March 17, 2016

#NorthernIreland2016 Interview Series - Stephen Hillis

Stephen Hillis is a 40 year old married man with 2 young children. He was brought up in Belfast and Newtownards.  He then studied at UUC and attempted to leave Northern Ireland twice, firstly to the US and then London. "But I always felt the call to home," he said. Stephen has settled in County Antrim to bring up a family, working in Belfast. He said:
"I'm passionate about NI and am Northern Irish. I see huge value in this mixed identity and live in hope that we will eventually learn from our past rather than relive it."
Brian John Spencer: "When did you first learn about the Easter Rising of 1916?" Stephen Hillis:
"Family discussion, my grandfather hailed from Donegal and was very well versed in the history of this place. His family experienced significant issues after partition and carried these memories and often spoke of the time with facts and emotion."
BJS: "Do the men, the act or the stated ideals in the proclamation mean anything to you?" SH:
"It's an interesting and significant part of our island's history and I can understand why it is commemorated, although struggled with the celebration. I struggle with all celebrations of event where loss of life occurred."
BJS: "When did you first learn about the Battle of the Somme?" SH:
"School, and I was also brought up close to the site of the Somme Heritage centre.  The Battle of the Somme was taught in the same way as all our history lessons, unemotive, data heavy and very dry. There was no glorification."
BJS: "Does this act, the men and their determination to show their loyalty to Britain mean anything to you?" SH:
"Again the battle of the Somme is a significant event in our history, and I believe we should be grateful for the sacrifices made. Somber remembrance is important, but jingoistic celebration is not appropriate."
BJS: "As a Northern Irish person, is the 1916 Rising important to you and your sense of identity and sense of belonging on this island?" SH:
"It's a part of the rich heritage and history of our island, but does not bear any influence on my sense of identity.  Our islands culture is richer than ugly battles and blood shed."
BJS: "As a (British/Irish/Northern Irish*) person, is the Somme offensive important to you and your sense of identity and sense of belonging on this island?" SH:
"It's not offensive in any way, but has no bearing on my sense of belonging.  I appreciate it's importance in the context Of WW1 but it bears no greater significance than any other historical event."
BJS: "Will you be commemorating or celebrating either of these two events in April and July of this year respectively?" SH:
BJS: "Are you happy with the series of commemorative events put on by the Irish State? And what do you think of Arlene Foster's take on the events of Easter 1916 (she has refused to attend any commemorations)?" SH:
"I believe the Irish state are fully within their rights to commemorate the history of this island, and I happily support this. However I feel it would have been a gesture of significant power had the FM attended one of the Irish States commemoration. That said I respect her freedom of choice."
BJS: "As a person on (or from) the island are you happy with the where we are now at in terms of culture, cosmopolitanism and broad-mindedness?" SH:
"Civic society is streets ahead of the political classes, and I'm proud of how far NI has come, however we have a long way to go to ensure that all members of our society feel they have equality of opportunity and representation."
BJS: "What are your hopes for the future of this divided province and island?" SH:
"I'm hopeful for the future, but I believe it will take a few more generations before we really move beyond our legacy issues.  Until the our politicians reflect civic society accurately I believe we are hamstrung. Political apathy and parties devoid of innovation, will for change and courage will continue to hold us back. 
Thankfully there are younger generations coming through who understand we are in a global village and will force progression."
BJS: "Please share any further thoughts these questions may have stimulated." SH:
"Historical events are often hijacked for jingoistic and divide purposes and this demeans the struggles fought back then."
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