March 30, 2016

#NorthernIreland2016 Interview Series - David McCann

David McCann is a political pundit and deputy-editor of Slugger O'Toole. He is from Belfast and was educated at Ulster University where he was awarded as PhD in politics. Read David's political testimony, '1916 Rising and how it inspired me 78 years later'.

Brian John Spencer: "When did you first learn about the Easter Rising of 1916?" David McCann:
"I first learned about it from my Dad on a weekend trip to Dublin when I was a child. I was taken around some of the key buildings in the city that were occupied by the rebel leaders and was told about how the British army put down the rebellion. This was really the start of my interest in Irish politics and the beginning of my understanding of republicanism."
BJS: "Do the men, the act or the stated ideals in the proclamation mean anything to you?" DM: 
"Yes, the proclamation is the founding document of not just the republic but a statement of principles for Ireland to aspire to as a country. It’s hard not to be moved by the act of the 1916 rising, because for republicans from across the spectrum, this was such an important moment. 
In that sense for many republicans, Easter 1916 is the starting point from which people work from and the sense of an ideal not fully achieved spurs people on today. However, I do believe that sometimes sections of republicanism confuse values and policies. In 2016, it is perfectly fine for the values of fairness and equality to be at the heart of politics, but the policies should be relevant to a modern age."
BJS: "When did you first learn about the Battle of the Somme?" DM: 
"I first learned about the Battle of the Somme in my first year history class when we were taught about it as part of looking at World War One. I suppose, I was taught the basics of what happened and why, but truthfully it wasn’t until much later on that I became fully aware of its significance for Unionists and the impact on politics in Ireland."
BJS: "Does this act, the men and their determination to show their loyalty to Britain mean anything to you?" DM: 
"I ultimately take a respectful attitude towards this event. Whilst, it might not directly speak to me, I know for many figures within Unionism, it is a hugely significant event. I think it’s important to show respect from a republican point of view and build on some of the work that has been done over the past ten years in this area. I think it’s a huge positive that the legacy of World War One is addressed on the Irish side. 
Ultimately that is my approach, it may not have the direct meaning for me, but I know it means a lot to other people in our community and it’s from that vantage point that I frame my point of view on it."
BJS: "As a (Irish*) person, is the 1916 Rising important to you and your sense of identity and sense of belonging on this island?" DM: 
"1916 is an important starting point for me in my political beliefs. The notions of equality and self determination are beliefs that I still hold dear to this day and inform much of my thinking on many issues. What the 1916 Rising ultimately stood for was the notion that Ireland could and should stand on its own two feet and choose its own destiny. 
These values inform my identity as an Irishman, but I think that in a modern Ireland, our identity will evolve and our social constructs will change, which is not a bad thing. Diversity brings strength to a nation, stagnation brings insular attitudes."
BJS: "As a (Irish*) person, is the Somme offensive important to you and your sense of identity and sense of belonging on this island?" DM: 
"I wouldn’t say it has many identity aspects for me, but in terms of belonging of course it does. This was a major moment in our history that had huge consequences in Irish history. The fact that many people in Ulster were impacted by the Somme and so many people today still have a very close attachment to it has an impact on me."
BJS: "Will you be commemorating or celebrating either of these two events in April and July of this year respectively?" DM: 
"Yes, I plan to commemorate the 1916 rising at the state commemoration in Dublin on Easter Sunday. In terms of the Somme, I am actually planning to head to some events looking at the history of it. Depending on the event, I certainly wouldn’t turn my face against going to something that commemorates and examines the importance of this event in Irish history."
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)?" DM: 
"I think some of the events put on by the Irish state have been quite poor with the focus on some issues that are completely irrelevant to the Rising. I do have high hopes for the official commemoration on Easter Sunday. This is where the Defence Forces march down O’Connell Street and a ceremony takes place outside the GPO. These events are attended by the President and Taoiseach and are generally very well put together and respectful. 
In terms of Arlene Foster, I was happy that she went to the historical event in Dublin a few weeks ago. I was originally annoyed at her decision as I felt she was just ignoring an important event, but her attendance at the event in Dublin which examined the historical implications of the Rising was I feel a good step. It is important for all of us to at the very least engage and recognise the importance of both the 1916 Rising and Somme in our history."
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?" DM: 
"I think we have come a long way in a very short space of time. If you compare attitudes just a decade ago on some issues we have made some real progress, However, we still have a long way to go in becoming a proper cosmopolitan society that embraces all cultures and traditions. 
I thought that the referendum last year on Marriage Equality was such a fantastic moment, which really seemed to bring whole parts of the country together.  I think in Northern Ireland, we still have some way to go on these issues and we need to do a much better job of improving the tone of our political debates when we talk about Marriage Equality. 
In terms of communal relations, I think that Martin McGuinness meeting Queen Elizabeth was a positive step forward and building on events like this is important going forward for our country. I know on one level, these events are just symbolic, but showing leadership matters."
BJS: "What are your hopes for the future of this divided province and island? DM: 
"My hopes are that real unity of purpose and aspiration amongst all of the people on this island can be achieved. We all want our services to be good, streets to be safe and jobs to be secure, but we do stray off at times, focusing solely on those issues that divide us. 
I also hope that Northern Ireland can have an economy that is as enterprising and dynamic as the Southern economy. For decades, we have lagged behind with slow growth and low wages. If in the next Assembly, our political leaders take bold and brave decisions to do the hard yards that can make us economically successful, then we can have the resources to properly develop our local talent and improve opportunities for us all."
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