In the latest of our Northern Roots series, where we speak to people originally from Northern Ireland but currently living elsewhere, our interviewee is Thomas Madill.
1. Tell us about yourself. When did you leave Northern Ireland, and where did you go? What do you do now?
I am originally from east Belfast with family roots in Donaghadee and Monaghan. I’ve left home twice for work: in 1987 and again in 2014. The first time I moved was as a graduate to work on the building sites of London, where I stayed five years. Now I am married with two daughters and four grandchildren in Antrim; I work and live in the deserts of Kuwait as a civil engineer.
When I returned in the mid-1990s it was to a Belfast changing for the better, moving toward peace. My youngest daughter was a “peace baby” born just after the Good Friday Agreement in 1998.
2. What do you think when you see the Northern Ireland of today, in the news and on social media?
My last trip home was to take my daughter Emma to university in Scotland, she has matured into a great young woman with a bright future. My strong advice to her was to study hard then travel the globe. It’s an embarrassment the peace process is still in a sectarian time warp which has blighted our society for half a century. There will be little opportunity in Northern Ireland for some time.
3. Are you hopeful for Northern Ireland’s future? Will Brexit make a difference?
I blame London for promoting an entrenched sectarian loathing into every level of our society via self-promoting “street corner politicians”. Our democratic system needs hatred to survive!
I still have hope for the future of Northern Ireland; maybe Brexit could be the catalyst to break the stalemate and bring real peace and prosperity to ‘Norn Iron’. This will only happen if people have open minds and the vision to make good decisions for the future.
4. Do you think you will return to Northern Ireland? What could convince you to come back?
Growing up on the lower Newtownards Road I never thought I would every want to live anywhere else, watching Glentoran on a Saturday and working in a real nice part of the world.
People may think I am a Lundy if I say the only thing I think would bring me home is a united Ireland. I have no wish to return to building wee jobs begrudgingly released by the shambles that is Stormont and administered by legions of civil servants. The stress and rewards on this treadmill are not worth it. Were Brexit to trigger Irish unity, with huge international support, construction might need some mega projects to compete with where I work now.
5. What can Northern Ireland learn from the place you live now?
Despite all our troubles I know I am lucky where I was born. The abuses and treatment I see of other nationalities in the Gulf is sometimes disgraceful. A white face, good education and gift of the gab are serving me well in my new career. Oh, and of course always give way to camels when driving.
6. If Northern Ireland had a president with sweeping powers, and it was you, what would you do?
I would stop all state funding for the political parties of the past; SPADs, abuses of power, corruption, etc. by banning all elections for five years and diverting every penny I can into key services: education, jobs, health. Annual plebiscites have served no one well since partition except career politicians, civil servants and friends and family of connected organizations. Pin a flag on a donkey, it gets elected.
I would make all schools fully integrated inside ten years.
I would pour money into high tech engineering apprentices in Ballymacarret to stop spongers producing reports on underachievement of male adolescents in loyalist working class areas and instead deal with the problem. Bonfire builders, I know, make good engineers.
7. What would you like to see more of on Northern Slant?
Better digital media coverage, more satire and candidates standing for the Election in 2022 for the “Northern Party”. It would also be good to see community engagement; maybe periscope debates on a Friday from local schools on local and international affairs. Young people need a platform to break away from the past.
8. If you could ask Northern Ireland politicians (past or present) to dinner, who would they be? And why?
Edward Carson: to ask if he regrets sacrificing his own career for partition.
David Trimble: to ask what he would change to avoid the mess we are in now.
James Craig: to ask why in 1921 the Northern Ireland government rejected the proposal by John Andrews to exclude all religion from schools in the Northern Ireland state. Would 100 years of integrated education have made a difference by now?
9. Do you have a favourite quote, or mantra?
I educated almost 10,000 students in Belfast on STEM with my Titanic Schools Project before leaving for KSA. It was great fun. *Video included below.
Our motto was “History is not to eulogize the dead but to inspire the living.” I wish I knew who said it – maybe it was me!
10. What’s your message for people back home?
We deserve better than this, get educated, get out and travel the world.
Also published on Medium.