1. In which ways has Ireland changed since it joined the EU in 1973? Or what, to you, is the most striking effect of the EU on Ireland?
The Ireland the loyalists/unionists objected to does not exist anymore. Ireland, thanks to the EU, has entered the modern world – ahead of the North. (AD)
We used to joke when we were young that, even without the obvious military presence at the border, we would have been able to tell that we’d crossed from Northern Ireland into the Republic by the gradual decline in the quality of the road surface from north to south. After Ireland joined the EU, that difference was still striking, but in reverse: suddenly, it seemed, with EU funding, the roads in the south were so much better than ours. The Republic of Ireland began to look much more affluent, no longer the nostalgic 1950s image of our parents’ portrayal. Nowadays, of course, there are no border controls, and no obvious material differences when you drive across and most of us would like it to stay that way. Both the EU and the UK have committed to avoiding a hard land border between north and south, but six months away from the end of the Brexit transition period, we still don’t know what the experience of crossing the border will entail after December this year . (BM)
As I was born in 1984, I don’t feel I’m best placed to answer this question! Joining the EU in 1973 compelled Ireland to address gender inequality, most notably in removing the ‘Marriage Bar’ which required women to resign from their jobs upon getting married. Inequalities remain, and not only in the area of gender, so there is a lot more work to be done. (ANG)
Our motorways which help to lead us out of here, off the small island and onto the Continent towards business and trade. Being part of the EU has also broadened the attitudes here and stirred up debates about all sorts of social and political aspects of our lives. The question is: Can it lure us away from the English coat-tails? (BR)
I think change would have come anyway. But I see the EU, for the most part, as a benevolent and idealistic entity, concerned with social progress and rational solutions to problems. I view the EU with a kind of reverence. (CT)
I think that joining the EU was the most influential moment in contemporary Irish history. The impact of that decision is almost immeasurable socially, economically and culturally. I believe Ireland to have been traumatized by its own revolution in the early twentieth century and so became a really conservative, guilt-ridden, fearful place, strangled by Catholicism. The connection between church and state was absolute. The country remained poor, locked in an acrimonious relationship with Great Britain and shuddering under a brutally Catholic hierarchy. Joining the EU in our own right in 1973 cemented our independence from our colonial past and allowed the country to start to move out of the shadow of the Church. Access to European travel, laws, courts, foods, cultures, languages, opened us up once again as a people and allowed Ireland to reposition itself in the world.
There have been enormous social changes in Ireland in the last thirty years. When I think of Europe, I always think of it as a project for peace, prosperity and social equality. Women’s equality has improved immeasurably thanks to Europe and I will always credit Europe and David Norris in particular for the liberation of gay men and women from the most dreadful persecution here. (DK)
The EU has always been beneficial for Ireland. We have received financial aid from the EU from the start – the prospect of benefits for agriculture was one of the arguments used to persuade Irish people to vote for membership when we joined in 1973. The economic benefits for Ireland have continued. At least as significant, if not more so, have been sociological and legislative changes brought about in Ireland thanks to membership of the EU. Ireland was a very conservative, not to say patriarchal and repressive, country, before 1973. Legislation for gender equality in the workplace came about in Ireland thanks to our membership of the EU.
I would hate it if Ireland left the EU, and I don’t believe we ever will. I like the open borders, the ease with which we can travel over most of the Continent. I like the euro. I like the common mobile phone charge policy (a simple but great benefit directly from the EU in 2017). Similarly, I like it that I can access health care in any EU country as easily as I can in Ireland, if I need it. (I became very aware of how important this is when I spent four months in the US recently, where medical cover is so complicated.) I like visiting artists’ centres in European countries, on residencies, and not having to worry about currency, health care, visas.
Ireland has changed exponentially. It has evolved from being a backward, patriarchal, oppressive, mean-minded, class-ridden, superstitious society into a compassionate, liberal, egalitarian country. Being part of the EU accelerated these changes.
As a child of eight or nine, I imagined what it would be like to travel to European countries or live in them. I read books about Europe (Anne and Peter in Spain/France/Sweden etc. etc.), biographies of people like Marie Curie, some translated novels (which fuelled my imagination.) I learned French in primary school, French, Latin, German in secondary. In such ways I was very aware of Europe and longed to go there. When I was twenty, I did, finally, and I think that since then I have been strongly influenced by Europe in many ways. (EN)
Most striking effect is the sense of an alternative to the Anglosphere. (ENC)
The economy has grown, largely because American firms see us as a stepping-stone to Europe with lax laws about tax. (GR)
For us in the North I think the biggest change post-1973 is obviously the movement towards Peace and Reconciliation and the strategic involvement the EU has had in this process, particularly through funded projects and opportunities which seek to promote Peace and Reconciliation. (JC)
Roads. Demoting the 1937 constitution as the final legal resort and, thereby, bringing European human rights, esp. in relation to gender equality, to the forefront in the Republic. (JM)
Benefits to the economy and a greater awareness of and involvement in world politics. Also a greater investment in common interests such as healthcare, human rights and environment which could easily be overruled by local financial interests in a small, isolated nation. (JT)
It is different in the North. I don’t feel well enough informed about the way policy and institutions here are underpinned by the EU, to be completely honest. One thing I do know is that my job was made permanent because of EU law in 2009. I’d been a research fellow at Queen’s University for three years, and when it came up for renewal, it seemed to turn out that if I wanted to stay in the job I had to be offered it. You can’t really be a permanent research fellow, but I was – for about ten years. It was actually very confusing. I accept, however, that this was not the EU’s fault but mine. (LF)
The EU’s visibility is apparent – road projects with the EU stars logo, for example, and other capital infrastructure. There is also our use of the euro to consider. We have embraced it with enthusiasm – despite the disadvantage that Northern Ireland, because it is governed by Britain, has retained sterling.
Since joining, I believe Ireland has become more conscious of being European. Today, it looks eastwards rather than westwards – the US influence is waning. In general, the US sway diminished internationally under President Trump, but with President Biden this trend may reverse – he has indicated that the US intends to play a more active role on the world stage. That said, British cultural influence has always exerted a gravitational pull because of our neighbouring island’s proximity and our shared history, and because its decisions have a knock-on impact here in Ireland. That will continue to be the case. (MD)
To me the first thing that comes to mind is how it offered – and still offers – Ireland a chance to reimagine itself as part of a wider collective that isn’t an imperial collective. The chance for Irish citizens to see themselves not as colonized/lessers-than, but equal to any other European citizens, and for the communal entity that is Ireland to feel like an equal partner on that stage. Economically it ushered in a lot of money – I felt the benefits in the early 1990s when I left college. The first three proper jobs I had were funded by the EU and that meant I could stay in Ireland, I didn’t have to emigrate for work.
But being part of the EU has also ushered in (or perhaps consolidated a latent tendency towards) neoliberal economic policies, and I don’t think that’s such a great thing. Austerity measures have bolstered that even further. Take services, like public transport, which were never originally conceived as profit-making enterprises; they are meant to be public services, and ideally, should be designed to run at a loss so they can benefit those who have less. The focus on society as an ‘economy’ (rather than an integrated, dynamic system whose wealth derives from a myriad of other features besides numbers on a balance sheet), became much more prevalent in Irish public discourse in the 1990s. This coincided with a growing sense of the reach and influence of the EU in Ireland – though equally you could argue the increased emphasis on society as ‘economy’ wasn’t specifically EU-European, but was part of a global neoliberalism, exemplified by Reagan, Thatcher and others, and brought into sharper focus by the collapse of the Soviet Union.
In terms of human rights, especially gender, LGBTQ and reproductive rights, I think being part of the EU has had a vital and positive impact on the whole for Ireland. It has given Irish feminists, LGBTQ activists, and survivors of gender crimes and sexual abuse a bigger place to go to, one that was/is not under the hegemony of the traditional Irish institutions – the Church and the conservative, patriarchal right-wing establishment. There was a time in the 1980s where it was easy to feel like a lone voice, overwhelmed by a very conservative power structure – and vestiges of that feeling and that structure still exist, they are not gone. But ‘Europe’ (not just the EU), felt like it offered a platform, sometimes a haven, a place to be visible and vocal, as well as practical mechanisms like the ECHR which have contributed to real and positive change here. (MG)
The areas which interest me most are those involving the support and/or intervention of the European Court of Human Rights. Certain socially restrictive legislations which had in the past negated the value of women’s lives (especially within marriage) were lifted. Changes to marriage equality laws of all kinds, on contraception, divorce, the de-criminalisation of homosexual acts, adoption reform, while not exclusively the business of the EU nonetheless occurred within a more open milieu that held closely to the ideals of equality. With regard to the decriminalisation of homosexual acts, the Irish intellectual David Norris suffered from anxiety attacks and depression after realizing that any open expression of his homosexuality could lead to a criminal prosecution. The Strasbourg court ruled that the criminalization of his sexuality breached his basic rights. In 1993, this led to the full legalisation of homosexual acts between consenting adults under Irish law and I recall with pleasure voting for this. Other examples include the Legal Aid System introduced after a woman suffering from marital violence was unable to access the courts. Mrs Joanna Airey wanted to be legally separated from her husband, a violent alcoholic. However, there was no legal aid and she could not afford the lawyers’ fees. The European Court of Human Rights ruled that the lack of legal aid effectively denied Mrs Airey access to a court, breaching her basic rights. Legal aid for such cases was introduced in Ireland in the following year. After the Strasbourg court’s judgment, in 1980 legal aid was introduced in Ireland for a range of civil issues. Among the beneficiaries were women involved in separation cases, suffering from the same problems as Mrs Airey. The programme provided them with legal advice and effective access to the courts. Furthermore, the rights of all children, whether born within or outside of wedlock, were equalized in the areas of guardianship, maintenance and property rights. (MO)
Ireland has always been open to the world: the notion of an insular, self-contained national story is far from the truth; and the briefest glance at Irish history – and at our DNA – repeatedly demonstrates this fact, and demonstrates too that such exposure to the world brought manifold results, both for good and ill. The story of Ireland since the 1960s, however, might be said to consist of an openness writ large: of sustained economic liberalism accompanied by startling social progression. The onset of these changes predates Ireland’s accession to what was then the EEC in 1973 – but the country’s role in the European project has secured the place of progressive voices in Ireland, and set them against a larger context. As a person who grew up in Derry in the 1970s and 1980s, I have always been aware of this contextual influence: the work of John Hume underlined the knowledge that if a form of peace could be achieved in a Europe recovering from a ruinous war, then it might be achieved in Ireland too; and it emphasized the sense of larger politics at work, of the Anglo-Irish dimension as but one relationship among many. It’s important to acknowledge, however, that while this existing and developing context has been crucial, the most significant social changes in Ireland in recent years – in particular the campaigns in favour of marriage equality and of repeal of the Eighth Amendment – drew their strength principally from grass-roots activism, from local and community conversations. (NH)
In enormous ways. It has become a self-standing member of the EU and has become less dependent on the UK. Most striking effect of the EU in Ireland has been the rising of global conglomerates, i.e. Google etc. (NND)
For many, the most obvious physical effect of Ireland’s membership of the EU has been the dramatic improvement of the roads network over the past half-century. I grew up in a one-street (some would say, one-horse) town, bypassed by EU-funded road works not just once but twice, resulting in a complete transformation of the town to its current status as one of Ireland’s fastest growing.
However, that emphasis on the built structure, on the almost limitless appetite of Irish politicians to memorialize themselves with new motorways (often linking places formerly connected by rail) may obscure the deeper effects of the ‘Europeanization’ of Ireland; and that shows itself in a new confidence on the international stage, cultural and political. Through much of Ireland’s recent past, far too much energy was expended on defining ourselves as separate to and distinct from our nearest neighbours in the UK; in a sense we became trapped in our role as the wild post-colonial boy, certain of what we were not but less than confident of what we might yet be.
The long established visit to Washington by the sitting Taoiseach for St Patrick’s Day, and the presentation of a bowl of shamrock to the current President, though still occasionally squirmed over in the Irish press, arguably no longer represents a virtual begging letter from a dependent nation to the world’s greatest power but a symbolic reminder (where a reminder is certainly needed) of the contribution of even tiny communities on the world’s stage, a reminder delivered, as it happens, by a country now generally admired rather than, as once, pitied by its peers.
The power of the shamrock is that it has no real value, goes ignored for much of the year, is walked on underfoot, can’t be eaten or sold or made into anything valuable or new, in fact will likely have withered within a few hours of the visitor’s departure. Only at a symbolic level does it have value. For centuries it used to say something about Irish Christianity; now its value is almost entirely poetic and, I would argue, boosted by a new confidence in Ireland, in which EU membership has played a significant part. That it is green and, every year, is given to the most powerful man (so far) in the world, sadly even the Irish do not reflect sufficiently on that. (PB)
It is impossible to disentangle what changes in the last fifty years are due to the EU and what just has to do with modernization. Except for the opening of borders. This has affected the border with Northern Ireland (where my mother is from). Gone is the militarized border, and as a consequence identities are less hard, less nationalistic. Also between east and west. My nine-year-old daughter, who lives with me in Bucharest, considers herself Romanian and Irish, has both passports, and is bilingual. Such an identity – or lack of one – would have been impossible fifty years ago. (PO)
The most striking effect is the porous Irish border. (RJ)
The first question would require a book. The short answer to the second question is that environmental, labour, and equality legislation originating in the EU has accelerated social change in Ireland, has indeed often forced change on sclerotic and over-cautious governments. On the other hand, the EU has almost totally failed to embrace the responsibility to promote a larger vision of a common European culture. (TD)
Being able to work freely in member states. (WE)
I think the EU has led to an opening up of Ireland to Europe and the world. Before joining, we were a country that struggled to maintain its connection to Europe over its connections to Britain. In many ways, our ancient connections to the continent were slipping away in light of emigration to Britain and the USA. EU membership has brought increased awareness of that connection, together with increased mobility with the Union. I had never encountered a Continental writer at University. Now, no literary festival is complete without at least one – at least not in my home city of Cork. (WW)
It is a small country, like Denmark; it punches above its weight culturally. You would have to ask: how come? (AD)
I found it difficult to respond to this without sounding twee, so I asked my wise Slovenian friend, Tanja Kovacic, who has been living in Ireland for many years. She highlighted Ireland’s transatlantic connections with North America, conflict resolution skills and the development of post-conflict institutions and models, peacekeeping and the rich storytelling and poetic traditions. It is useful to get another perspective on these matters. I should point out that I’m wary of the term ‘unique.’ Slovenia, too, is a small nation in the EU which has seen its fair share of conflict. There are other countries I can think of with a similarly rich oral and poetic traditions, like Estonia. I would be afraid that notions of being ‘unique’ would lead a country down the path of exceptionalism. (ANG)
Our humanity and lightness of spirit, I hope. We have never been conquerors and so we bring a sense of ‘live and let live’ to the table. (BR)
I think the small countries in the EU have very little power. I don’t think Ireland has contributed much to the EU. (CT)
As a small country that has had to negotiate difference, has a minority language and an overbearing neighbour, solidarity with other minorities. A sense of history that involves facing the horrors of the past and still valuing tradition. (ENC)
From my point of view, Ireland holds this unique mid-Atlantic geopolitical position that makes it at the same time part of both spaces of the Global North. Through the diaspora, through English, through its history, Ireland is definitely very connected to the US, while being part of the EU. I could describe it as a bridge between these two universes, a space that connects them, but also a space that very often those moving from one point to another simply pass by. (ES)
I hope we bring a sense of humour, now and again, because the EU (like all institutions) takes itself too seriously. (GR)
In terms of the Arts I think Ireland has one of the richest and most celebrated literary legacies in the world. For such a relatively small country our writers both past and contemporary have played an enormous part in the shaping of the literary canon. I also think Ireland is uniquely placed geographically. The island is on the edge of Europe and has always felt like an interesting mixture of European, American and unique influences. It is kind of a springboard between continents. (JC)
My sister lived in Brussels for a few years, teaching at one of the international schools, while her husband worked at the Commission. His experience of working in the EU’s vast bureaucracy was quite positive; I think Ireland’s development is an EU success story and that the country has been a significant voice for the power of smaller independent nations. (JM)
As a small liberal nation we are a counterbalance to some of the right-wing tendencies which have crept into the centrist politics of many EU nations in the past years. Our record as peace-keepers. (JT)
We value writers. Virtually every Irish person thinks they have it in them to be a writer and the only thing holding them back is lack of time. We are natural born storytellers – we love words and talking. We even like listening! Fundamentally, we believe stories matter. In a world where economics hold sway, it is a message worth sharing. (MD)
It is hard to answer this without falling into racist stereotypes, but in itself it is hard to answer, because what is ‘Ireland’ exactly – are we talking about geographical, cultural, historical, political or other definitions? What is a nation? A people? A place? Shared values? Shared ways of being and acting in the world? More than these? Less? Can a nation-construct ‘bring’ anything to a larger international organization-construct? Perhaps ‘we’ (the people and communities who collectively identify as ‘Irish’) do bring certain specific qualities when it comes to our contribution, politically, economically and culturally to the EU as an organization and to the EU as a collective of disparate ‘nations’. Perhaps some of those qualities include: the experience of being a small nation state, on the periphery; the experience of being colonized, perceived and represented as lesser-than; the experience of having economic (industrialized) growth interrupted while the rest of Europe expanded during the 19th century; an experience of internal conflict, of problematic identities, of oppressive theocracy, of language erosion. An understanding of what it is to be beholden, on the move, dependent on the kindness of strangers for sustenance, work, accommodation. A suspicion of authority, uneasily interwoven with a profound compliance and belief in authority. A sense that great change is possible. An unwillingness to change. A blaming culture, an inability to see our own contribution to problems. A belief in the power of story. An understanding that change often requires sacrifice. Are any of these qualities individually unique to Ireland? Doubtful. Are they collectively unique to Ireland? Mal sehen (time will tell). (MG)
My sense is that the Irish have operated very well in Europe on what one might call a ‘human level’: in diplomatic and personal terms, Irish communication skills have enabled the country to sustain its voice in a way that has leveraged Irish influence. Much of this has to do – or so I guess – with the nature of Irish informality, with the ostensible ease with which business can be conducted in such a milieu. Ireland possesses its hierarchies, of course, just as every other society does: but they are less clearly defined, and easier to navigate than is the case elsewhere – and perhaps there is a lesson to be derived from this fact. (NH)
Well, I would say that the Irish culture has to be credited with bringing unique qualities to the EU. For instance, music etc. (NND)
Positive scepticism and a willingness to be the adults in the room, curiosity, cultural open-mindedness are among the more salient positive contributions. Greed and self-interest among career politicians and bureaucrats and the agricultural sector in general are among the negative contributions — though these are hardly unique to Ireland. (TD)
Its own particular set of problems! (WE)
3. Has the EU (its laws, or news reports from Europe) helped to promote gender balance in Ireland? Is gender equality more present in the arts than in life in general? Is there more equality in businesses than in the arts or the other way round?
Yes. But still not enough. (AD)
Gender is the question now – in politics, in the arts, in business, and in general discussions, and no, I think – in the arts anyway – we are in line with our EU counterparts on this point. Regarding the arts: many of our institutions are now run with women at the helm – Druid Theatre, the Gate Theatre, Poetry Ireland, Rough Magic Theatre Company, the Wexford Arts Centre, the Mermaid Arts Centre, the Wexford Opera Festival, The Irish Arts Council, the Irish Film Board etc. Equality has been slow coming of course and there is still a way to go but the train is moving in the right direction. In the political world women are not as prominent as they should be – it is still a male dominated field. (BR)
The big moment occurred in 1974, I think, where Ireland decided that it could not afford to pay women in the public service the same as men. They were instructed to change their mind by the European Commission. It was interesting watching someone like Garret FitzGerald, who claimed to support women’s rights and European integration, wriggle. But it set down a marker. I was 19 then and it made a great impression on me. Yes, women have been central in the arts in a way they have not in business or politics. With the exception of Mary Robinson and Mary McAleese (and it is notable that the Presidency in Ireland has little actual political power), women have been kept out of real power in Ireland. In the arts, they have been at the centre. (CT)
Yes, I think the EU helps to promote gender balance in every sphere of life in Ireland, the constant collection and publication of statistics around representation, pay etc. reinforce the fact that equality has not yet been reached. (DK)
I think the EU has been very important in promoting gender balance in Ireland. (EN)
Yes. Yes. Don’t know but I suspect less equality in businesses. (ENC)
I think we are still very far away from achieving gender equality in every sector of the economy and social life. Look at the proportions of men and women in the Dáil, for instance, to prove that I am not exaggerating. The same is happening in techs and other sectors. Arts probably see more female presence, but it is mostly because there is no real money there, and men, who are still socialized in the frame of bringing money, don’t often go there. At the same time the Trans* and non-binary community is barely seen in the political or business spheres. (ES)
I believe some progress has been made in this area. There seems to be more gender balance in the arts. (If the sector were better paid, would more men be attracted to the arts sector?) Gender equality seems to have some way to go yet in the business sector. (GR)
Gender equality is definitely more apparent in the arts than any other sector of culture in Northern Ireland. I think the arts has always been an area of life which promotes diversity and inclusion and we’ve seen tremendous progress lately in the North with the recent equal marriage legislation and the ongoing growth of events like Pride. However, there is still a lot of work to be done in terms of equality and lasting change and there is a definite and, arguably growing, gap between progress in the South of Ireland and the North. Personally, I’ve learnt so much from talking to other writers in EU countries who are both more and less progressive than Northern Ireland when it comes to human rights legislation. Opportunities to share learning and experience are absolutely invaluable. (JC)
Yes, the EU has definitely promoted gender balance.
I can’t compare business to the arts. I think gender equality is increasingly present in the literary arts, as can be seen in the writers appointed to national roles, such as the Ireland Professor of Poetry, the Fiction Laureate, the Laureate na nÓg, the Poetry Ireland editorship, and the prizes for best book each year which have been awarded, increasingly over the past decade, to excellent books by women from younger generations etc.
As poetry reviewer at the Irish Times, I got to see most of the books published by Irish poets from 2013-2020 and while the gender ratio was roughly 30:70, the review space (which obviously selected better-quality titles) began to approach parity by the end of my time there, i.e. was not reflecting the publishers’ ratios, but was reflecting the sense that women’s writing is at the forefront of, and has at least an equal share of, good work made in Ireland. (JM)
Gender balance and equality in the arts in Ireland lags behind many other sectors. As a historically underfunded and overlooked sector of the economy, many small funded organisations have flown under the radar in terms of good HR practice and workable policies around issues like workplace bullying, discrimination and sexual harassment. I have not been aware of any EU-wide initiative to engage with individual governments on how their funding structures enable the continuation of poor practices and poor oversight in these areas. (JT)
EU membership has always given our politicians political cover for decisions they find challenging. A striking example in the early 1970s was the introduction of equality legislation to ensure women were paid the same as men for the same work. Until EEC accession, lobbyists for employers were able to resist this, claiming it was unaffordable and businesses would go to the wall. Consequently, women earned around three-quarters of a man’s wage in the same role. Legislation to reverse this inequity was one of the first new laws introduced post-accession, and other workplace legislation protecting employees quickly followed. Guess what? The sky didn’t collapse. (MD)
My – very general sense – is that the influence of European law has quickened and sustained an awareness of a need for change in Ireland, too. In the field of the arts: my sense is that there is now considerable recognition of the importance of gender equality in the arts in Ireland: many of our most prominent arts organisations are led by women; the new Minister for Culture is female; and in my own field of literature, female voices are today acknowledged, celebrated and respected – although there is always more work to be done.
The life and work of Edna O’Brien can be seen as both a refreshing and a cautionary tale in this respect: both writing and writer were criticized and at times condemned in many quarters and over the course of many years, and in ways that might have been wholly destructive and stifling of her creativity; and it is only latterly that O’Brien’s creative achievement has been fully acknowledged. A glance at O’Brien’s life and oeuvre underlines the point that ‘progression’, secure though it may seem, must always be guarded – and never be taken for granted. (NH)
Yes, it most definitely has. The great influence of the EU on Ireland has been that all its secret conspiracies have been laid open, i.e. the old boys’ network style of governing has become less powerful, as has the stranglehold of the Catholic Church. Yes, gender equality is more present in the arts than in life in general. I honestly don't know if there is more equality in businesses than in the arts, but I would assume that they are both substantially more equal than before joining the EU. I don't know if this differs from the situation in other EU member states. (NND)
Considering the many changes in Irish society over the past 50 years (or perhaps following the two world wars) it does seem extraordinary how slow the world of the arts has been to recognise the contribution of women, outside of various focused collectives and dedicated enterprises. And/but one feels a shiver of unease looking back at TV programmes and radio broadcasts (cultural and political) in which so few female voices were to be heard, and not so long ago. The flowering of a handful of feminist publishing houses, for instance, was too often used as an excuse to ignore, at a wider level, the emergence into print of a whole generation of writers. That situation has significantly changed in my adult lifetime, and changed even more so in the past twenty or so years, with the relative levelling power provided by the internet, social media, etc. Even so, recent surveys continue to find a dramatic imbalance in favour of, for example, male recording artists on Irish music radio, and one suspects the same imbalance may also persist in other formats and forms.
I know so little about the world of business that my opinions on the subject could only be quaint, but it is worth pointing out that most of the national organizations dedicated to the ‘business of literature’ (and many of the other arts) are presently lead by women which was certainly not the case heretofore. Some twenty-five years ago, as the then Dublin City Writer-in-Residence, I was struck by the fact that the vast majority of the library staff in the dozen-plus libraries I worked in were female. So too were the vast majority of those who attended the readings and workshops. Yet the twelve writers featured on the famous poster of ‘Irish Writers’, then to be found in many Irish pubs, hotels and, indeed libraries around the country, were all male (Swift, Behan, Yeats, Kavanagh, Beckett, Goldsmith, etc.), suggesting that while men could be poets, novelists and playwrights, women would have to content themselves as librarians.
My somewhat limited experience farther afield suggests that this situation has long since, and happily, changed in most other European jurisdictions, too. (PB)
The EU Charter of Fundamental Rights has indubitably helped promote equality between men and women in Northern Ireland. Gender balance is more prevalent in the arts than everyday working-class life. I was recently told by a Belfast taxi driver that his son was more daring than his daughter as, unlike girls, boys feel they have to prove themselves. Such old-fashioned views make me realize I am privileged to be a woman in the arts, but there is still much unfairness. Male writers in theatre, for example, are still more likely to have bigger productions and have their plays tour abroad. I know that Nordic countries have the best record of equality while some countries in the east of Europe lag behind. I cannot imagine Northern Ireland businesses being very progressive. (RJ)
EU legislation and directives have been helpful in forcing governments to enact legislation for which there is widespread popular demand they might otherwise have resisted. There is far more gender equality (and other forms of equality) in the arts sector than in business, though there is work yet to be done. Artists in all disciplines have been very much to the forefront in campaigns for social justice, and will continue to be. That said, there is much yet to be done. (TD)
Yes! So many of the rights that women have today in Northern Ireland have been as a result of EU membership and employment law: the right to equal pay, protection against discrimination on the ground of pregnancy and maternity, introduction of paid holidays etc. I would say that I have no way of knowing whether there is more equality in business than the arts. I suppose I would say that the arts are also a business. (WE)
My impression, and this is purely anecdotal, is that the arts in Ireland are slowly becoming more gender-balanced. The recent success, for example, of female novelists and poets is a sign of that balancing. My impression is that arts management is also achieving balance. I don’t think we have reached absolute equality yet. I certainly think that the EU has promoted this balance, though as a country we have a very long way to go. As for business and politics, the facts are obvious. There is no gender balance in those areas, politics being perhaps the worst. Only 12% of CEOs of Irish businesses are women, though I think I read that this is one of the highest levels in the world, which is utterly disappointing but not really a surprise. (WW)
4. What do the children in your circles know about the EU or Europe? Is the EU discussed in the curriculum, or informally, at school?
My older daughter studied French and International Relations at university. She knows much more about the EU than I do and is a passionate supporter of it. She, along with many of her peers, was devastated at the outcome of the Brexit vote. Our younger daughter was sixteen at the time and unable to vote but they both felt palpably betrayed by what they saw as an older generation making unwelcome decisions about a future that they were going to have to live through. Northern Ireland voted to remain in the EU by a majority vote of 56% but that margin was swallowed up by the majority of the leave vote in the entirety of the UK. The 1998 Belfast Agreement gave people in Northern Ireland the opportunity to identify as British, Irish or both. We are all Irish passport holders in the family, which means that, according to Michel Barnier, we are all still EU citizens and will remain so. That is just fine with me. It remains to be seen what anomalies that will throw up for us after December this year . (BM)
Children here are like children all over the world – they take what they get and they are getting Youtube and Facebook and Twitter etc. So, whoever wins that war wins their hearts and souls I’m afraid. (BR)
My grandsons are too young for me to answer this one. (ENC)
I gave several talks about direct provision in schools and colleges. I heard very often that students were upset about the conditions of people seeking asylum in Ireland and would say why ‘Europe is doing nothing about it’. From my very limited perspective, I had a perception that the EU is seen as a place of justice that will help to make Ireland a better place. (ES)
My children have travelled with us to a number of countries in Europe. They see it as a very valuable part of our lives. They see shared histories and shared politics. They value our membership. (DK)
The educational system is more open today. I remember when you just learned everything by rote: there was no real discussion. Nevertheless, I think one good novel, or a good film, can make a more lasting impression on young people than normal classroom activity. I recently watched the excellent 2016 Bulgarian documentary film The Good Postman which looks at the current refugee crisis (though this narrative fails to look at the conditions which created this mass displacement and leaves us focusing on our ‘dramas’ which we call crises). I’d like to see such films on European school curricula. (GR)
I live in the UK, and ‘Europe’ is part of every day, whether through football competitions, or people’s stories about family holidays, or planned trips. We live in a city, Manchester, and the second-generation communities live fairly cheek by jowl here, so we also have many Polish, Greek, and some Spanish and German family friends, so news from different parts of Europe make periodic appearances in our life. Between them, our children have studied or are studying French, German, Spanish and Latin, and they study also a wide range of other Europe-related subjects, from human and physical geography to history, and philosophers and literary theorists from Thomas Aquinas to Adorno.
The ‘EU’ clearly operates in UK conversation at quite a distance from how people perceive Europe: for good or ill, mostly ill, the EU is seen as a gravy train for second-rate politicians and a misuse of UK tax. I don’t think the EU features much in our UK-based children’s lives or conversation. (JM)
My daughter is twelve and seems to be taught a little about the EU, as well as about Europe generally – and she is interested in it anyway. The curriculum also covers refugees and asylum seekers in a pretty constructive way (in Geography). I had to read the homework over lockdown, and was quite impressed. (LF)
Hardly anything! It’s disgraceful. Some know about it through Brexit which is impossible to miss because it has dominated the news cycle for so long, although the pandemic has pushed it aside to some extent. Anecdotally, those children who do know about the EU say two things:
1. It was set up to prevent war,
2. Britain spent ages trying to get in, and then nearly as long (not quite, but this is what they say) trying to get out.
I have spoken to teachers and one of the problems indicated by them is a lack of teaching materials for EU instruction – although, of course, they could devise their own. Sometimes, the EU is discussed in geography or civics classes. Not in history, oddly, to the best of my knowledge. But more outreach could be engaged in and some investment there by the EU would pay dividends. (MD)
For the young people in my life, in Ireland and in Britain, Europe is fully a part of their hinterland: a place that is familiar to them physically and conceptually. This is why Brexit is a tragedy afflicting the youth of Britain in particular, impacting as it does on the prospects and imagination of a generation that did not vote for this project and do not believe in it. In Ireland, I note the effect of the Covid pandemic in limiting the exposure of young people to the facts and experiences of ‘Europe’.
Under the glossy surface of (pre-pandemic) modern travel and leisure, however, I find myself concerned at what feels to be a limited European cultural investment – especially in terms of language. Year by year, fewer young people learn a European language to an advanced level at school, relying instead on English as the key to the world. This closes down possible avenues for the mind and the imagination.
I speak here of ‘Europe’, because it seems to me that the EU as an organization or institutional entity has comparatively little purchase on the collective public mind. (NH)
Yes, but I don't know enough about that question. (NND)
As recently as ten or fifteen years ago, the average Irish schoolchild was likely to view the EU through the slate-grey spectacles provided by the British tabloid press, and so often repeated, on this island, this image of a massive and worthless bureaucracy which, rather than acknowledging the glorious past and hard-won independence of its major English-language shareholder was instead intent of dictating the shape of bananas and finding new ways to penalize those who drive on the left side of the road. Doubtless, there was a comic element in these caricatures, or at least that is the guise in which they spread so effectively, even among the citizens of a neighbouring state. Nevertheless, the easy dissemination of such views by a number of dominant newspaper and media groups almost certainly aided in the deception of the British public that proved to be the fuel of the Brexit campaign.
In Ireland the folly of that campaign is clear now to almost everyone. The misrepresentations that were so much part of it are now transparent, as is the pitiful lack of understanding on the part of the British government of the desires and hopes of both the Nationalist and the Unionist communities of Northern Ireland. The complicated knock-on effects of Brexit, soft or hard, impact Ireland in so many areas, but they also necessitate a wider re-evaluation of our natural sense of partnership with our nearest (English-speaking) neighbour.
That re-evaluation naturally extends to the subject of the EU. For my parents and indeed for my own generation, the expectation was always that it would be the United States who would help in achieving a permanent political settlement to the enduring problem of Northern Ireland, and indeed much was done under the tenure of Bill Clinton, resulting in the Good Friday Agreement. Today, however, the influence of America is considerably diluted, and it is, I think – and rightly so – the EU which is increasingly seen as the older, wiser relation under whose counsel such complexities might be teased out. If Britain is, to some extent, fixated on its victory in WWII, and the US administration equally fixated on returning to a mythical past of ‘greatness’ for both the employers and the working class, the relative if always fragile peace of Europe since then (largely down to dialogue and trade and to identifying the common aspirations of its member states) is at least in part due to remembering a past that was anything but great or distinguished and to which no member state would wish to return. This is what we should focus on in schools: by remembering its divisions, its wars and its conflicts, the EU recognizes that it is built not on illusory greatness but on the great effort of all not to repeat the sins of the past.
Where most people of my generation had friends and relatives living and working in Britain, the US or Australia (predominately English-speaking countries), a significant number of this generation of Irish schoolchildren have relatives, friends and connections all over the world. They have likely visited a number of countries in Europe, on holidays or on cultural visits. Many of their classmates will be of mixed parentage and multi-lingual households. They may themselves be involved in social media gatherings, online gaming groups and teams, language exchanges etc., and all before leaving school or having to face the ‘should-I-stay-or-should-I-go?’ dichotomy that so often in the past characterized Ireland’s relationship with the wider world.
More than twenty years ago I published a children’s book called All the Way from China, about a primary-level schoolgirl who is helped to cope with her parents’ separation and subsequent house move by starting a correspondence with a Chinese pen-pal. When the new pen-pal turns out to be a child in the girl’s own class, she soon discovers that the daunting task of fitting in is considerably easier in the company of friends. The now almost quaint notion of writing and posting letters that forms the structure of the book is, I think, not the only reason that this little tale is now dated. The internet aside, it is arguably no surprise now to discover that our classmates, our neighbours and our friends are from, or intimately linked to, distant parts of the world. Indeed, the biggest surprise is that we are so slow in recognizing and celebrating that fact. (PB)
In the school where I teach, children learn about the continent of Europe in geographical terms. They complete projects where each child researches a different country in Europe for example. But I have seen very little teaching on the EU as a political unit, and most school children would have very little awareness of the European Parliament, or the influence of the EU on their lives. (RO)
I am living in England now where the whole issue of the EU has become overtly politicised because of Brexit. My children learn about the EU in citizenship classes in school only in the context of that particularly poisonous debate. (SM)
They take it for granted; I imagine they associate it with modernity if they think about it at all. (I’m talking about Romania still.) Something that happened which contributes to them not living like people did ten or even twenty years ago. (PO)
I feel that my own two teenage children know very little about the EU. I would have thought that it would be considered in the Learning for Life and Work area of the curriculum, perhaps under citizenship, but I am not sure if it forms part of the specification. I know that the Council for the Curriculum, Examinations and Assessment for Northern Ireland has made available material for schools for a series of lessons on the EU, but this seems optional rather than a mandatory requirement. (WE)
5. What do/did your parents (or the previous generation) think/know about the EU and its effects in Ireland?
My parents are passed now sorrowfully but they looked on the EU as a source of change, I think – roads and industry and trade etc., although they were suspicious and resistant to outside authority and fearful of losing our autonomy. (BR)
My parents also travelled quite a bit and loved many European countries. They definitely saw it as an important player in Ireland’s increased prosperity and more liberal culture. (DK)
Generally very positive and well informed. (ENC)
For Ireland, the EU meant subsidies until the country eventually had an economy healthy enough to allow it to become a giver as much as a taker. There was little or no cultural impact on the country. However, for my children, they have experienced the opportunity to study and travel in the EU. (GR)
My parents would have a vague understanding that the EU plays a positive influence in Irish culture but I don’t think they’d be able to say much specifically about what it does. However, I am not sure my parents should be taken as the norm. They are largely apolitical and don’t even vote. They are very much under the sway of what the Presbyterian Church thinks when it comes to matters political. (JC)
I think they appreciate EU investment in infrastructure, easy access to the Continent by sea and air, the availability of many different kinds of goods at reasonable prices. I think my siblings would also mention the troika and the EU’s treatment of Ireland in the wake of the financial collapse in 2008, especially the way in which Irish taxpayers are seen to have paid the price for failures in the regulation of banks. (JM)
They would be highly aware of our engagement with the EU and view it in a positive light. (JT)
My mother who is 79 followed the Brexit debate very intensely. In a bid to understand the point of view of people who had voted to leave, she started a subscription to the Telegraph, and when their sales people phoned to ask why she had eventually cancelled it, she started lecturing the caller about what Britain’s withdrawal from the EU would mean for Northern Ireland. He was called Eamon, so she thought he might be Irish. He wasn’t. She ended up recommending Tony Connelly’s Brexit Republic, or something. My sister and her family live in Kildare, and are passionately pro-EU, and very informed of the precise legal safeguards it provides. My daughter and my niece are very close. It affects us personally. (LF)
I think that the relative geographical isolation of Ireland is an issue, or certainly it was for my parents’ and grandparents’ generations. BR – Before Ryanair! My parents and grandparents would have equated travel with emigration, not with tourism. I’m not from a socio-economic background that allowed for overseas holidays. I was an adult before I visited continental Europe; before then, overseas travel meant quick visits to family living in London for things like weddings or funerals. No sightseeing!
There is a pragmatism across all generations in Ireland in terms of how we perceive our membership of the EU. The EU meant investment. It meant modernization. For a country ravaged by so many centuries of occupation and generations of emigration, the economic benefits superseded everything else. I think my parents and grandparents don’t feel the same connection to Europe or European identity as my generation does. It perhaps still feels like an economically beneficial but socially and culturally distant concept to them. But do bear in mind what I said about socio-economic background: I can’t speak for more worldly, more privileged Irish people! (LMc)
It had a positive impact on an earlier generation – the generation aware of Ireland’s efforts to join the EEC. There is no doubt that Ireland benefited enormously from structural funds; this is not a soft focus or rose-tinted view, as some critics suggest.
In addition, it is known and appreciated that the EU provided solid backing for the Good Friday Agreement position, both in 1998 when the treaty was agreed and during Brexit negotiations. This is a visible and reassuring sign of EU solidarity. Ireland’s negotiating firepower would have been significantly reduced if bargaining alone with Britain. Ireland was highly conscious that its position was stronger as part of the bloc.
Older people realize collaboration is preferable to war and appreciate that the peace has held. But some see the EU as a Deluxe Gravy train with far too much power – and intent on accumulating more. Serious divisions are becoming evident because of what is regarded, in some circles, as EU overreach.
A school of thought sees the EU as a monolith which stands for unity above identity. Those who subscribe to the monolith theory say it is an unnecessary entity. This view does not have widespread traction yet but it certainly exists – as does the potential for growing support. These people believe the EEC was fine when the focus was on trade, with individual countries free to maintain their traditions, culture and ethos. But when political union replaced the trade arrangements, they say the EU began to interfere excessively, undermining individual states’ sense of national identity.
[…] The EU behaved badly when Scotland asked for support in 2014 during its independence referendum. The EU refused to promise Scotland automatic readmission to the EU if it seceded – bowing to pressure from Spain, which was fearful that Catalonia would follow.
Small countries have to be able to make their way in the world – larger countries have natural advantages which they are not slow to use. The EU is highly and publicly critical of Ireland over its corporate tax regime, designed to attract foreign investment. This has been important as a job creation initiative. Ireland is not a tax haven for multinational companies, although the EU has suggested it is. Where Ireland does fall down, however, is in making some sweetheart deals with individual companies at a rate below the headline one of 12.5 per cent. (MD)
My dad is half-German and, essentially, loves the EU. He is a forester (research scientist) and for his job travelled widely all over the European continent from the late 1950s up till the present day, meeting other foresters, walking in continental woodlands and forests, sharing research. He is very suspicious of populism and the far-right, and the administrations of Trump and Johnson, which he sees as typifying a particular type of Anglo-Saxon belligerence. At the moment he feels the EU is the last remaining substantial bloc of social democracy in the world and that, while it’s definitely not perfect, it’s better than anything else he sees around. He is very well-read on EU legislation in his field – not just forestry but also conservation and agriculture; he often speaks about how it is important to start a negotiating process early on with EU institutions because EU apparatuses can take time to process and act. He has said that Irish people can sometimes leave things too late and then they have to take on the whole new rule or regulation, whereas if they understood how the machines in the EU administration worked and had gone earlier to seek certain exceptions, they could have been met with a lot more flexibility. It makes me think of Enda Kenny, acting pretty quickly and quicksilverishly about the GFA when the Brexit vote happened – it suggests to me he understood the EU machine and how to make it work for him / ‘us’.
My mother loved travelling in Europe – she lived there for a year after finishing school and saw herself as a European citizen as much as an Irish one. (MG)
When Ireland joined the then EEC in 1973 along with the UK and Denmark, it was perceived as an exciting and progressive event in our household. Both parents were fairly forward-thinking, and in my father’s business (dairying, running a large co-operative creamery in the north-east), the connection to Europe was important. From that point on, and reflecting a trend in other areas in Ireland, he was purchasing dairying equipment from Europe at better prices, importing franchises for certain food products (like yogurt, for example). I recall businessmen from Europe visiting our co-op (from Sweden, Germany and Holland) as the introduction of new dessert products was explored. There was a mutual curiosity, I felt, although looking back I can also see that some of these businessmen saw Ireland as a strange little backwater (which it was), indeed it was described by one man who had ended up in a bleak north Kerry town for Westfalia Separator as “ein gottverlassener Ort”. (MO)
My parents conceptualize the EU in positive terms, seeing it as a force for enlargement of imaginations and rights, especially in the context of a Unionist-dominated and discriminatory Northern Ireland in which they lived as young people. It offered the possibility of stepping out of and away from the influence of British politics, British colonialism, and British history. This said, there was nothing starry-eyed in their attitude: instead, there was an awareness of the presence of Realpolitik – of a European inability and unwillingness to drive overt change in Northern Ireland. Again then, it comes down to an acknowledgement of the influence of context, in changing hearts and mind – in the fullness of time. (NH)
They knew absolutely nothing. (NND)
My father as a merchant mariner felt that the EU fishing rules were intrusive in British and Irish seas. Most people of my parents’ generation in Northern Ireland were traditionally wary of the EU because of their distrust of Germany emanating from WWI and WWII. (RJ)
My parents are both from Northern Ireland, and they are keenly aware of the positive impact of many EU-funded projects in relation to the peace process. They have both expressed anxiety about Britain leaving the EU, citing worries about border control and a return to the ‘dark days’ of the Troubles. In this regard, they see the EU as an important aspect of stability in the North, and they are worried about the consequences of this stability being removed. (RO)
My father, who is still living in Northern Ireland, would be very pro-EU and very anti-Brexit. He’s worked for decades in community regeneration, especially in (but not limited to) North Belfast , and so has witnessed first-hand the transformative effects of the EU funding which has flooded into Northern Ireland in the wake of the Good Friday Agreement. (SM)
My parents are both dead, my siblings think more or less as I do. (TD)
I suppose it depends on what members of the previous generation were involved in. My dad was employed by a bank and would have had a keen understanding of the EU and its impact on particular employment sectors. My mum worked in a school for pupils with learning difficulties and that lent itself less to an understanding of the impact of the EU on a day-to-day basis. That said, there are probably many people of the previous generation who are aware of how the European Parliament contributed to the Northern Ireland peace process. (WE)
Irish has been included among the official languages of the EU since, I think, 2007 or so, and that recognition feels particularly important in terms of morale. Too often, expressions of open hostility towards Irish are prevalent here, and the fact that the EU actively shelters and promotes it is somewhat helpful in that regard. (DNG)
I am alone among my friends in speaking a European language other than English. In other words, I don’t know a single person living in Ireland who is fluent in French, Spanish, Italian or German. (CT)
People’s attitudes are very positive but the range of languages in schools is limited. (ENC)
For me, studying French was, if you’ll excuse the word, a liberation. It was horizon-changing to access French at the age of ten in a primary school pilot project where we learnt the numbers and colours, and subsequently at the age of twelve in secondary school. (JM)
We are native English speakers, so some of us can be a little lazy about other languages – we expect everyone else to speak English, too. The translation app on our phones and laptops, while undeniably useful, is another disincentive to learn other languages. I like to use phrases borrowed from French or German in my newspaper op-ed columns where possible. During one about Brexit, I said we had entered the Zwangspause phase of negotiations – a compulsory break. It’s not every day you can work zwangspaus-ing into an article! (MD)
I am disturbed by the dropping rate of language study in Ireland, and the sense that English will ‘do’, that English alone will suffice in life, in business, in cultural terms. After Brexit, the status of English within the EU will certainly change, and it seems to me that the study of languages should be increasingly strongly encouraged throughout the education system in Ireland.
In publishing too, there are limited translations of European languages available to readers of English in Ireland. In both education and publishing, we all lose out when new worlds are closed to us. We can see, through the work of Literature Ireland, the ‘Irish Itinerary’, the Department of Foreign Affairs and other influences, how the work and imaginations of Irish writers can be opened to readers abroad: and I do firmly believe that books and writers can play their part in knitting us together as Europeans. The German, French, Spanish, Italian and other cultural institutes in Ireland do excellent work: and I should like to see a good deal more European writing – European languages – brought to Irish audiences. (NH)
Again, it's a question of the Irish language and its place in a modern EU. (NND)
Very little, alas. (TD)
In Northern Ireland, language is such a fraught issue, generally. In Northern Ireland, it would seem that comparatively few people are able to speak another language, and this contributed, I would say, to Brexit. (WE)
7. Do you think it would be helpful for the education system in the whole island to have more foreign languages on the curriculum?
The report A Call for Action published by the British Academy states in its summary that “the economic cost of the UK’s linguistic underperformance in terms of lost trade and investment has been estimated at 3.5% of GDP” (£48bn per year); that the prospect of Brexit “makes it even more important for the UK to have the languages needed to forge wider commercial and other links”. Those kinds of statistics carry more weight than any cultural argument for language learning is likely to carry, but the report is also eloquent on the importance of language learning for reasons other than the economic. “Having competence in more than just English gives citizens windows onto other worlds,” it states, “it broadens their mental horizons; it does so in a visceral way, by teaching them to produce unfamiliar sounds; and it makes them more likely to be curious and respectful when encountering other cultures and communities, as almost everyone does on a daily basis in the UK, where hundreds of languages are spoken.” (BM)
Yes, of course. (BR)
It is dire, and unlikely to improve. The energy it would require to improve language teaching in schools doesn’t exist in Ireland. (CT)
I do. I wish that Ireland would adopt the EU’s encouragement that all citizens speak two languages in addition to the mother-tongue, as I believe that it could only be beneficial for us to become more linguistically adept. To learn a language is to learn a new way of looking at the world, to build understanding and stronger bonds among our European neighbours. Schools could help. Immersion in European languages from the early years would be extremely helpful in that regard. Ideally, children would emerge from schooling fluent in Irish, English, and two other languages. (DNG)
Absolutely. I meet teachers in schools who are qualified to teach a European language but have never been given the opportunity. (ENC)
I was very surprised that other languages than English are not very present in Ireland. Even Irish is rarely heard and mostly on the west coast. I lived over a year in Galway, and haven’t felt that I was exposed to Irish language, and in Dublin this feeling is even less. I would definitely encourage people to learn languages, especially considering that they are relatively accessible. People can travel and live in other European countries, submerging in their languages and enriching their own perception of reality. (ES)
English is still the lingua franca, a global language and, consequently, the language of power. To reverse its influence would be seen as tantamount to a language war. I don’t think the EU has much of an appetite to engage in cultural wars. In some respects, I wish the EU would spend more money on revitalizing (not just preserving) minority languages, and less money and energy towards creating a European army. (GR)
I think there are two ways of approaching this question. On a positive note, I have been incredibly heartened to have sold at least a dozen foreign translation rights to my last novel and I both love the possibility of seeing my work translated into different languages and the extra income which has been generated by all these publishing deals. However, I am constantly mortified when traveling to festivals and events around Europe by my own inability to speak anything but English and the way other writers are expected to perform in English when it is their second language. It doesn’t seem fair to me and feels as if native English speakers are always at a kind of advantage. (JC)
N/a. In the UK, languages in schools are under fierce pressure due to the emphasis on a STEM agenda. (JM)
Irish children have the option of learning two EU languages, most often French and German. But the career path towards EU jobs from school through university is not emphasized or mapped out for school leavers, and so most Irish children do not keep up their language studies. (JT)
More of the languages we already offer, I think. We have a good number of languages on the curriculum already, and outside of the curriculum we offer all other EU languages as exam subjects for children who speak them as a mother tongue. The problem is the way languages are taught in Ireland. Look at the level of fluency of our own tongue: it is horrible. The methods we use for teaching languages really need rethinking from the ground up. Irish children only learn a third language at secondary level, when really we should be offering at least one of French or German or Spanish at primary level. And we should be focusing on speaking rather than reading for the first few years. Language-learning for Irish schoolchildren feels like an exclusively academic exercise, when languages should feel vital. Teachers who are native speakers would make such a difference, too. It would start with a tangible connection to another country and another culture; imagine the effect. It wouldn’t only be helpful for the education system, it would be helpful in strengthening Ireland’s reputation as well-educated, outward-looking, and dynamic.
The problem is, I think, that English is a bully language; it is so pervasive that it is difficult to dredge up the will to learn other languages. A lot of adult Irish people are now focusing more on getting reacquainted with Irish than with learning other European languages. It is a nice thing to see but ah, if that disconnection with our own language was tackled more proactively, or indeed aggressively, earlier on! (LMc)
Yes, but more would be an improvement. It is important to stress that foreign languages are valued, and a core part of the curriculum. Spanish and French are widespread in schools today, and my eleven-year-old nephew is learning Chinese at his state school. In the 1970s, I studied French and Italian as well as Latin at school, the latter a useful basis for other languages. I had hoped to take German, too, but the nun who taught it lost her vocation and the school couldn’t source a replacement – an example of the law of unintended consequences … (MD)
Language shapes thought, so speaking a different tongue helps me to think differently, in new ways. But language also – primarily? – comes out of the body, in the form of sound and gesture. A new language doesn’t just shape my thoughts, it helps me to ‘feel’ differently. Language acquisition itself is a process of perpetual change; with each new word I have to adjust myself, make shape in my brain-body, and in this way it makes change feel ‘normal’ instead of ‘wrong’. As I become different in the world – new actions, ways of behaving, choices start to appear, expanding what I thought I was, and I am into a virtuous cycle of change. Like any kind of learning language acquisition also involves failing – it teaches that ‘failure’ is necessary to grow. So in principle, the more languages available in schools, yes, the greater potential for deep-rooted learning and change. Certainly introducing e.g., Gaeilge in schools across the North could ‘help’ in something – though what that something is depends on who you talk to. But there is a lot that’s already toxic in the Irish education system – I don’t have any experience of the North so I’m talking about the southern system here. The class-based emphasis on a particular type of intelligence fetishized as verbal/arithmetic logic, the exam system, the pressure to regurgitate rather than cogitate, the stifling focus on ‘achievement’ and ‘success’ instead of celebrating failure. What is the point in shovelling a whole load of new languages into a broken system and expecting them on their own to ‘help’? To really ‘help’ – to adjust our education system so it is more equitable, honours different types of intelligence and facilitates greater empowerment and agency in learners of all ages – language/s introduction needs to be accompanied by a critical reexamination and reform of the entire system and the unconscious prejudices and ideologies that have shaped it into the thing it is now. (MG)
Yes, it would be hugely helpful. (NND)
Seeing how easily our own two bilingual (English and Italian) sons take to other languages, it is an enduring puzzle of the Irish education system that, in the main, we expose pupils to only one other international/European language (as if more than one would prove too much to bear), and then are continually surprised when the majority of these pupils (as is entirely understandable) drift away from regular usage in later life, often ending up in jobs or activities with no international dimension at all. Imagine any musician settling for only the local tunes for the rest of his or her days: even without the question of meaning and nuances how much poorer are our lives when we do not encounter and engage with the music of elsewhere. (PB)
No, I think it would be good if Irish people took English-Irish bilingualism seriously. A bilingual population would be better prepared to absorb other European languages. It is a form of basic education Ireland has not taken advantage of due to the tokenistic attitude to the Irish language. (PO)
I would absolutely support more foreign languages on the curriculum. I changed schools at sixteen and my desire to continue studying German was thwarted as my new school taught Spanish instead. The ability to speak a foreign language fluently is a brilliant promotional tool for any writer. Bernie McGill who studied Italian at university and whose novels are celebrated in Italy is a perfect case in point. (RJ)
Anecdotally (I cannot pretend to have expert knowledge) there is far too little teaching of 'foreign' languages in Ireland. Of course there should be more. It would not be too extreme a thing to say that Ireland is to an extent imprisoned in an Anglophone worldview. (TD)
In Northern Ireland, the number of pupils studying languages in school is decreasing. To be honest, I have very little idea of the school curriculum in Ireland, which might be surprising, given that we are part of the same, small, island. I don’t think I am at all unusual, however, in my ignorance. My feeling is that it would be a good thing for everyone to speak more foreign languages. I don’t like the complacency that means people expect others to speak English. At the same time, however, I think that the secondary school curriculum is something that needs to be re-evaluated. It is kind of Edwardian. At present most pupils will study French until they are at least fourteen. For many, France has no application to their lives and will be a country they will never visit. Their main contact with France might be through playing at a French stadium on FIFA in their bedroom. (WE)
8. Post-Brexit only 1.5% of the EU’s population are native speakers of English. Does the multilinguality of the EU impact on how you relate to it as a whole?
English of course is our main language and that is butchered at every turn – spelling and grammar etc. However, other languages are essential if we are to prosper in the EU. Many of our young people are – if not multi-lingual, then bi-lingual. (BR)
The richness and multiplicity of cultures comprising my understanding of Europe is predicated on multiple linguistic systems as a means of perceiving our environments; I’m therefore always at a welcome alert state to comprehend and make myself understood differently each time, at each location and under each different set of circumstances, within and across nations. (CM)
I like the idea of English being squeezed out. It has enough power. (CT)
Absolutely. I am bilingual, as are many of my friends and family. The richness and diversity of European languages is inspiring to me. I feel that minority languages are valued and supported within the structures of the EU, and that is encouraging to me, as a speaker of a minority language. (DNG)
Absolutely, as it matches my interests. (ENC)
Yes, but I’m sure Mandarin will also gain ground in the future. (GR)
Yes, absolutely. I have five years of poor French from High School and absolutely no other languages and, with my work now translated into a dozen or more European languages, would now really appreciate the ability to communicate with readers and publishers in a second language. (JC)
Positively only, and clearly Ireland as an English-speaking nation feels very central in this scenario. (JM)
Yes, as the impetus to focus on EU languages has not existed previously. (JT)
I take it as a given that the EU will be multi-lingual. It is built in to how I have always perceived the EU, so it doesn’t really influence how I relate to it. I don’t think it matters much that only 1.5% of the EU’s population will be native speakers of English, either. English has grown too much to the detriment of so many other languages that it is far too late to put it back in its box. If it’s not the first language of most of the citizens of the EU, it’ll remain the most ‘important’ second language, if only because it is what they speak in the UK, in the US, in Canada, in Australia, in Nigeria, in so many other countries. Turns out we didn’t need Esperanto after all. Once English was established as the native language of the internet, that was it.
Ah, it’s like the Tower of Babel taught us nothing. (LMc)
No. Like our cousins, the Americans, we expect others to adapt to us. We know people in the EU learn English, whether or not they are native speakers. (MD)
I really like that idea that English is ceasing to be the dominant language of the EU. Language is a miraculous animal and I am always fascinated by how – like Wittgenstein said – thoughts, concepts, ideas take on completely different shapes in different languages. “I am hungry” (English). “Hunger is on me” (Gaeilge). “I have hunger” (German & French). I remember in Latin America asking how to say ‘the ground is slippy’. The person I asked translated it as ‘I am slipping on the ground’ – what a shift in meaning, in ideas around responsibility. Not the ground’s fault, but mine.
Sometimes it frustrates me if I am in an EU country and people insist on speaking English to me. I like to learn and try out new versions of myself in new languages – having to speak English feels like a restriction, like I haven’t really left home. When I was 17 I learned to speak German fluently in situ in Germany – one night I remember dreaming for the first time in German, and I realized something had happened to my nervous system. Some deep change I couldn’t even analyse, right in the subconscious. It is great, I welcome the multiplicity of the EU identity as filtered through language. There may be a possibility that EU citizens work harder at trying to understand each other because there is less room for the assumptions that happen when people share a mother tongue? Though that’s perhaps a bit optimistic. (MG)
I am certainly Janus-faced on this one: monoglot myself, but thrilled by the possibilities of language. I certainly have no issue with the multilinguality of the EU! – it strikes me as a reminder that there is more to the world than an English-language monoculture. (NH)
It is one of its principal attractions. (TD)
Multilinguality is one of the great strengths of the Union. I speak Italian and have some French as well as Irish. I feel exposure to other cultures is deepest where we speak at least some of the language. (WW)
9. What is your view about the EU’s policies regarding Refugees, Climate Change, Austerity, Government deficits, or any other aspect you would like to comment on?
The best moment of Angela Merkel’s chancellorship.
Climate Change: Very good. The Green party is the great legacy to us all.
Austerity: It is important not to humiliate smaller countries. (AD)
Refugees should be treated fairly and decently; austerity should be reserved for the rich; and government deficits should be forgiven in the light of the pandemic. As for Defence Policy – let’s win the war on Covid first. (BR)
I’m not too familiar with matters of government deficit, and only have general or superficial knowledge of the complexity of the EU’s policies regarding climate change and austerity. I can only say that it seems to me a no brainer that climate change policies need to become more rigorous everywhere, and under international coordination, because we should all be aware by now that we are at a critical point and that climate change doesn’t care about national or other artificial designations. The question of refugees is hugely significant and I feel that is something the EU has so far failed to address sufficiently – not helped by the nativist attitudes of some member states. The problems creating population displacement go deeper and further than the EU and its relatively recent existence, but, sadly, I sense that currently there isn’t quite the necessary political desire to help address it in a humanitarian manner. (CM)
The EU can deal with anything except a crisis. There is no coherent policy regarding refugees. It is run, as much else is, by each country. Each country tends to be enlightened on the subject of climate change and it does make a difference here that the EU can function as a block. On austerity, we were saddled with German policy. The German behaviour during the bust was a disgrace. When it suited them, they ditched the whole idea of European solidarity. (CT)
I think we all need to face up to our responsibilities regarding refugees. We cannot barter with people’s lives in the way we paid Turkey to host refugees and keep them out of Europe. Europe and European history often contributes to the crisis that cause people to flee their homeland and I would like to see a more humane approach. We are all citizens of the world, we all deserve a chance at happiness.
Similarly, I would like to see Europe and Ireland really get a grip on what is required to combat climate change, the time for fiddling around the edges is over, we need a united, bold approach to reducing our impact on nature, however unpopular.
I think Austerity led to a worrying swing to the right in European politics, I hope that new financial policies, particularly post-Covid help to create a sense of genuine European solidarity and unity. (DK)
I believe that the EU could support a more engaged approach towards the refugee crisis and the climate crisis alike. Both crises call for radical action beyond what is currently being achieved. (DNG)
Refugees? Could be a lot better overall; the deal with Libya is a disgrace.
Climate Change? This seems to be improving; the EU must take a lead here as any solution must be international.
Austerity? Government deficits? This is changing and apparently for the better; but I am not an economist. (ENC)
Briefly, the EU needs to fix the asylum process, make it feasible, transparent and much more humane. I spent 19 months in direct provision without any reason, as a consequence of mismanagement and incompetence of those entitled to help us to go through the process. I think the whole discourse around people in need of international protection has to be changed and addressed exclusively in terms of human rights and equality. (ES)
I am opposed to a European army. In favour of integrating more refugees into our societies. I believe that in pushing the narrative of a refugee crisis, the EU has failed those refugees coming to Europe and emboldened far-right elements. Words matter, language matters and the EU can change that narrative by changing the words it chooses to use. Crises will come but we need not add to them by labelling the refugee situation in Europe a crisis. I am anti-austerity. In favour of more action on climate change. Expel all lobbyists from the military-industrial complex and big corporations. Be more active on war crimes, crimes against the environment and hate crimes (in the cultural, racial, religious and linguistic arena). (GR)
I’d like to see a much more unified approach to these issues, particularly refugees and climate change as I feel it is possible to have a greater impact when working together. Obviously […] it is difficult to imagine how Northern Ireland will be part of a wider European strategy on these important issues post-Brexit. I also think there is a need for greater urgency, especially on climate change issues and well-thought out long-term plans rather than last minute reactionary proposals in response to the latest crises. (JC)
The EU’s failure of leadership in this area and its hand-off to the border states of Greece and Italy is disgraceful, and will surely haunt its future.
Climate Change? I am not aware of EU leadership in this area. Global organization needed.
Austerity? Government deficits? Some of its anti-trust actions have been innovative and positive. The EU’s leadership during the austerity decade less so, especially the ways in which German concerns about frugality have dominated policy, not so long after the EU bailed out the unification of East and West. (JM)
Refugees? The EU’s actions around the recent migrant crisis are the shame of our generation. The Irish naval service rescued over 18,000 refugees between 2015 until the EU ended operation Sofia in 2019. MEPs, including Irish members, continue to vote against the rescue of migrants in the Mediterranean. History will judge these actions as monstrous.
Climate Change? Progressive in comparison to some, but still woefully inadequate.
Austerity? Government deficits? The EU’s policies of austerity during the last recession were outdated, punitive, and contributed to the continuation of a boom-bust economic cycle. (JT)
There are concerns that for all the talk about democracy, it has an undemocratic aspect – German and French voices are dominant, to the detriment of weaker countries. When Ireland’s banking system collapsed more than a decade ago, partly as a result of the actions of international gamblers, Ireland had to destroy its public finances to repay speculators. The EU insisted on repayment of junior, or unsecured, banking debt because it felt it would be easier for the banks to return to the markets and borrow from them. This argument has some validity but it meant the Irish state repaid bonds it was not obliged to do. In other words, without the EU’s intervention, the gamblers would have lost. (MD)[J1]
It is a start but they could be better. As far as I understand it the EU was set up by the coal & steel countries (France and Germany) to create greater economic flow. Social flow/harmonization – the language of peace and reconciliation and never-again-another-war – also featured but I would be cynical as to what extent this, over and above economics, really drove the formation of the Union. Over time it seemed that the economic mission was successful in achieving what the founders wanted. Markets got liberalized so that now, for example, a French millionaire (billionaire?) can take over what was once an Irish state-owned public service phone company (P&T, later Telecom Ireland, later eircom, now eir). The upshot from this liberalization, as far as I can see it, is that capital has been able to flow more freely between the member states, along with goods and services, and some labour. However – to my eyes – the main rationale for this flow seems to be about facilitating capital and its growth through the accumulation of financial profit.
Profit as a principle is inherently exploitative, so right there you have a conflict between the economic ambition and the social flow/harmonization principle. How can you have social equality if you are prioritizing profit above people?
I see that the EU at present is resolving this contradiction in a stop-startish kind of way. Issues like taxation, poverty, disadvantage, the social rights of women, LGBTQ+, or BAME citizens – there is a sense that these have been dealt with, or can be dealt with in time. The principle seems to be: let’s try, but don’t interfere too much in nation states, don’t drive the people into the arms of the far-right. So do a little bit now, a little bit further down the road. This means the EU institutions will pass policies to make life better for some people – but never so many, at the same time, that they risk alienating Big Business, Big Pharma or Big Power.
Up till now, they’ve been doing the same with climate change, a little bit here, a little bit here. The big problem, though, is that, unlike people, climate catastrophe cannot be controlled or suppressed or fed a bit now and then or asked to be patient and wait until the EU state apparatus are ready to bring the necessary policy changes in. Climate catastrophe isn’t waiting for anyone. It is here and it is getting worse by the day. Yesterday I read that the Alps are turning pink because of algae on them, leading to the possibility of record snowmelts, further increasing global warming and loss of biodiversity, and a tightening of the vicious circle. There is the EU’s plan for a ‘green recovery’ post-Covid […], but until it translates into real action that’s all it is, rhetoric. And that’s more worrying to me when I think about the 27 states with wildly varying ideologies on the left-right-green axis who will have to come together to agree on the elements of the plan so it can be turned into action.
The thing is this: there are real actions which can be done by the EU now without waiting for the prince of a green recovery to come. For example (just a few):
- uphold the ban on Bayer’s beekilling neonicotinoids,
- fine big polluters (e.g. CocaCola) for the plastic waste that they generate,
- ban member states from exporting electronic and other waste to the global south,
- ensure that fuel being exported to e.g. Nigeria conforms to EU standards.
Going forward, the EU could:
- carbontax the big fossil companies so that they pay first, and most, thereby addressing the nub of the discontent of protestors like the gilets jaunes – who, as I see it, are not really against climate policy but against institutionalized austerity. One of the dangers of instituting small climate actions, like carbontaxing individual consumers instead of carbon-taxing the big polluters, is that you drive a wedge between the people and the biosphere that we all depend on for our survival – which is essentially a capitalist divide-and-conquer control mechanism. Real green justice would mean massive changes to the way capital flows and big business operates and capitalism is nervous about this. Carbon-taxing individuals would work fine if the big polluters were taxed first, and more – people are happier not when they have more, but when they feel they live in a fair society.
- bring in wealthindexed laws across the Union on diesel/petrol emissions and driving offences,
- value what is essentially the most valuable work more – e.g. by paying a Universal Basic Income to people who actively serve, sustain and restore the biosphere we all depend on (including the people who are part of that), e.g. those who look after the elderly, young children, who plant trees for sequestering carbon / recycle / mend clothing etc.
I could go on. But the point is there (still! Pink algae?!) seems to me to be a paucity of imagination around the climate catastrophe and a dismissal of climate concerns like mine as being crankish. You only need to look at some of the critiques of the Green Party in the Irish media to see that at work – branding them as people with ‘small concerns’, ‘parochial’ or ‘niche’. At times the party’s thinking can seem mushy and contradictory, particularly around social justice and progressive taxation. But to call climate change a ‘niche’ concern shows a mind-blowing lack of understanding of where we’re at.
Covid showed many citizens that change can happen, and can happen big. The real challenge for the EU around climate is the justice piece. The main emphasis of the new plans – from what I can see – is on retrofitting, manufacturing and building e.g. electric cars (irony: they cut down an ancient forest in Germany to facilitate a Tesla factory). But is this a European solution to a global north problem? The EU institutions need to encourage and support their member states to start thinking and acting far more globally around climate change and climate justice. The wealthier nations and the wealthiest citizens in the EU need to take way more responsibility and this needs to happen now – otherwise we are all fucked. On the plus side, there are lots of things that EU citizens can do starting now. Apart from the consumer end – buy less plastic, buy less Stuff, use less energy – we can still, as long as we live in participative democracies, act on a civic level, by choosing someone better to vote for. (MG)
We have all seen the widely-circulated photograph of a clearly moved and upset German policeman holding an exhausted infant in his arms during the first surge of migrants after Angela Merkel’s much-criticised welcome. Despite the difficulties which ensued, Merkel will remain an exemplar into the future on how to confront a complex and constantly shifting upheaval of the kind witnessed. My hope is that European leaders of all EU countries are capable of sharing the burden – and it is a burden – of assisting new arrivals to our countries. So far, the load has been unequal.
The EU continues to lead world-wide by its rational approach to the environment and climate change. On the other hand, its defence policies can vary from country to country. The French seem more often the likeliest to be militarily or medically active. Again, on the question of defence, many Irish people are ambivalent about the EU’s alignment with NATO, although I am not among them, but this serves to raise outstanding questions which remain difficult and unresolved. Personally, I do not believe Ireland should stand aside if other European armies are called into action, either for the UN or otherwise. (MO)
Covid is altering existing paradigms: a chance for the EU to think and imagine in different ways, and remember that it was forged originally to remove forever the possibility of conflict and war. We live in a world of conflict and war, so the EU has to do better.
No informed citizen can be starry-eyed in the matter of EU refugee policies, which are a disgrace and a moral scandal. The EU is large enough and wealthy enough to resettle refugees and enable them to work, to study, to make new lives; and the laws which expressly block these needs are indefensible. Similarly, the Dublin Regulation has resulted in the inability of some refugees to access an asylum procedure.
In relation to the climate emergency, the EU pays lip service to the need for change while essentially declining to imagine the economic changes that must take place if we are to stem the rise in global temperatures. The EU is no mere national economy; it is a global economic great power, and it has the economic heft to push though such change, and to begin to question the malign orthodoxy of economic ‘growth’.
It seems to me that a return to the austerity of these last years is unthinkable. It would certainly be politically destructive, and is beyond the capacity of voters and taxpayers to absorb. Bluntly, austerity was a con: debt was nationalized while profit was privatized: now, the EU has an opportunity to spearhead a move to make large companies pay what they owe, for the greater good; and to ensure that the pandemic financial arrangements agreed in Brussels in July 2020 are implemented – and carried further. This would make the EU of greater relevance to an entire generation of younger citizens. (NH)
As regards these points, I'd like to admit that the EU has a major problem in its near future with a lack of government support for refugees etc. (NND)
This is such a huge question that it has to be responded to in as concise a way as possible. Otherwise only those who agree will persevere past an initial statement or opinion.
Borders are essential, for trade, customs, tax agreements etc., so they may define but they do not really distinguish territories, any more than the colour of ink on one person’s map can resolve the grievances of those with the misfortune to inhabit a disputed landscape. What truly distinguishes a country, or alliance of countries, is its conduct when faced with extraordinary circumstances, when the cherished routines and expected reassurances of some must be weighed against the greater good of the many. Paradoxically those who are best off, best protected and most affluent are seldom the most generously disposed to those less fortunate than themselves. Another poor neighbour does not greatly affect the house prices in an already poor neighbourhood, perhaps. But we cannot continue to dream of the United States as the land built by immigrants and simultaneously turn our back on immigrants, on refugees, on those seeking or forced to seek better lives for themselves elsewhere.
On a visit to Florence about twenty years ago, I was struck by the number of artists’ studios devoted almost entirely to (sometimes terrific) reproductions of the Renaissance masters. An understandable result of the demands and expectations of tourists, no doubt, but it set me thinking about the delicate balance that must be struck between inheriting a tradition, on the one hand, and the necessary job of living and working in the present. Europe’s achievements (which are enormous in so many ways) should not become the treasures we cannot let go of as we desperately swim from one sinking island of culture to the next.
A sense of humour can help, and will sometimes reveal a truth, or partial truth. Recently I was joking with someone that the reason Northern Europeans think all Southern Europeans are lazy, under-achieving and surly, etc. (which of course is not true), is that they visit southern Europe only at the height of summer, when the intelligent locals will move more slowly, will consider at least twice anything that causes unnecessary exertion, all the while looking forward to the winter months when the world is at last their own again.
We see the world we have learned to see, and understandably imitate it to express our fondness for it. But we also must acknowledge that our worldview is born from privilege, accident of birth and time, luck. To be citizens of the world we have to be prepared to see ourselves from outside too, the waves rolling under our unsteady feet, our stomachs empty, our children neither fully awake or able to sleep for fear of what comes next. We are none of us so far from war, poverty, disease, earthquake or other misfortune that we cannot but see it in the eyes of our fellows and feel we are looking at those who fell so that we might have the lives we enjoy. (PB)
The EU has provoked widespread cynicism around the subject by conflating refugees with economic migrants – those with enough money to pay human-traffickers, causing an inevitable backlash. Unless undocumented migration is controlled there can be no timely processing of asylum claims and a populist backlash against the idea of free internal borders becomes inevitable. Brexit could have been avoided were this subject approached without hypocrisy. (PO)
Firstly, I have to confess to a huge ignorance of most of the EU’s policies. However, I do know that the EU was always very generous when funding the arts in Northern Ireland through EU Culture Programmes and through PEACE I and II. I was personally very disappointed to hear that Belfast and Derry/Londonderry could no longer be considered for European Capital of Culture in 2023.
I have noticed, however, that EU policy on refugees continues to drive a wedge between western and eastern Europe. In 2020 the European Court of Justice ruled that the Czech Republic, Hungary and Poland broke the law in 2015 by failing to take in their mandatory quota of refugees. In my opinion, however, the imposition of refugees cannot create social cohesion.
As far as multiculturalism goes, I appreciate that a country like Germany has made a decision to alter its population’s ethnicity in order to distance itself from its colonial past and historical Herrenvolk associations, but that doesn’t mean that the EU has the right to impose this vision on every other country. Ideological colonialism is always wrong.
In terms of climate change, the EU is working ambitiously on zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050, but I cannot help thinking they must have surely contributed to it with all those intercontinental flights to Brussels – entire forests must have been sacrificed for their legislative documents! (RJ)
I think it utterly shameful that the EU hides behind Greece, one of our most damaged economies, in its provisions for accepting refugees. Germany alone, once refugees reach its borders, seems to have a humane resettlement policy and praxis.
On climate change, I think the answer has to be ‘a lot done, far more to do’. (TD)
In terms of refugees, abandoning mandatory quotas for member states puts pressure on particular countries. Why should no country be obliged to offer shelter? (WE)
I believe the EU is too quick to respond to attacks from the Right where refugees are concerned. It would be better to embark on a Union-wide education process that would seek to explain what exactly a person seeking international protection is and why they are likely to have undertaken this hazardous journey. That process could also include a discussion of the benefits to a country of diversity and of welcoming newcomers. In my view the EU has failed in this regard. We are culpable in that we in the rich West and Northern hemisphere have been the creators and drivers of Climate Change and this global disaster is a significant part of the reason for the refugee crisis.
Climate Change? The EU is too slow to respond to Climate Change.
Austerity? Government deficits? If anything would make me anti-EU it would be its actions in relation to austerity. The austerity programme was designed to protect the banking systems of the major EU economies and had the effect of prolonging a three-year recession into a ten-year one. In some countries, Greece for example, it had catastrophic social dimensions. It has failed to lift the EU economy as a whole – quite predictably. My hope is that post-Covid the policy of fiscal rectitude will be abandoned in favour of something more Keynesian, if not more Social Democratic. (WW)
10. What do you think are the consequences of Brexit for Ireland, politically, economically, culturally? And its impact on Irish-British, Irish-Scottish relations?
The Scottish/Northern Irish connection is likely to be stronger. (AD)
All five main political parties in Northern Ireland, four of which are pro-Remain parties and one of which is pro-Leave, voted overwhelmingly in January 2020 against the Brexit Withdrawal Agreement which laid out the terms of the UK’s departure from the EU. Earlier in January, the Scottish Parliament voted to reject the Bill by 92 votes to 29. In the same month, the Welsh Assembly voted 35 to 15 against it. The decision did not affect the UK’s departure on 31 January this year. You could be forgiven for thinking, reading those statistics, that Brexit has been engineered by the desire for England to leave the EU (even though, in fact, the majority of London boroughs voted to remain).
I find Fintan O’Toole’s arguments on the subject both enlightening and convincing. The journalist delivered a lecture at Queen’s University in January 2019, entitled “Borders and Belonging: British and Irish Identities in a Post-Brexit Era”. He argues that that there is a very strong correlation between English identity (as distinct from British identity) and anti-European sentiment as it has emerged both pre- and post-Brexit. He offers statistics that show that the EU is perceived by the English to have had a much greater influence on their governance than is perceived by any other EU member countries, including the other nations within Britain. He speaks with eloquence on the ‘great radicalism’ of the Belfast Agreement, which allows the people of Northern Ireland to identify as Irish, as British, or as both. “If the European project is to survive,” he says, “if we’re not to sink back in to the catastrophes from which the European Union was born, we need to do what people in Ireland have been gradually managing to do, which is to hold in their heads at the same time different ideas of belonging, to think about belonging as what you can live with, rather than what you can die for.” It is a fascinating talk, available to view at this link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1SeadvWsn_k. (BM)
There is no way to answer this question until we know is there a deal or a no deal Brexit. I think it is safe to say that we are all in the dark, which is a scary prospect. (BR)
Brexit is a nuisance in the short term. Long-term, many Irish people will worry about being cut off from fruitful exchanges with open-minded and tolerant peers in England. I think we are all supportive of the Scots. (ENC)
We hear a lot already and I presume we will hear it even more often in the foreseeable future, that millions of people outside these two islands and inside them are imagining a United Ireland and Independent Scotland as a result of Brexit. I don’t feel competent enough to make any statement here, but I wouldn’t be sure these scenarios are impossible as a consequence of Brexit. (ES)
For most people, I expect it will be business as usual. We have been umbilically linked to Britain and our cultural links to Europe are tenuous, unfortunately. One might think that Ireland and Scotland are natural bedfellows but there are many underlying historical differences between us: these differences and commonalities require exploration. There has been some interchange between Irish and Scottish musicians and writers – as both countries have a Gaelic strand to their bows – but Irish and Gaelic are not the same language. The Great Book of Gaelic was an interesting showcase for the Celtic Muse: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/An_Leabhar_M%C3%B2r.
Having said that, the Celtic Muse is not something that is taken seriously by many Anglophone writers, intellectuals and influencers and, unfortunately, could be as divisive as it is potentially unifying. If an Anglophone writer has been Anglicized or semi-Anglicized, by dint of daily use and consumption of English, the Celtic Muse will appear to that writer as a myth, perhaps even a pernicious myth! (GR)
It is impossible to tell at this stage. I suspect for Northern Ireland it will force us closer to the Republic of Ireland in the long term. In the short term I think there will be much confusion over travel and working outside of Ireland. It will be more difficult to maintain those close working relations with writers from other places in Europe and this is bound to translate into some level of income loss. I also think there is going to be a period of extreme confusion and anxiety for everyone who lives in the North. (JC)
For the arts, it will be extremely difficult, as the cultural resources of Ireland and the UK still have so much in common, with touring orchestras, theatre companies and bands often treating the two islands as part of one itinerary. Which has been a great boon. (JM)
The consequences of Brexit for Ireland are wholly negative. The careless undermining of the already fragile peace process, the introduction of tariffs for businesses which had previously been closely associated in Ireland and the UK is disastrous. Small businesses will suffer, and the weaknesses of the North’s economy, in particular, will be exposed. (JT)
Brexit? An unadulterated disaster – ill-advised, insincere, implemented by idiots. And Ireland is the only EU country with a land border to the United Kingdom, a fact that they seemingly forgot until after the vote. On top of that, Northern Ireland is not just a constituency of the UK: it is also part of Ireland, and its population have the legal right to identify as Irish and carry Irish passports if they choose to. Therefore the Republic has an equal responsibility to its people in the North. Our people are linked, our cultures are linked, our economies are linked, we depend on each other and you can’t separate us without doing a huge amount of damage. Brexit threatens to undo everything previous generations and governments worked so hard to achieve, and now it feels like the British government couldn’t care less.
I hope we can prevent some of this damage being done and I hope significant action to prevent or undo that damage can be taken at grassroots or community level. Which would involve a huge amount of good faith between communities in the North, cross-border communities, or family and community links between Ireland and the broader United Kingdom. But you see the rise of ultra-nationalist, isolationist or protectionist thought and it’s hard to be hopeful. It would be nice to see a turn back towards good old British common sense to go with our Irish cop-on, wouldn’t it?
We will be fine. Eventually. Irish-British relations I think will be set back years again. By again, I mean they have already been set back years by this grandstanding foolishness. Irish-Scottish relations, well, that’s more interesting. I think as we see Scotland maintain its self-determination, relations with Northern Ireland will be strengthened. Scotland has a much greater natural connection with Northern Ireland than Northern Ireland has with Westminster, I think. I would imagine it would benefit both regions to underline that. As for relations with the Republic of Ireland, I would imagine both countries would prefer to maintain strong and friendly relations, as the Republic does – and should! – with all of its closest neighbours. But, you know, there’s not much a writer of fiction knows about political pragmatism. Some necessary distance is always in the picture, I would imagine. It is a shame to even have to consider where we go from here in the North Atlantic archipelago. (LMc)
Scottish independence from Britain is likely, and if there is any justice, Scotland will be offered automatic readmission to the EU in advance of the vote, as a potentially reunified Ireland has been. Scotland’s departure from the UK will be followed by Northern Ireland’s. New constitutional arrangements – in time leading to reunification of Ireland – are inevitable. Ireland can and will be reimagined as a unitary state. France is on its fifth republic, it is time Ireland started planning for its second.
But first outreach work is essential among the unionist community in Northern Ireland. Any new arrangements shouldn’t be about one side winning and the other side losing: everyone must gain. That message has to be shared widely and convincingly. This can’t be about bolting on Northern Ireland to the Republic of Ireland and continuing as before. A series of changes must happen. There will have to be new constitution for Ireland, with guarantees and respect for British identity for unionists who cherish their heritage. Their rights must be confirmed. A new Irish flag and anthem, too, will be needed – golden opportunities for public input. A high level of care and sequencing will be required to get the transition right because the stakes are high. But the pandemic has been a wakeup call – a reminder that a virus recognizes no geographical or political barriers, and that two discrete jurisdictions are counter-productive to public health policy formation on one small island whose partition never made practical sense. People move backwards and forwards across the border, sometimes on a daily basis, to work, shop, socialize and go to school.
Ireland cannot achieve peaceful reunification alone. We are hopeful for assistance from the EU to help bed down any new agreement, as happened in the wake of the Good Friday Agreement. German expertise would be useful and valued: Germany had its own, successful reunification programme and Ireland would be glad to learn from its experience. (MD)
If there is a hard Brexit I think it will come down, on the EU side, to that tension between the stated aim of the EEC/EC/EU (social harmonization and flow) and its historical driver (economic flow). If the UK refuses to uphold standards on food safety, animal welfare and environmental action/justice, then we, the Irish citizenship, will find ourselves in a very tricky place indeed. Something will have to be protected, but with a hard Brexit, not everything can be protected by everyone at the same time. So essentially, each actor in the drama – Westminster, Dublin, Brussels, Stormont, Holyrood and Cardiff – will have to choose what that most-protected thing is going to be for them. Will ‘we’ (Republic of Ireland) ram up some sort of border on the island (that we don’t call a border) to avail of the economic (and other) benefits of being part of the EU – while taking a massive cut on other economic benefits through loss of the beef/dairy and other food export market to the UK, in the process also alienating/abandoning nationalists in the six counties? Or will ‘we’ keep the border on the island porous so that we can respect the Good Friday Agreement, leading – in the absence of Westminster coming up with a copper-fastened Northern protocol on all aspects of all trade, and with the current shower, good luck with that – to some sort of flow of UK goods into our society and economy even if they don’t comply with EU standards, and let the EU, in response, ram up some sort of border (that’s not called a border) between our island and the continental mainland to protect EU goods, standards, and services? With a different administration in Westminster we may not have had to contemplate this question, but Johnson’s government seem so far to be masters of laissez-faire shit-show creation, if nothing else. It will be hard to be creative around the differences between North and South if it comes to that choice. I can see resentment, on many sides, and chaos. A lot of haggling, messing, finger-pointing and whataboutery. Creativity? I hope. I wish.
The economic/Cultural/educational/social consequences of Brexit here? God only knows. This sounds like a flippant answer, but I mean it sincerely.
What is the (Northern) Irish view on the Scottish neighbours’ attitude to the EU? Super-interesting. My old pal the Guardian had a great piece (by Rafael Behr) on the Scottish independence movement and where it might go post-Brexit. He was arguing that given the current blocs of power in Holyrood and Westminster, it is likely that if there is a hard Brexit, Nicola Sturgeon will say this really isn’t what Scotland wants and then ask for an independence referendum, which Johnson is likely to refuse. Which then could lead to a weird ronde-type situation – Scoxit as the new Brexit, with those Scots who really value the (UK) union being side-lined as a new ‘remoaner’ elite. I can’t speak with any authority for the national Irish view on this, but I and some people I know would have a generalized sense of sympathy and support for Scottish independence, a feeling of being compatriots (if that’s not too loaded a term) of the spirit, fellow Celts who were made lesser-than inside the British Empire – although it must be remembered that it was a Scottish king who initiated the union with England as a way of consolidating his own power, and that the English monarchy post-Union often privileged Scottish citizens (e.g., lauding the Highlanders militarily) in a way that they didn’t in Ireland, and that ultimately, technically, the Scots are free to leave the union whenever they want.
If Scotland left the UK and rejoined the EU, there is a chance you could have one confederation of jurisdictions across the Irish Sea archipelago that are in the EU, and another confederation of jurisdictions that are out. The Scots were the ones that voted most in terms of numbers to stay in the EU, more so than in the North. For me – and maybe other Irish citizens – that vote strengthened the sense of shared values, the perceived affinity that was already there. But there have also been historical fractures in the relationship between ‘Scottish’ and ‘Irish’ people – the Ulster plantations, the war in the North being the most visible and (still) painful manifestations of those. Though ethnicity, like religion, was not the cause of the conflict, just the thing that was weaponized by the powerful – in this case the British ascendancy – to divide and conquer. I remember working on a documentary about Frederic Hervey, the Bishop of Derry in the late 18th century. He wrote a letter to Charlemont saying (I paraphrase) that the British establishment should look to strengthen the divisions between the Presbyterian and Catholic populations in Ireland, because, combined, they would threaten the future of the Empire. There it was, in writing.
The Dál Riada is an interesting concept, the idea that Scotland was first colonized by people from the North of Ireland – a reverse of the plantations that came later.
It is a complex, rich relationship, interesting to see where it goes next. (MG)
The question of life post-Brexit has been publicly and privately debated over the past few years. In our wilder, more outlandish moments there have been (in some circles) hopes of a neo-Celtic Federation of Nations emerging from the detritus, meaning that the Republic of Ireland, Scotland, and Wales, would concentrate on some kind of loose union. But, as ever, Northern Ireland and the UK’s treatment of this province, remains problematic. It is a truism that Brexit may force the issue of reunification on the island of Ireland prematurely. One would like to think that outside nations would grasp the nature of this challenge (on both sides of the border), and that it would require considerable revisits to the political table. Questions such as religious, social and economic diversity would be uppermost in this putative situation. A fact worth reflection would be, for example, that 60% of Northern Ireland’s working population are employed in the public service, as opposed to 6.64% in the Republic. In other words, people in the Republic are by and large employed in other areas, either self-employed, or in business, or in agriculture. (MO)
Brexit will have dramatic results here in Ireland: so much has always been clear, in spite of the reluctance of the British government to discuss possible future changes. The presence at Westminster of a nationalist English Tory government will hasten the disintegration of the United Kingdom, with Scotland going its own way sooner rather later, and with this in turn creating seismic changes for Northern Ireland’s relationship with the Union. Although mainstream politics has not yet begun to discuss the consequences of these changes, it is clear that they are already being digested and discussed at grassroots level in Northern Ireland – at kitchen tables across the region. This in turn means that the Republic must begin to address the changes that are coming swiftly down the line. I have no doubt that such discussions are quietly underway at government and civil service level: but the discussion needs to kick off in wider terms. What shape will a new Ireland take? What strong aspects of the Northern Ireland system will be retained, and what strong aspects of the Republic’s system will be retained? – for there can be no East German-style ‘absorption’ of Northern Ireland into the Republic; this should go without saying. So, how will health, education, broadcasting, social care etc. work in a unitary state? This is to say nothing of how two economies will be knitted together. The questions are endless, and the issues enormous – but they must be addressed, and the process must begin soon. (It seems to me that the system of the citizens’ conventions can play a significant role in this process.) (NH)
None. We will continue as before. (NND)
Brexit is not just a mistake but, as I think of it, a grand theatrical gesture, the determination of a teenage boy to jump through the flame of a campsite because he imagines there is no other way to distinguish himself among his peers. Look at me, he shouts, and we do, our mouths hanging open, but not for the reasons he imagines.
As a ‘movement’ Brexit will hurt us all, our British friends and neighbours and relatives, as well as ourselves. Trade, politics, cultural links, nothing will be spared. But its real consequences are not, I think, in the future, in the mind-bogglingly complex bureaucratic and administrative solutions that will now have to be found and normalized. Its consequences are already with us, in the mistrust, the disappointment, the feelings of betrayal, not just between partner countries but among members of long established political creeds. Brexit is not just the separation of Britain from the EU but, as importantly, the internal division of Britain itself, a sundering in which the EU is, in some way, innocent collateral damage. An idealized past is less than a sound foundation for future progress. For better or worse it seems likely only a matter of time before the internal make-up of Great Britain is changed yet again (through a united Ireland, or perhaps an independent Scotland, or even some other rupture we haven’t even considered yet). For the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, the irony is that the desire to be ‘Great’ will almost certainly destroy the chances of remaining ‘United’. (PB)
My biggest personal concern is cultural as I worry that my work will appear in fewer cross-border publications and I’ll receive fewer invitations to speak at arts festivals south of the border. Economically, the people who will gain the most from Brexit are the smugglers and when I look into my crystal ball all I can tell is that the price of crystal balls is going to rise in line with the majority of products. I’m not much of a Nostradamus but, politically, the consequence of Brexit on Northern Ireland is surely a border poll. However, political change provides great fodder for writers, so we will be feasting away for the next year.
Northern Irish-English relations have definitely deteriorated because the English failed to consider us in their Brexit projections. Northern Irish-Irish relations have naturally deteriorated as each country has to now look after its own economic interests. Another consequence we will have to suffer is writers ranting and raving virulently on Twitter about Brexit over the next months. As George Orwell said in 1984: “But if thought corrupts language, language can also corrupt thought.” (RJ)
I wish Brexit wasn’t happening; I feel so radically disenfranchised by it. For all that I’ve been critical of the EU in the past (EU treatment of Greece during the Austerity crisis, for example, was appalling) I still see Europe as part of Ireland/Britain’s cultural heritage, and the post-war European ideals (or some of them at least) as representing the best parts of ourselves: multilingual, hospitable to difference, open-bordered, and fundamentally ambiguous about identity, which is the key to a slippery kind of harmony between Europe’s constituent parts. In terms of Northern Ireland, the impact of Brexit could go several ways: it could cement the divisions between North and South and reinstate a (militarized?) border, which is what everyone is afraid of; it could fuel calls for a United Ireland, bypassing Brexit altogether; or it could impact in other less expected ways, which are harder to predict and dependent on the economic fallout. But in terms of the relationship between Ireland and Britain, I think there is no doubt that the impact of Brexit will be incredibly divisive and damaging in the long-term to Irish-British relations. (SM)
Once the seaborne trade routes have settled, once airfreight resumes, once Ireland and GB settle on a common or at least mutually compatible customs policy, I think it possible Ireland will become more aware of and linked to mainland Europe.
Your second question also requires a book, I'm afraid. That said, if Scotland votes for independence, it will have large repercussive effects on questions to do with a united Ireland. (TD)
The border: immediate issues but also, the long-term future and viability of Northern Ireland. (WE)
Brexit will be a catastrophe for England and particularly the arts in England. They will find themselves becoming increasingly insular, in effect regressing to the form of insular nationalism we experienced for the years previous to acceding to the EEC. For Ireland, I think it will turn us even more towards continental Europe. It will, I hope, lead to an increased study of European languages here, and an increased engagement with Europe. It will have serious effects on our economy, particularly on the beef industry, though it must be said that a reduction in the beef herd is desirable from a climate point of view anyway. (WW)
There should be exchange programmes. QUB should reopen its German Department! (AD)
We all have to accept that there are differences between us – albeit slight ones, but differences nonetheless. We will not be a United States. We should be helpful, friendly partners in business and trade and we should enjoy and embrace our cultural differences and be mindful of our partners’ troubles and woes and helpful wherever is necessary. (BR)
It will take a long time for the EU to recover from how Germany behaved during the downturn. It seemed to feel that its own institutions took precedence over European ones. During that time, as a vehement supporter of the EU, I believed that Germany had given the game away, and let us all know that the EU was, in a part, a way for Germany to control European economic policy in its own favour and open markets in its own favour. (CT)
Some form of consultative structure, maybe as a travelling carnival… ? (ENC)
The EU shall be closer to every person living in the EU, not only to its citizens. Unfortunately us, who have to constantly deal with the migration procedures, feel deeply this hierarchy and inequality. If we were respected more and treated by the state bureaucracy with more respect, we would be able to open up more and as a result contribute without fear or resentment, and it could be only beneficial for everyone. (ES)
The question is meaningless. The EU is an institution, or several institutions. How can an institution come close to people? It must de-institutionalize and support local cultural and economic cooperatives. Who wants to go to bed with a behemoth? (GR)
This is a really difficult question for someone from Northern Ireland to answer. I would love to have a close connection to the EU, particularly if this meant easier and more frequent access to writers in other EU countries so we could be collaborating, performing and learning together. However, with Brexit looming I feel it is likely that we in Northern Ireland are going to have very little, if any connection to the EU in the years to come. (JC)
I am not sure how that would happen. If nations should generally be more federal and devolve more power away from capitals, as I think they should, I feel the same about the EU, which acts as a wonderful foil, stimulus and prompt to Ireland now. If it became dominant, however, I can only imagine a rise in nationalism. (JM)
I’m not entirely sure. I suspect that the EU should function as a machine, should be kind of detached from the messiness of citizenship, both good and bad. I know that is a cold sort of answer but I wouldn’t have great confidence in the EU operating as smoothly as it should, and as fairly as it should, if Brussels was constantly reacting to local concerns. The needs of the many, then, could be obscured by the noise made by the few. Is that not what a national government is there to handle? Maybe the EU’s function should be to offer support to individual countries, and to help bolster their relationships with one another and with their own citizens. A kind of unbiased, benevolent, beige-coloured mass that you can be grateful to, but you don’t have to love.
The EU’s citizens should all be closer to one another, rather than to the machine itself. Respecting and enjoying our differences, but recognizing and strengthening our friendships too. And maybe the EU can facilitate that. Provide the means for governments to collaborate, and perhaps the funds for cultural exchange. In that way it allows for closeness without actually getting any closer.
That’s all assuming that each member state is acting in a fair and benevolent way towards its citizenry. One way the EU could and should be closer to its citizens might be to more actively protect them from dictatorship, corruption and exploitation. But it is no simple thing to provide for that without stepping on the autonomy of each member state, and in so doing encouraging the easily spooked towards the false comfort of nationalism. A complex problem! Not one a scribbler of fiction has any hope of truly understanding, yet alone solving. (LMc)
The EU is vulnerable to a charge of overreach. It has resisted calls for reform, and this has been counterproductive. (MD)
Might be interesting to have EU-wide Citizens’ Assemblies – bringing together citizens from different member states. Good to see people who represent the EU in public life more – not just in Brexit negotiations or at the European Parliament but at a more local level? I worked in new media in the 1990s and one project was funded by the EBU; my boss would mention her colleagues in the EBU so that institution became more than an institution to me, it felt like people. I think this might be what is missing in our idea/sense of the EU. Eurovision is (kind-of) a way of doing this, though it reaches way beyond the EU. (MG)
The institutional EU feels remote: that much is clear. The form of its arms, its wings, its bodies is not fully understood, its array of voices are heard dimly, and its workings in Brussels, Strasbourg, Luxembourg are not attended to as they ought. The cultural workings of the Union – my particular interest – also seem distant. For all that we know that the EU funds cinema, visual art, ERASMUS and other exchanges and so on, this good work seems distant and goes largely unacknowledged. My own sense is that the EU, though strongly branded in some ways, has little cultural visibility – and that with significant investment, this could be remedied, and its investment and activities popularly acknowledged. The EU itself might fund more exchanges, tours, music, festivals; it might establish its own cultural centres as hubs in our cities – this last idea certainly expensive but worth it. There are other, less expensive ways: I think of the mobile cinema run and funded by the Irish Film Institute, and imagine a network of EU-run mobile cinemas continually on the road throughout the EU; the Union might offer cultural bursaries, in the manner of our own Arts Council; and it might fund a network of cultural officers, as the Department of Foreign Affairs has begun to do, to raise awareness of European and EU-funded cultural activities. If the public was more aware of the money invested and spent by the EU on its behalf, the institution itself would immediately feel much more relevant to all. (NH)
Yes, it should. Through direct democracy and listening to its citizens. (NND)
Often caricatured as a bureaucratic behemoth, trailing paperwork and paperclips as it goes, the EU’s principle challenge may be to convince its citizens that what we have more in common is more than what sets us apart. Ageing populations, challenging manufacturing costs and international competition, and a separatist, isolationist movement that lives and thrives in the untreated cracks, all threaten the long-term health of the union.
But these issues are too often discussed in isolation and without reference to the positives that accompany them in parallel. A fixation on ageing populations, for instance, overshadows the increasing opportunities to attract and integrate immigrant communities, to reanimate former dormitory and tourist cities, to explore other models of sustainable and shared living, etc. The emphasis on bulk and mass production, at the heart of the current East-West trade impasse, so often obscures the equally important issues of quality of produce, sustainable and ethical production, etc. Trapped in the routine and pressure of their daily lives, are Europe’s citizens condemned to follow their US counterparts in their consumption of ‘convenience food’ and acceptance of the waste and pollution that goes with it? When we travel, instinctively we reach for the authentic taste, the view high up into a cathedral we might not ever think to visit in our home town.
To my mind, the EU falls somewhat short in its mission to inspire its citizens, to see and to help them see beyond the necessities of commerce and trade to the true essentials of living, to the deeper forces that make us want – rather than merely oblige us – to be one.
The success of the EU in an increasingly fragmented middle-ground (between the essentially empirical jousting of the US and China) I think depends on its enthusiastically claiming that middle-ground, on recognizing that the more dramatic short-term energies have flung out to the West and East, and on seeing itself now as a meeting place, a cultural colloquium, a coming together not just of traders but of like-minded individual whose troubled history informs but also inspires it. For it seems increasingly possible that it may yet be asked to play the role of moral arbiter in the often fractious exchanges of world politics. (PB)
By dealing with Victor Orban and withdrawing the advantages of EU membership members who do not respect its basic rules and institutions. (PO)
The one surefire way I can imagine the EU becoming closer to its citizens would be through holding Europe-wide referenda. (RJ)
The legislative/bureaucratic and totalizing aspect of the EU is all too primary in people's imaginations. There has been a catastrophic failure to embrace and promote the attractiveness, the humanizing attractiveness, of celebrating both our common and our specific cultures, including our micro-cultures. (TD)
In the sense that it could only be a good thing for its citizens to understand how it operates, yes. (WE)
Large political entities (the USA, or the Austro-Hungarian Empire, for example) tend to suffer from something we could call ‘distance syndrome’. People feel distant from the wheels of power even in small nation states like Ireland and that effect is magnified on the larger scale of the EU. But direct elections for the EU presidency would help, as would a larger role for the European Parliament. (WW)
12. If you were to receive funding from some EU source to present the EU to other citizens, how would you go about it?
First of all, I would want to spend a month at a Goethe Institut learning German. (AD)
I would go on an offensive against what Germany did during the downturn so that it could never happen again. (CT)
Get everyone together on an island in Clew Bay or Lough Erne and make them work on a statement (this may be obscure but so is the question). (ENC)
I would ask someone who knows how to fill in a kilometre-length of paperwork. What did Thoreau say, “Simplify! Simplify!” (GR)
If you mean how the EU would respond to critique? Possibly by typing out one of the EU grant application forms. (JM)
I would focus on the individual and collective response to the migrant crisis and aim to gather individual testimonies to keep a record of the humanitarian crisis that the EU are currently ignoring. (JT)
Children are key. They need to be taught about the benefits of EU membership from primary school onwards. Any lessons, such as they are, must wait until secondary school. If British children had been taught about the EU, the disinformation which characterized the Brexit referendum campaign would not have been able to take hold. Instead, lazy stereotypes flourished.
I believe there is a need for two strands of education aimed at children. Firstly, What Did The EU Ever Do For Us? which would outline benefits of membership such as progressive laws introduced, e.g. workplace protections and climate justice targets, which young people care about. Secondly, a Brexit information booklet or seminar entitled Everything You Ever Wanted To Know About Brexit But Were Afraid To Ask outlining the sequence of events. (MD)
Great question. If the source wanted critique, I would critique the way I critique a manuscript. I would read up or otherwise view whatever material I could find about the source and how it operates. Then I would identify what was meaningful and resonant in the way it works and share that. I would ask the source to ask me questions and I would answer those as honestly as I could. I would then – having already identified things I didn’t understand or that bothered me – ask the source questions about its process, intentions, ambitions and sense of self, making sure the questions were open so as to get as broad and generous a sense as possible of where the source was coming from. Finally I would offer opinions, with the caveat that if the source didn’t want to hear those opinions, so be it. But that approach assumes the source wants to change, grow and develop. (MG)
I wouldn't know where to begin. (NND)
In a sense, one might say that the enemy of a creative work is the identification of its purpose, its function, its goal, all of which should be discovered in the making rather than imposed at the outset. The true creative work is an exploration, a discovery, rather than a form of illustration. Therefore, were I to receive EU funding to explore the nature of the EU itself, I’d have to do it in the quizzical, exploratory form I know best, and trust in the process that is an essential part of the weave of European culture. Starting from the relatively solid ground of autobiography and personal experience, I’d likely choose a handful of places I love or have some experience of spending time in, and revisit those places (in mind or in fact) with a particular sensitivity to the edges of those experiences, to those in transit, in stress, in positions of changing power or influence, imagining the poem (for what else of use could I make there) as a kind of 360˚ action cam, a modest ‘selfie’ in a classical square in what proves to be of real importance is not the subject but the accidentally recorded background activity.
I confess to not knowing much about how the EU supports arts and cultural projects (and is possibly why I have failed to understand the question); but I suspect that such encouragement at an EU level would almost certainly produce work whose interests were wider and more inclusive than when prompted at a local or national level. We may not know where a piece of creative work will take us, but the identification of a potential audience can greatly help in giving an international significance to a ‘local’ focus. (PB)
As I love writing about politics through satire, I would write a political satire about the EU and Brexit, based on the news. It would ideally be performed as a play at the Bozar in Brussels and would be intercut with real life quotes from politicians on a screen behind the actors. It would be hilarious and hard-hitting (shades of Dario Fo once more). (RJ)
If you mean what are my criticisms of the EU I would have to say that they are all political. The EU has moved away from the social democratic politics that attracted me to it in the first place. It is, in my view, too interested in so-called ‘competition’ at the expense of supporting public ownership. ‘Competition’ is an empty signifier when one considers that it takes considerable legal and financial stimulus to create it. States should have the right to hold national assets and to nationalize assets that do not serve the people or which are strategic in social terms. A prime example of failed ‘competition’ is the privatization of the bin collection in Cork. Where once one Corporation bin lorry collected all the rubbish on our road, now three companies, three sets of trucks with big diesel engines, work the same road. The cost for the City is reduced, but the social and environmental cost is trebled. This wastefulness is replicated all over the EU wherever privatisation has been fetishized. The EU could seek to rationalize this. The influence of neoliberalism has been pernicious at every level and has clearly and pathetically failed as demonstrated in the two most recent economic crashes when the state, clearly, was required to step in to save ‘the market’. It is time for the EU to abandon the failed theory of neoliberalism and adopt a more social democratic approach placing a high value on community, social cohesion and culture. (WW)
13. Is the European cultural influence in Ireland rising or falling in Ireland, esp. vis-à-vis US-American influence? Will European media matter more in the Ireland of the future vis-à-vis non-EU UK media?
I wish the European media mattered more here, but they don’t. Language is the issue. The good news is that President Biden will strengthen European ties; we got that border in the Irish Sea because the Democrats would not allow the Good Friday Agreement to be dismantled by the British Tories, only recently. (AD)
No, the American/English influence is still prominent here. The English language is probably the reason for that – or one of the main reasons for it at least. Our young people are inclined to head for Australia and America these days when they go abroad for work. Why don’t they head for Europe? Is it the language? Is it the perceived culture, or the contacts that they have abroad? (BR)
The big difference between the EU countries and the US is: access to television, control of television and radio as well as variety in the newspapers. I believe that the EU should do everything possible to make sure that independent and quality television and radio are supported as well as variety in the newspapers. I also believe that there should be greater EU support for film. (CT)
I think it is rising enormously, particularly in the wake of Brexit, Boris Johnson’s present Government, the debacle that is the Trump administration and Covid-19. Whilst Ireland has traditionally looked toward these two English-speaking nations for leadership, our most recent political outlook seems to have shifted enormously. Europe showed Ireland great solidarity during the initial Brexit negotiations and we have no intention of following the UK on their self-destructive exit from the Union. I also think it is interesting that following the totally shambolic Tory response to Covid-19 the Northern Ireland Assembly has for the first time ever looked to an all Ireland approach rather than clinging screamingly to UK policy. Similarly, I believe that Trump’s anti-democratic antics in the US have appalled most Irish people and the current US administration’s antipathy toward Europe, NATO, WHO and any other powerful world alliance means that we look to Europe as a safe-guard against the inevitable shift in the world order. This political shift in focus will, I imagine push further cultural connection and influence. (DK)
Q1: Don’t know. Will European media matter more in the Ireland of the future vis-à-vis non-EU UK media? They might, but an effort would have to be made. (ENC)
We are still in the vice grip of cultural neo-colonialism in Ireland and we cannot become ‘more European’ without becoming more actively bilingual or multilingual. I have discussed some of the reasons why the Irish don’t speak Irish in a (non-academic) paper:
Does increasing the influence of European culture on Ireland mean a lessening of UK-US influence? I am not a cultural historian, and I can’t predict the rise and fall of Anglophilia. Voltaire can be blamed for Anglophilia in France. We remember Voltaire, but who remembers the creator of an antidote, H. L. Fougeret de Monbron, author of Préservatif contre l'anglomanie (The Antidote to Anglomania). My father was German and looking back on his tastes, I am sure he was influenced by Die Swingjugend, those people who embraced jazz because Hitler didn’t like it.
I think that Irish people have been looking towards Europe increasingly in the last few years, in the wake of the Brexit vote. Traditionally Ireland has been influenced by both the EU and US, and sits somewhere in between. However when it comes to media, we are probably more influenced by America due to the absence of a language barrier. American films and novels are more widely-read here than those from other EU countries. Perhaps an EU-wide initiative focusing on literature in translation would work to counter this inclination. (GR)
It is hard for me to get an accurate gauge on this. Having won the EU Prize for Ireland in 2019 most of my ongoing international engagements have been with European festivals, institutes and publishers. I have found it almost impossible to make inroads into the American publishing world. However, this might just be me and the European spotlight which the European Union Public Licence (EUPL) has thrown on my work. I know other Irish writers who invest a lot of time and effort into making US connections. (JC)
As a daily reader of the Irish Times, I always feel that the EU is not covered sufficiently, but then I feel that its coverage is generally Dublin-centric, as much due to staffing issues and costs as anything else. I wonder if US influence is also abating. It will be interesting to see if Brexit will lessen England’s (if not Northern Ireland’s and Scotland’s) cultural and political influence. (JM)
EU influence remains strong among the class of people who have access to third level education. UK/ American culture is more accessible across the board due to the lack of language barrier. I don’t think Brexit will change our closeness to UK media. (JT)
It is hard to tell. I think that Irish people are very likely to positively identify as European, but the inefficient way we teach languages in our schools mean we are also very unlikely to be able to confidently work in languages other than English. So on that basis I can’t see how we’ll break our reliance on US or UK cultural influence. The flavour of the internet, for example, is overwhelmingly American. The language of the internet – social media particularly – is closest to US English. It would be nice to see Ireland forge stronger cultural and social ties with other EU countries but sometimes I worry that we are eroding our own cultural identity, in terms of our vernacular, for example, before we even have space to worry about eroding our European ties.
I wonder if there isn’t some passivity in the way we Irish see ourselves as Europeans. As in, we want to be recognized and accepted as Europeans, but have we the confidence to assert ourselves as Europeans? I think such confidence would have to begin very early, in childhood education rather than as driven by government policy. Like, “I am European so I am interested in French cartoons” or “I am European so I want to learn German.” It is the ‘be grand’ mentality again. The Irish people can be very passive, very relaxed. So I think if we want to foster closer cultural ties with the rest of Europe, we will have to work at it. Certainly the numbers of European visitors we have now, either as tourists or as students or workers, some of whom settle here, have helped us look outward more than we would otherwise have. (LMc)
No, not unless a concerted effort is made. British media is closer and it is familiar to us – Irish homes have British TV channels. (MD)
I hope so. As I read this question I am thinking now I’d like to brush up on whatever bits of European languages I have, read more in those languages, immerse myself more. I am currently watching The Dark (a German series, fab) in the original language on Netflix. Does Netflix count as European media? I love the Guardian and will still lean into that. I am interested in Britain and where it is going and its culture and artists and thinkers, and just because Brexit has happened, that hasn’t changed.
In terms of media, I think language will be an issue for many Irish people who don’t have a second language, or a third language outside Gaeilge. It’s not the same seeing somebody being interviewed in their non-native tongue. The gestures, the facial expressions, the idioms, all belong to the first language, no matter how fluent they are. I worked once with the Italian theatre director Eugenio Barbo, and he talked about how exhausting it is listening to people not speak in their native language – we know on a nervous system level something is being translated, and we are feeling that effort as we listen. (MG)
This remains in the balance. Language skills in Ireland have made up for lost ground in previous decades and many younger Irish people speak and understand a few European languages. In all probability, especially post-Brexit, there is likely to be a greater turning of attention towards European media rather than the more entrenched and inward-looking British media. It is interesting to note at this juncture that there is a move afoot at present in the UK to try to reverse the decades of leftist thinking in their media (apart from the Telegraph) and also in their comedy programming. How this is to be achieved remains a moot point but it does demonstrate that the UK continues to strive to occupy the opposite camp to that of Europe. (MO)
I would suggest rising. One international effect of the Trump presidency has been – as Fintan O’Toole puts it – to regard the US as an object of pity; the impact of Covid on an American society apparently unable to cope with its ravages has only added to this sense. European influence has also risen against the context of Brexit and the Trump-esque Johnson government in London, in comparison with which the EU appears as a model of sensible governance.
Will European media matter more in the Ireland of the future vis-à-vis non-EU UK media? Yes. We have become much more aware of opposition to the EU as a political force in a multi-polar world, and of the power of Brexit and other political influences to threaten European coherence. Elements in the British press have acted as cheerleaders in the Brexit process, and this – and a more than occasional anti-Irish tone – cannot be forgotten. My sense is that a process is underway in which European media sources will come to matter more – always assuming they are available in the English language. (NH)
Yes. Ireland is becoming more European: The cultural influences in Ireland, especially the ERASMUS year, when Irish students get a chance to study abroad. Unfortunately, European media matters less in the future of Ireland, vis-à-vis non-English speaking media, because of the smallness of the population. (NND)
I hope and believe (cause and effect?) that Ireland is becoming more European, and certainly more international. This is happening not just at the level of demographics, where the changes are striking in recent years, but also in how the country is now seen and chooses to be seen. The growing mistrust of the EU among a section of voters in the UK, and an unchecked bias and sometime hostility towards ‘foreigners’ (often in the guise of some kind of national pride), rightly gives Irish people a slight shiver of recognition and prompts them to consider their own experience under the British Empire (and later under a dangerously simplified nationalism), and to make emotional and logical connections with the experiences of many of their European and international brothers and sisters. Recent, somewhat crude attempts to convince the Irish electorate that it has anything in common with the supporters of Brexit received the support they deserved (which is to say almost none), exposing the lie that national identity might only be clarified by separation and retreat (a pre-school bad day behaviour elevated to the status of international position) rather than by robust and spirited engagement.
We learn from others’ mistakes, or should. The most recent barrage of mis- and dis-information, displays of bad faith and indications of threatened contraventions of international law have distinguished the UK’s departure from Europe in a way that was hard to imagine just a few years back. Sadly, and strikingly, the modus operandi so closely echoes that of the current US administration as to suggest a coordinated approach to dealing with new global realities. With the UK’s departure from the EU goes, no doubt, a considerable part of the influence of the English language in the European conversation, the effect of which will undoubtedly be felt in Ireland. Setting aside the major complications of GDPR, data storage compliance, fisheries, trade and copyright agreements, etc., etc., this should logically lead to an increased focus on European languages in Ireland’s education system (too often distinguished by its glacial rate of change), and to a renewed curiosity about the meaning of a ‘European’ perspective on the world that does not overwrite but draws on the distinct experiences of its many members.
Despite the pressing concerns of the political moment, it is very possible that the ongoing and crucial battle between the EU and the digital empires of (social) media giants like Facebook, Google, Apple, etc. may, in the end, have the biggest effect in galvanizing support for the EU working in members’ interests on the world stage, defending in a non-military sense members’ interests and rights in respect of privacy, copyright, security, and tax compliance, among the most endangered borders in our increasingly globalized world. (PB)
I can only speak for Northern Ireland and obviously we can’t become more European because of Brexit! I think that due to the rise of coronavirus throughout Europe and the closure of borders, there will be less cultural influence since European artists aren’t likely in the next year to tour their work to Northern Ireland. The one positive is that UK news outlets have given us great coverage on how individual countries in Europe have handled the pandemic, thereby making us feel closer to them. It is also worth mentioning that during the late eighteenth and early nineteenth century Belfast was known as the ‘Athens of the North’ for its cultural and intellectual enlightenment, although Edinburgh tried to claim that title as well. In spite of Brexit, we will always be inspired by Europe. (RJ)
Q1: Neither rising nor falling. Q2: Unlikely, until and unless cultural and media initiatives are encouraged by means of light-touch investment from the ground up, embracing the right to fail, resisting the interpolation of management and directive bureaucratic layers. (TD)
When I have finished this questionnaire, I will go to my local gym which is owned by a Polish woman. During our circuits class, I will hear conversation in Polish from some of the other participants. In the part of Belfast where I live, there is more diversity than ever before, and so in that sense it is more European, and more ethnically diverse. I think US media will continue to have dominance in Ireland. (WE)
I don’t feel very well qualified to answer this question being myself exposed to European media. (WW)
14. How would you normally hear about the EU? Via which news channels, digital media, people? Or not at all?
I watch both France24 and the German Channel when I can find it. But the Germans keep a lower profile on our media. On the other hand, I see many German films. (AD)
BBC News. RTE News. Irish Times. (BR)
I read a few newspapers a day, often one of the Spanish or Catalan ones. (CT)
Newspapers, mainly Irish and Italian; colleagues in Italy. (ENC)
Not much. I read digital outlets in English, Spanish and Russian. I feel that the role of Europe varies significantly depending on the context. In some Russian media the EU or the Global North is perceived as a potential enemy that promotes ‘non-traditional’ forms of sexuality, while the others see it more as a space of rule of law and protection of human rights. Both visions are often lacking nuances, and the West, which the EU is part of, for Russia is still remaining, as Joseph Brodsky told, somewhere in the Pacific Ocean. In Spain the perception of the EU is mostly critical, and a lot of economic issues have been attributed to the policies imposed on Spain by the EU. In Ireland I found it generally very open and positive towards the EU. (ES)
It doesn’t register much because the EU seems to be an amorphous abstraction. What is it? Break it up into recognizable little units that we can relate to. Farmers seem to be more up to date with EU requirements than others. (GR)
I usually get my news from the BBC website and also follow quite a few commentators, journalists and academics on Twitter. I have also been lucky enough to be involved in a number of ongoing engagement projects between writers across Europe such as conversations hosted by European Union Public Licence (EUPL)[J1] and also the Debates About Europe series which has allowed me close access to other writers in different European countries. I frequently find out about things happening in the EU from writer friends and colleagues in different places. (JC)
BBC, Irish Times, Guardian. (JM)
Irish Times, Guardian and RTÉ. (JT)
Everyday I perform a number of cycles between RTÉ.ie, the Irish Times and the Guardian. I get all of my news that way. Occasionally it is supplemented by discussions on r/Ireland, the Irish-specific board of Reddit. You say Reddit and people immediately assume that you are talking about some awful white nationalist anti-feminist corner of the dark web, but Reddit has many corners, and so long as you avoid those dedicated to the whinging of ‘angry’ young men and the bloated slugs who egg them on, you’ll be fine. I would say Reddit is largely left-wing, certainly liberal. Check out the vast, vast majority of things that end up on its front page if you don’t believe me. Ireland tends to have very smart voices who are well-read about many political or social issues and often I get context from people there that news stories understandably don’t have room for. It is a great starter resource […] and anyone talking shite tends to get hauled up on it sooner rather than later. The Irish love to prove each other wrong.
Otherwise I avoid any social media hot takes on the EU, and it doesn’t really come up much in real life with my friends, unless there was some directive that affected their work or something. I think here it is seen as a huge benevolent machine that works far, far away in Brussels. (LMc)
News channels and I also receive press releases about initiatives. (MD)
I have friends living in France, Italy, Bulgaria, Greece and they will fill me in from time to time. I love reading the Guardian App. They have a new section now on Europe and I dip into that. I also subscribe to a load of international petition and activism sites, and they will send me actions or news, mainly about environmental issues, which I respond to. My dad gets the New European and I’ll read that from time to time. I like watching European television drama. It doesn’t necessarily tell me about the EU in a factual sense, but it shows in an oblique way some concerns that may be presently at work in the European psyche. Recently I watched a series called De Bende van Jan de Lichte, about a Robin-Hood type local hero in Flanders who co-established a commune of outcasts (disadvantaged and ill people, mainly) in a wood during the 1740s. It felt very relevant, imbued with ideas around freedom, responsibility, power, equality, capital, growth, speed and ‘progress’. (MG)
Via news channels, via European friends, via natural conversation in which politics and cultural matters play a part. But I would add […] that the EU certainly has a general visibility issue. (NH)
I live in a two-satellite-dish household, which means our family unit has long had access to international (non-English) news, as well as a range of free-to-air international channels. For the most part, though, news of what pertains to the EU, at a political level, makes its way to us through the Irish Times, the Guardian, the BBC’s Europe News desk and app, etc. That said, during the Irish stage of the 2014 Giro d’Italia, we enjoyed the valuable double take of seeing, on Rai News, our neighbours and possibly ourselves among the thousands lining the road less than 50 metres from our house, as the bicycles, Garda escort and TV helicopters whizzed past. In the breathless excitement of our children at the time, I was reminded of an essential fact about the media in general: never underestimate the power of a new perspective on the familiar. (PB)
I would hear about the EU through traditional news sources such as the Irish Times and the Guardian. I have very recently joined Twitter, as a means of staying connected with the writing community during lockdown, and I also find out about EU-related news through this channel. (RO)
I would normally hear about the EU through Katya Adler’s reports as European Editor on BBC Radio 4. (SM)
Through all print and broadcast media. (TD)
I have worked for over twenty years as a teacher. During that time, I do not think that I have ever, in the workplace, heard anything whatsoever about the EU. Anything I would have heard would come from TV and newspapers. (WE)
Through newspapers, radio, social media and discussions with others. (WW)
15. What do you think about the way the EU itself (e.g. via its representations in Dublin or MEPs) is presenting itself in Ireland?
In general there is a certain sceptical attitude towards it all. Is it a place where ambitious politicians go to further their careers, or when their luck runs out here perhaps? Is it a place where rebels are sent as if to a plush, carpeted Siberia? Or a place where a true visionary can shape the future? And can their voice be heard in such a vast arena? Is it a necessary evil or a great institution? Is it the source of hope and integrity or is there something 'rotten in Denmark?' The EU's biggest test is coming – Brexit. (BR)
I am not really aware of how it does. National institutions do better. (ENC)
It often looks like ‘jobs for the boys (and the girls)’ as far as our MEPs are concerned. We have one MEP who is not afraid to question the status quo, and that is Clare Daly. In this context, I’d like to mention that I recently posted a poem relating to the imprisonment of a Telegu-speaking poet in India, Ravarara Rao: https://cafedissensuseveryday.com/2020/07/21/poem-letter-to-india/. The poem was published in Irish, English, Greek, German, Spanish, French and Latin. It was published on a platform called Café Dissensus. This may sound like turkeys voting for Christmas, but I actually believe that the EU should promote multilingual platforms for dissent. Why not? (GR)
As I am not even too sure how the EU presents itself in Ireland, I am going to say they could probably do with being a little more visible. (JC)
I think the EU is seen as the preserve of the elite. I don’t necessarily agree with this, but I have had the benefit of having been able to afford third level education and have access to a career with many opportunities to travel. (JT)
The EU suffered reputational damage in Ireland during the financial collapse because Ireland was obliged to pay unsecured bondholders so that French and German banks did not suffer. The point about unsecured bondholders is that it is a gamble. There was no obligation to refund them. However, to a certain extent that reputational damage was reversed during Brexit negotiations when Ireland’s concerns about the impact on its shared border with Northern Ireland were respected and supported. The EU could do more outreach, however, and cultural engagement is one way to achieve that. (MD)
This is a great question but one I find very opaque to answer. My gut response is that I don’t know how the EU presents itself in Ireland. I would be hard-pressed to give you an example of its material representation. I see the name ‘EU’ on signs for urban renewal or transport infrastructure developments, where it is listed as a funder, which – depending on how I feel about the project – might be a good thing, and I know its main offices are in Brussels, and I’m aware of it as a cloudy conceptual thing that we are all part of and that I more often than not feel a vague but primal sense of belonging to but also feel slightly separate from. A bit like my ideas of God (the father part) when I was a kid. I know that there are rules and regulations, and some of them I agree with and some of them I don’t.
When I read election literature or op-eds in Irish newspapers, I get the feeling Irish people think of the EU as a faceless bureaucracy which is on the whole fairly benign (mainly if it helps ‘us’ stand up to the Brits), and which can be tapped into for money, but which might be dangerous if it takes away ‘our’ sovereignty. When the troika in 2009 came to town to ‘rescue’ Ireland after the banking crisis, there was a really strong feeling, very adversarial, towards that and to the EU as spawning it. There was a lot of anti-German sentiment around in particular, the idea that the German bondholders were hanging Irish citizens out to dry. This pushed my own quarter-German buttons. But I could see there is truth in that, if you take the national identities out of the sentence. The banks were bailed-out and there was no public consultation of the citizenship around that process.
In terms of the most visible representation, the logo/sign on the information boards saying x or y has been funded through EU money – I think on the whole people think that’s a Good Thing. But the flip side is that it is easy here to think of this type of funding as a right, not a privilege, and therefore not be grateful for it.
My sense is that there is a suspicion around the EU – not even a smidgen as vitriolic as in Britain, but lurking there nonetheless. Irish people are suspicious about being part of a bigger collective because of our historical associations around being colonized. We were the lesser-than in that relationship for centuries, and I think there is a fear if we don’t watch out it will happen again. Which is, in some ways, not seeing the full picture, that there are huge inequalities right now, not necessarily a consequence of our ‘sovereignty’ being eroded by the EU – though some people might argue differently, that EU-led neoliberalism, austerity, Maastricht, Nice, have actually compounded inequalities in Irish society, and if ‘we’ had been left alone, this might not have happened. I am not so sure about that. Structures of inequality aren’t only a colonial legacy, they have been strengthened by policy choices in post-colonial Ireland, including pre-EEC and pre-EC Ireland. Take the Boom – did ‘we’ behave the way we did then because of the EU and neoliberalism? Or were there other layers of causation behind that? Ultimately it was great for some people, but for others, it shoved them under the carpet and left them with nothing. For others still it offered an opportunity to ‘live the dream’ without in any way questioning what that dream was based on, or whether it was the best dream for Irish society as a whole. There was no attempt to really unpack what the consequences of trying to live that fantasy would mean, and we are still paying for that now. (MG)
It could – and should – be presenting itself in a more confident way. I recognize that as a federation of nation states, the sense of the EU can be eclipsed by stronger state-centred voices, representatives, cultural and political power. It would be interesting, however, for the EU to be represented in a more assertive way and in material forms, and for its work and influence to be projected so as to demonstrate its continuing impact on citizens’ lives. (NH)
Not at all well. (NND)
Some Irish politicians have made the EU approach to Brexit negotiations seem combative. In Varadkar’s BBC interview in January 2020, he said, “The reality of the situation is that the European Union is a union of 27 member states, the UK is only one country. And we have a population and a market of 450 million people. The UK, it’s about 60 million. So if these were two teams up against each other playing football, who do you think has the stronger team?” Likening Brexit negotiations to a football match has clear implications – each team is out to beat the other. The EU is presented here as having a ruthless will to win. (RJ)
Hopelessly ineffective, its representation seen as largely self-serving and to the extent that it impinges on public consciousness, which is very little, almost entirely concerned with parroting economic initiatives and directives which have been in any cases thoroughly reported in public media. (TD)
When Northern Ireland had three MEPs, I am not sure that there was widespread appreciation of their work. (WE)
It should embark on an education programme to counter the hostile discourse of the Right. (WW)
16. Will Covid-19 fundamentally alter our lives in Europe and beyond? If so, what radical new chances/structures might emerge?
I am worried that the children of working-class parents will suffer in terms of attendance and exams. I am worried that all the channels of mobility through the system – libraries, the theatre, music venues, universities, galleries, will be eventually lost and closed to a large portion of the population, i.e. the poorer paid. And this loss of access to the Arts and culture will be the greatest diminishment. Money to create outlets should be made available. (AD)
A vaccine will alter everything. It would be nice to think that the world will prove to be a kinder place, but human nature being what it is, I’d hazard a guess and say we’ll all revert right back to our dog-eat-dog ways when this is over. (BR)
I laughed out loud when I saw Ursula van der Leyden apologize ‘from the bottom of my heart’ to the Italians for not helping them when help was needed. I think the relief that will be felt when Covid is over will mean that, at least in the short term, people will want their old freedoms back and won’t want to think too much about ‘radical structures’. (CT)
Epidemics are nothing new. We are in a better position than earlier generations as we can use science and technology to research cures and protect vulnerable people. I don’t see a fundamental change. (ENC)
I am afraid of making any prophecies here. I think the consequences might be so dramatic that we won’t really recognise the world we knew before this pandemic. I have a feeling that it is just starting and it is a bit precipitated to make any assumption. I am not very optimistic about it, but maybe it is my Russian-ness, and the inclination to be a pessimist in general. (ES)
Working from home is a good idea. Frees up acres and acres of city centre offices for affordable housing, cultural centres etc. (GR)
The biggest change which springs to mind is the limitations it will place on travel. Much of my work comes from teaching and reading in different countries and Covid-19 has made this increasingly difficult. Much has been learnt concerning how to move the literary offer online. I have now taken part in over 80 different online writing events since Lockdown began. On a plus side, I’m pleased to be reducing my carbon footprint and losing the expense of travel has helped put budget back into creative and diverse programming. (I can now be paired up with writers from all over the world at festivals and events). I have also seen a rise in inclusivity with people attending events from a much wider geographical area and access for people with disabilities and other issues has greatly improved. However, I would be sad to lose the opportunities to explore other places and spend time in real life getting to know my fellow writers from across the continent. (JC)
It should encourage bold decisions of climate action. Who has missed business flights for one-day meetings? I fear, however, that the financial consequences will hobble bold decision-making and fresh investments. But maybe old systems will be swept away in the coming years among the readjustments. (JM)
I can’t see any positive outcomes from the current crisis. The K-shaped recession will widen the already gaping gap between rich and poor. Without a move away from neoliberal capitalism and a shift towards a fairer, more socialist economy, there will be widespread poverty across the continent in the coming years. My fear is that this will play into the rise of the far right. (JT)
I have an idea that we are entering a new geological age. It offers a fantastic opportunity for non-human species, and I wish them well. For humans, it has been good to realise we don’t have to travel as much or to go to real life meetings, even if they were good environments in which to let your mind fruitfully wander. At online meetings, you can do a whole bunch of stuff at the same time, with the camera off, and then just type ‘thank you everyone’ at the end. We’ll probably do at least 50% more online than before Covid, even if we can socially interact again. And even though being onscreen all the time makes you alienated, jumpy and, actually, a bit vain. (LF)
We will travel less, Zoom more and work from home more. I miss travelling to European cities and public cultural events. Zoom is fine for bread-and-butter meetings but does not offer satisfactory hosting of theatrical events or literary discussions. They require the magic and unpredictability of in-person interaction.
There have been more cyclists during Ireland’s lockdowns, partly for recreation and partly to avoid public transport. Local authorities have fast-tracked cycle lane plans, which makes Dublin more appealing to cycle through, and this may prove to be a long-term change. If employers are open to people continuing to work from home, some may move out to rural areas which would regenerate dying villages. So that’s another plus. As a result of the pandemic, some businesses will collapse and some will thrive. The law of the jungle applies here, as elsewhere. Will we learn from it? I’m not hopeful of sweeping structural change but individuals may modify their behaviour in small ways. (MD)
I talk about this in my essay for Kaleidoscope 2 – basically I think/hope it will, but I have no real idea how. I’d like it to usher in a fairer, greener way of living – but one that also takes into account our debt as Europeans to indigenous peoples in both hemispheres. (MG)
Ireland was already quite dependent historically on EU and ECB funding. It is something that Britain has often accused us of – i.e. benefiting from European ‘handouts’. I would imagine that the younger Irish workers who currently work very hard and strategically, will recreate some of the dynamic lost by the recession of 2008 but without the folly. Ireland no longer views itself as the beggar at Europe’s door, and acronyms such as PIGS which prevailed some years ago were ignominious and culturally patronising. The slow struggle to emerge in our own right as citizens of our own nation sometimes seems to have been effective, while at the same time Ireland has been interested in moving out into the world beyond its shores to explore basic questions such as advancements in infrastructure, agriculture, and negotiating what we may have to offer to Europe. (MO)
There is nothing good about Covid: that much is clear. But we have to gaze upon the ruins it has left and see what can be rebuilt, and built better and differently. As glanced at above, we need fairer financial arrangements and institutions, including more equitable taxation; but also a greener environment, with fewer aviation incentives, and better and swifter railways. It also seems to me that we must look at our healthcare arrangements, and in particular at the role of big pharma in all our lives. Governments have largely relinquished control of pharmaceutical development to the profit-driven private sector – while continuing to fund such development through universities and other research institutes. But there is surely no reason why Europe and its states cannot take a decisive role in medical developments, the better to control safe and fair access to medicine – and to the vaccines of the future. (NH)
I would hope not and I would hope that most things return to some semblance of normality, i.e. we return to regular in-person poetry readings, art galleries etc. I think the only major difference is that we will be holding more Zoom conferences than before. (NND)
The changes brought about by events as dramatic as Covid-19 are not always apparent, even for a long time afterwards. Gutenberg’s printing press, for instance, dramatically changed the history of Europe and the world (making that history accessible and therefore meaningful and debatable); but it was the bubonic plague of about the same time that left so many millions dead on the streets of Europe that their harvested clothing could be utilised to meet the continent’s new appetite for paper. An unsavoury thought, but a reminder too that the engines of change are not in any one pair of hands and are always a complex weave of factors.
A year ago the prospect of schools going entirely online, of democratic governments ‘meeting’ at a distance, of sports stadia accommodating only a handful of players against a background of pre-recorded applause would have been almost unthinkable. But we acclimatise to and accommodate change. That is one of our great talents as a species, and one of our great weaknesses: a talent because it gets us through almost any dire situation, and a weakness because it often persuades us that things are inevitable, thereby absolving us of the need to change course when change might still be possible. (PB)
Hopefully Covid-19 is a short-term problem, but I am concerned that it will allow governments to snoop on our lives through apps. On the positive side, we should take the chance to cooperate with Europe on vaccinations and the exchange of medicines. There is also an opportunity for countries to cut down on international flights and reduce pollution. (RJ)
There are massive contradictions to be worked out once the pandemic passes, or at least is brought under a semblance of control: we have seen a retreat inside the borders of nation states on a governmental and popular level, and at the same time a broadening through the levels of civil society of the perception that we are all, citizens of the planet, in this together. (TD)
Covid 19 has fundamentally altered our lives. It has made at least some people more introspective, rooted in one place, isolated. Restriction on mobility has made many people value even more than previously their experience of other countries. (WE)
I don’t think it will make a radical change, though I think we’ll be wary of social gatherings and public events for a while. Epidemic diseases tend to disappear over time, especially where vaccines are developed. I think a requirement to have a vaccine certificate before flying will speed the immunisation programme and deprive the virus of hosts and it will gradually die out. In addition, new therapies will develop that will make it a less lethal illness. However, in the short term, the next two or three years, I think the changes we have seen recently will have to remain in place – less crowded public spaces, hand hygiene, perhaps mask wearing. (WW)
17. Post-Covid-19 Ireland, like other member states, may become more dependent on EU and ECB funds. Would this be a good or a bad thing?
Since Germany has a fantastic reputation for its support of the artists, that is a good model to follow. (AD)
It is neither a good nor bad thing, it is the right thing. We will need help to survive Covid+Brexit in whatever shape or form it comes in. (BR)
When the pandemic will be over, we might find a very different world that we would never imagine or recognize. I just hope it will be over soon. (ES)
Bad thing? If it is needed, it’s a fact, whether good or bad. (GR)
I don’t think dependency on anything is a good idea. There should be a structured in-depth strategy for utilizing the funding offered with a view to eventually becoming more independently resilient. (JC)
Democracy works because it has the rude ability to turf out complacent and corrupt leaders. The displacement of power to funds in this way is bad for Ireland, and for everyone. (JM)
The shame of Ireland’s Bailout at the hands of the IMF and the ECB still weighs heavily on many people. Ireland already has a high dependency on EU subsidies in our agricultural sector. Unfortunately, these relationships of dependency tend to foster resentment rather than gratefulness. (JT)
This is a bad thing. We should borrow from the markets and not the ECB. Accessing ECB funds is a signal that the market won’t lend to a sovereign state and leads to a loss of confidence in that country. Essentially, it is an acknowledgement that the state can’t borrow money from elsewhere. (MD)
Depends on the conditions attached to the funds, and on how broad/generous the vision behind the funding is. If it is just to get everyone ‘back to normal’, then I think we’ll run into problems sooner or later. ‘Normal’ as European citizens have lived it up to now is, as far as I can see, the basic capitalist principle of striving for continuous (unending) economic growth. Endless growth as normally practiced gobbles up resources and floods the biosphere with emissions which will, if unchecked, make it impossible for us to survive in the way we currently organize civilisation. Therefore ‘normal’? Really?
If the funds are designed to usher in real change, then who knows. Fine Gael, still in power even though the majority of people didn’t vote for them, are so used to the language and practice of neoliberal austerity (tighten belts of the disadvantaged, give opportunities to big business) that I wonder. I don’t agree with everything David McWilliams writes – a week or so ago he had a piece critiquing ‘job creation’ as government policy, arguing that jobs can only be created from entrepreneurs making products that people buy; whereas I think, whatever my reservations about the incoming government, that there is an urgent need to both create, and assign greater value to, work in services which don’t involve anything being actually sold (e.g., elder care, homecare, infrastructure maintenance, biosphere-tending). What Engels I think called non-productive labour? But McWilliams did have a good piece during the recent government negotiations about how Paschal Donohue needs to let go all that austerity stuff – the reduce-the-deficit-at-all-costs stuff, which has resulted in slashed public funding and the sell-off of public, citizen-owned resources to private interests over the last eleven years. The money available now will be at practically zero interest rates, McWilliams argues, so ‘we’ should use it without banging on about ‘having to pay it back’. It made me think why don’t we think about paying it forward instead, to those who need support and infrastructure most – not just in EU member states, but globally? And again I can sense the cynic (in me, maybe?) saying yeah, right, that won’t happen. But who knows … (MG)
These funds derive ultimately from our taxes, and so the money is not drawn from some distant well – but is ultimately ours. Emphasis must be placed on transparency and accountability: but there is nothing amiss in principle with funds awarded and spending taking place at European as well as national level. (NH)
A good thing. (NND)
Like an M.C. Escher lithograph in which everything seems to be ‘on the level’ but is, in fact, impossibly sustained in three-dimensional space, the circular path of lending and borrowing, of taxation and financial supports can only work in isolation from the rest of the world. One wonders how such a closed system of agreements and balances (welcome though they may be), even if possible over a longer period, can work in the wider conversation of the global economy. As the US Dept. of Treasury routinely prints money to stave off one or other disaster, is Europe unilaterally to reach for a similar fiction, without reckoning with how it might change relationships farther afield?
But we are in a new world and one in which new things must be explored. To avoid an entirely one-sided, dependent relationship (as can so easily emerge) smaller countries like Ireland should and must look to their own resources, to their own contributions, to their own modest but meaningful bowls of shamrock, as it were, which may yet change from being merely symbolic to being a call for ecological courage, for sustainable living, for the kind of green economy we have long trumpeted but have done little of significance to see made real. (PB)
Non-directive funding of programmes under national control, inside an agreed common framework but with room to manoeuvre on the local/state level would be a good thing. What would be insupportable would be a choke-hold on the direction of funding in the interests of the larger states. (TD)
18. What does the future hold for the European Union? Can you imagine a European Union where nation states matter less and the EU becomes the primary political structure EU citizens relate to?
The problem will be if the EU Parliament or Commission is seen as a party of elites – that will not be an advance. What is important is the local state (regions, councils) and their relationship with other regions in Europe. (AD)
I hope not. I am Irish, European, and a citizen of the World – in that order! (BR)
I can. Well into the future perhaps, and possibly naively, but I can see a configuration in which nation states command less of an emotional hold on people. Not in such a way that a universal, dominant European structure and sense of identity replaces the national, but so that identities become more in tune with direct action and connection at a local/communal level, administered by a larger, flexible, collaborative, peace-seeking entity that is comfortable with its inherent multiplicity. (CM)
No, I can’t. I think this is an important question. The roots of most nation states in Europe go back centuries and were nourished or gnarled in many different ways. The European Union is an umbrella that was recently put up and it is not a root. A great number of people in Europe now have a hyphen in their identity – French-Algerian, Turkish-German, Moroccan-Spanish, Polish-Irish – but no one would dream of putting the word European into that equation. If the EU seeks to supplant the nation state in the European imagination, it will always fail. So better not to try. (CT)
Not really, because of linguistic & cultural diversity. (ENC)
As a Utopian Anarchist, I would hope to see the eventual decline of all major powers, globally; conflict is inevitable once major powers begin their age-old games of jostling for influence, inspired by envy, greed, ego-mania and other weakness inherent in our make up as human beings. (GR)
I have no idea what the future looks like for the EU. I thought Brexit might encourage other EU members to consider leaving but the British government have made such an absolute mess of the process I don’t think they have encouraged anyone to leave and Covid-19 as you’ve rightly pointed out will leave countries more dependent than ever on EU funding and leadership. (JC)
I would like to imagine this, because I think outdated ideas of nationalism are the scourge of contemporary politics, often forming the basis of racist and xenophobic ideologies. But for a country like Ireland, still experiencing partition and with a long colonial legacy of cultural erasure, it is difficult to make a case for the relinquishing of a national identity. (JT)
I am not wise enough to know what the future holds for the EU, though I think it is now as important as it has ever been. I think in times of that ultra-nationalist, isolationist or protectionist thought, we need ambitious projects like the EU. We need to see that we are stronger when we cooperate, happier when we feel connections with other people, more confident when we are curious about other cultures and keen to share our own idiosyncrasies and lessons learned. An entity that acts for the benefit of all of its members, with particular emphasis on protecting and enriching its smaller or younger members, seems from this angle to be a force for good. Which is not to say something so bureaucratically complex is faultless or immune to corruption or human error.
I can’t see us getting to the point of reliance on the EU so much that our nation states matter less. If anything, the rise of ultra-nationalism proves that on a very deep level people need to feel part of a tribe. In times where people become unsure of their identities, or easily convinced their identities are under threat from corruptive forces, we all need to acknowledge rather than attempt to erase the fact that we are social beasts and we need to belong to an identifiable group. It doesn’t have to be twisted into isolationism or xenophobia or supremacy, but rather can be encouraged towards benevolent pride in differences and a welcoming attitude to people looking to learn more or even join up. I don’t see why this kind of benevolent nationalism can’t coexist very beneficially with the much more pragmatic bureaucracy of the EU. A nice kind of yin and yang, no? (LMc)
An EU where nation states are downgraded in importance is a dreadful idea and will have negative consequences – our separate identities matter to us. I don’t believe citizens would identify with the EU in the same, close way they do with their own countries. Hybridity is the EU’s strength. It is the salad bowl principle rather than the melting pot – discrete ingredients which nevertheless contribute to the flavour of the whole. In Ireland we understand it is possible to be Irish and European and value those dual, complementary identities. (MD)
Only if it is a globally just, environmentally pro-active entity. One that prioritizes real equality – in terms of social rights and access to resources as well as economics – amongst both its citizens and citizens in other jurisdictions. One that works to build structures that support a vision of society as a dynamic, fair, interrelated system where health, well-being, fulfilment, clean resources and a greater sense of our relationship (as a species) with the biosphere and other species are enshrined (through policy and action) as indicators of our ‘wealth’, just as, if not more powerful than GDP.
But equally I think it is important not to lose sight of the local. Regionalized and local governments can work in ways that centralized governments can’t; they can sense the mood music of their citizens faster and respond faster. How do you combine the local with the supra-state (the EU as aspirational political state)? Beats me but it will be interesting to watch, if our species survives in organized societies that long. (MG)
Being from the North where my experience as Roman Catholic had been a very beleaguered one it was and continues to be eye-opening for me to see cathedrals like Notre Dame or Chartres operating as the spiritual centre of the community. Protestants in Ulster get very irate if I compare our treatment even in a small way with that of European Jewry but there was ostracization, resentment, discrimination, a feeling of repressing one’s faith if one wanted to fit in. My brother was head of the Catholic Students Society at Queens in 1969 as well as prominent in the People’s Democracy but left the country for a more tolerant environment in Canberra and Dunedin. So while poets from the Republic were talking among themselves in fluent Irish I would be wondering what time Mass was. When I did visit Auschwitz and the haunted railway lines of Eastern Europe it was a blinding revelation as to the weakness of our terrorism. Yet I still, even though the violence has ebbed, investigate and research the meaning and validity of living on the edge of a minority.
As for children, like many people now our children have met and married people we never could have imagined. My son has an Italian wife so their girls are bilingual. They go to Italy a couple of months a year but mainly speak English at school here.
My idiosyncratic style was never easy but after the mid-1980s when I left my teaching post and became a professional at the university teaching creative writing, I naturally developed a more complex detailed imagery-dense method, certainly in reaction to the European voices I had discovered, also in connection to my own maturing as a female but most of all trying to make sense of the trail of blood around us, the nightly bombs and murder victims, all of which made my work incomprehensible to an English audience while acceptable to an Irish press and those on the Continent who had suffered greater mysteries. (MM)
Occasionally, I imagine a European Union where the EU itself is the primary political structure most EU citizens relate to. But I cannot imagine national boundary loyalties and distinctions being obliterated or whitewashed into oblivion, nor do I wish it. Each nation unconsciously retains a legacy of historical struggle towards philosophical virtue in the Aristotelian sense, and indeed in the Cartesian sense (which imbues the French even when they do not realize this), not to speak of an ideal of democratic freedom. The EU is a beautiful ideal – enterprising, sometimes intelligent in its interplay with other nations, potentially even more creative. At times, things have run badly amok. I anticipate that with the arrival of greater and greater numbers of refugees, that the EU, while continuing to provide a safe space and possible permanent habitation for many, will nonetheless need to chisel out a few basic requirements of commitment to any host country on the part of the newcomers, e.g. an acceptance of European customs, a willingness to learn a new language, in other words to do the things that would be expected of Europeans if they were to live in some of these countries of origin.
Finally, some of the EU’s bureaucratic interventions have not always been useful or welcome. At its least effective, it tends to over-customize the workplace in an attempt to unify procedure, health, and safety. When it triumphs, however, it respects the human tribe and its differences. This respecting of difference, whether one refers to LGBTQ issues, Traveller Community issues in Ireland, refugees or any other group where equality has been in question – including the right to be binary, cis, trans, and also including the right to inhabit these versions of the sexual and gendered/non-gendered spectrum and self and be multiple, singular, conventional, conservative, bohemian, a little right-of-centre instead of left-of-centre etc. – is the aspect which I believe the EU will carry forward into the future. It is this which I value above all when I consider future generations and what they will encounter on our beleaguered planet. (MO)
The terms ‘local’ and ‘European’ are both categories with which we can engage emotionally – but we have to be able to feel a sense of pride and purchase in these terms. For example, I acknowledge the impact of European food-safety legislation on all our lives. I acknowledge the positive pressure placed by European environmental law on the nation states: it has been a progressive force in cleaning up our seas, our waterways, our land; and indeed, I would like this legal sway to be extended further – so that, for example, the blight of Sitka spruce mono-forestry in Ireland is stemmed or banned completely. And so on: the impact of EU legislation and regulation can be wholly positive. That said, it is difficult to place a degree of emotional investment in an organization so taken with neoliberal economics as the EU; in an organization which handles migrant rights as badly as the EU – and so on. So, there is much to be corrected from a progressive-politics point of view: but there is a firm foundation of good will, on which much can be built. (NH)
Yes, there is a worry that as Brussels becomes more powerful, the EU will listen less to its smaller member states and especially to those that it considers to be peripheral to the EU. It is therefore vital that we all have our say. Because of the EU, Ireland is no longer a neutral country. This is concerning. (NND)
I like Ireland, am (mostly) proud to be Irish and happy to live and work here. I have now lived most of my life in Dublin, but I am also proud to be a Laoisman, through I haven’t lived in Laois for thirty years, and if I travel from Dublin to Laois (an epic odyssey of some 80 km) there is little except a small roadsign to tell me I have made it, safely, back. Many of my non-Irish friends are amused by this fixation on province and parish in the Irish mindset, and entertained even more when I tell them that the small GAA hurling clubs of Clonad (the long field), Camross (the crooked wood) or Clonaslee (the roadside pasture) among others, though just a few kilometres apart from each other in my native county, are the fiercest of competitors when it comes to the much coveted County Laois Senior Hurling Championship Bob O’Keefe cup. As one can see in club and county hurling teams, it is not true that being a member of a larger group in any way dissolves or breaks the bonds of these more intimate gatherings. Before Ireland became Ireland it was an island made up of innumerable small kingdoms, each jostling with its neighbours for space. And perhaps that jostling is seen still in the behaviour of players on the hurling and football pitches. Were Ireland still only the self-effacing, somewhat comical minor actor on the world stage that she sometimes imagines she still is, then absorption into a stronger EU network could only be bad news. But the relative strength of the country, its increased confidence over recent decades (including its ability to send out to the UN and elsewhere some of its strongest voices to represent both its own citizens and those less fortunate elsewhere) means it has less to fear than it has to gain, and as much again to contribute.
In Ireland, a well-knowing saying has it that “all politics are local.” This is usually read as a warning or caution against political ambition which, in the end, will be measured by a politician’s performance on a local scale. The local then is the obstacle to national or international ambition. But as the poet Patrick Kavanagh reported in his famous sonnet “Epic” about a local falling out, the ghost of Homer reveals that he in fact made The Iliad out of “such a local row.” It is not, it would appear, the scale or volume of the contribution but its authenticity that determines its lasting value.
As long ago as 1936, G.B. Shaw wrote, “If any religion had a chance of ruling over England, nay Europe within the next hundred years, it could be Islam.” Evidently he was seeing changes and possibilities long before they were widely noticed. So much of what we think of as the history of Europe is arguably the history of religions, of their expansions and retreats, of theirs wars and their begrudging compromises or outright defeats. European Islam is little discussed, to a great extent obscured behind the smokescreen of Islamic terrorism.
Yet if we can be so oblivious of large-scale changes around us, what chance do we have of seeing the smaller degrees of change that will in time come to define what Europe is and may yet become? In the mid-1990s I spent a month at an artists’ retreat in the Swiss Alps where the subject of the conversation on more than one occasion was ‘eco-terrorism’, the notion that defenders of the animal and plant world might have to resort to violence against the powers that be, to force them to change their ways. It seemed, in a way, like science fiction – at the time.
The new energy of the Black Lives Matter movement throws renewed focus on Europe’s own empirical past and exploitation, and raises questions about the wealth on which so much of its cultural achievements are founded. Sixty years ago, the French West Indian political philosopher Frantz Fanon was writing: “Europe's well-being and progress were built with the sweat and corpses of blacks, Arabs, Indians, and Asians. This we are determined never to forget.” Again, to some, this seems like new news, like a reckoning that was never seen coming.
Social media has undoubtedly added to the erosion of the public’s faith in politics, by times exposing politicians as flawed, inept, and sometimes downright corrupt. It has shown itself to be easily manipulated and corrupted, to be an echo chamber and a medium in which poisonous whisperings can travel the globe in seconds. That is at its worst. At its best it reminds us that the wider ‘organism’ we call Europe is far more complex than any study might suggest or convey.
This last point is the one that can yet inspire us to good and even great things, despite the challenges ahead. For if we can manage to defend the freedoms of our citizens, to resist calls for the restriction of religious practice, for the abdication of our responsibilities in terms of civil liberties and human rights, if we can ensure the continued networked complexity of Europe (against the dangerously reductionist philosophies of some of the world leaders), we still have a union that can grow and evolve and surprise.
Humans have been living in and around woodland for millennia. One would think there was nothing else of significance to be discovered. Yet only in the last decade have scientists studying the make-up of oak and pine forests realised that, underground, all of the individual trees are in fact connected to each other through a stunningly complex network of ectomycorrhizal (EM) fungi, a network responsible for delivering specific nutrients to one species of tree in exchange for the nutrients required by another. That all of this has been happening, pretty much forever, and within a few metres of us when we walk through a woodland (let alone when we spend our lives studying trees) is extraordinary. At a time when Brexit, Trump’s Mexican wall and so many other dangerously reductionist philosophies seek to impose the political equivalent of monocultures on their citizens, it is also a timely reminder of the power of diversity. As the architects of Europe’s great cathedrals, and Islam’s stunning mosques before them, discovered, though looking up perhaps rather than down, not for the first time can we learn how to proceed by turning our attention to the natural world. (PB)
It is this way in Romania, which would have slipped back into dictatorship if people did not feel that the EU supported the rule of law, and that they were not abandoned. The people of Hungary and Poland must feel this too, that EU membership is a choice, but also that it entails obligations on the part of rulers of nation states. (PO)
All empires collapse so the ultimate future of the EU is disintegration (as it will be for the UK too), but in the meantime every other country in the EU will be watching the fate of the UK after Brexit. However, as the British economy is already damaged by Covid-19, it might be hard to assess the Brexit impact for some time. One thing is sure – there are exciting and volatile days ahead!
I don’t ever imagine a European Union where nation states matter less than one primary political structure as the EU is really more interested in trade deals than becoming a military superpower to rival the might of China, Russia or the USA. I think as long as the EU keeps expanding and gaining new members to the east, there will be a strong impression of progress, but Russia will feel threatened enough to keep trying to undermine the EU. (RJ)
No, I cannot imagine this. Definitely not in Ireland. Our Irish identity will always be the foremost consideration. (RO)
No. Absolutely not. A federal Europe whose strength lies in aggregating diversities? That might be possible if the major states can transcend their hegemonic ambitions. A European super-state, with a transnational government? Never. (TD)
Much as I might like to imagine the European Union as an alternative to the nation state, I cannot see it happening soon. (WE)
I think that is already partially underway. But I don’t think the nation state will disappear or be devalued. Even in a place like the USA, the state legislature is still hugely important. In Italy, regional government, and even local government, is still the citizen’s first and primary encounter with the state. I think the EU will become more important in our lives but it will not supplant local legislatures. (WW)