In the latest of our Northern Roots series, where we speak to people originally from Northern Ireland but currently living elsewhere, our interviewee is Alana Finn.

 

1. Tell us about yourself. When did you leave Northern Ireland, and where did you go? What do you do now?

I’m 26 years old and I’m from Armagh. I left Northern Ireland roughly 14 months ago; I currently live in Berkshire in the South East of England, working for Vodafone as a Customer Experience Manager. For the last 10 months I was also Secretary of Newbury Labour Party and had quite a bit of involvement in the General Election campaign here.

 

2. What do you think when you see the Northern Ireland of today, in the news and on social media?

Honestly, most of what makes the news and social media in England makes me feel sad and embarrassed. Even the most trivial issues are heavily politicised along Nationalist and Unionist lines, and political controversies are consistently justified as equivalent retaliation.

I also feel that, particularly over the last 12 months, Northern Ireland’s history has been used as a method of political gain for parties in England. Often these stories present Northern Ireland as, although progress has been made, a place still deeply divided.

 

3. Are you hopeful for Northern Ireland’s future? Will Brexit make a difference?

I think Brexit is going to make a massive difference. We still don’t know if border controls will be located around the Irish Sea, or if they will be between Northern and Southern Ireland.

The impact of either of these is huge. Border controls around the Irish Sea would effectively mean Northern Ireland having a different immigration policy to the rest of the UK, and having them on between the North and South would severely impact of the freedom of people to travel and work.

So am I hopeful… I think the answer is TBC pending the outcome of Brexit negotiations for Northern Ireland.

4. Do you think you will return to Northern Ireland? What could convince you to come back?

I moved away for career opportunities and a political environment that was more about policies and choices, than the colour of the leaflet.

That being said, I don’t think that our unique sense of humour and sarcasm can be found anywhere else in the world. I think that if big business continues to invest in Northern Ireland – but as somewhere to do business not cut costs – I could potentially be convinced to return. I’m not ready to say I will never return, but it certainly wouldn’t be in the next decade.

 

5. What can Northern Ireland learn from the place you live now?

The area I live in now is considered an affluent place in England. The high street is always spotless and the public gardens are always well kept. The road signs are new and clean, and there are markets on regularly.

Despite the idyllic look of the area: 71 of 76 schools are about to lose almost £6million by 2020, 126 teachers are due to lose their jobs by 2020, homelessness is increasing and the use of the foodbanks is rising exponentially.

Just because you can’t see an issue, doesn’t mean it does not exist. Just because something isn’t impacting you directly, doesn’t mean it isn’t impacting someone close to you.

 

6. If Northern Ireland had a president with sweeping powers, and it was you, what would you do?

My first action would be to stop the segregation of children in schools.

I am not sure how Northern Ireland can possibly progress and build a shared future when children are separated at the age of 4 based on their religion, and can remain completely separated until they turn 16 and will meet someone from a different community through work.

All children would attend the same schools, they would learn about all religions, and they would be taught Northern Ireland’s history to make sure it cannot repeat itself again.

 

7. What would you like to see more of on Northern Slant?

I’d like to see you interview some younger politicians from Northern Ireland in order to find out their motivations for getting involved in politics.

8. If you could ask Northern Ireland politicians (past or present) to dinner, who would they be? And why?

Terrence O’Neill – he was the last Prime Minister of Northern Ireland and many people attribute his liberalising of Northern Ireland with the beginning of The troubles. I think it would be fascinating to find out what his views on how Northern Ireland has changed, and whether he believes his actions hindered or helped progress.

Ian Paisley Snr – I’d like to hear more about why he changed his approach to Sinn Fein and Republicanisms, but equally why his starting point was so extreme. How could someone who held the views he did, end up best friends with the next person I would invite…

Martin McGuinness – my reasons are similar to those for Paisley Snr. Martin was an IRA member and someone who believed Ireland could only be united through violence. He moved from this extreme position, to being one of the more reasoned Republican voices and best friends with someone who said of Catholics “they breed like rabbits and multiply like vermin”.

 

9. Do you have a favourite quote, or mantra?

In my History class when I was 14, I came across a poem by Martin Niemoller called “First they came” and it has always stuck with me. If I ever feel nervous about expressing my opinion on injustices or bad behaviour, this pops back in to my head and gives me the confidence. I think it can be applied to almost any area of life.

First they came for the Communists
And I did not speak out
Because I was not a Communist
Then they came for the Socialists
And I did not speak out
Because I was not a Socialist
Then they came for the trade unionists
And I did not speak out
Because I was not a trade unionist
Then they came for the Jews
And I did not speak out
Because I was not a Jew
Then they came for me
And there was no one left
To speak out for me

 

10. What’s your message for people back home?

Don’t segregate children from the age of 4 – let’s get everyone going to school together and interacting with each other from a young age.


Also published on Medium.