In the latest of our Northern Roots series, where we speak to people originally from Northern Ireland but currently living elsewhere, our interviewee is Michael McGuigan. You can follow Michael on Twitter @mcmcguigan.
1. Tell us about yourself. When did you leave Northern Ireland, and where did you go? What do you do now?
I come from the famous Garvaghy Road in Portadown and was educated at St Patrick’s Grammar School, Armagh. I left Northern Ireland in 2008 to attend the School of Pharmacy at John Moore University in Liverpool. I am now the Chief Pharmacist for an independent chain of pharmacies in the Wirral, Merseyside and live in Liverpool City centre with my wife Catherine.
2. What do you think when you see the Northern Ireland of today, in the news and on social media?
I keep an eye on things back home and follow the likes of Newton Emerson on Twitter for a glimpse of the ridiculous goings-on and whataboutery that still plagues the politics of the north. I’m always annoyed at the fact that we have had relative peace since the Good Friday Agreement yet still there is no motorway linking up the whole country; arguments about flags, the past and the Irish language get far too much attention and money.
3. Are you hopeful for Northern Ireland’s future? Will Brexit make a difference?
There are rays of light coming through in terms of changing people’s attitudes towards one another, and projects like the Portadown People’s Park where I’m from are bringing communities together.
On the other hand, when I look at things like the Office of National Statistics’ calculations of annual spending per capita in Northern Ireland as compared to elsewhere in the UK and see that we get significantly more from the UK than most regions, it just seems to get mismanaged as the services and infrastructure are much worse.
Brexit will make a massive difference. The park I mentioned earlier was upgraded using money from the EU (£5.5 Million); I doubt the UK government will continue to provide the same or current investment levels in Northern Ireland. Money from the recent DUP/Conservative deal should be spent wisely.
4. Do you think you will return to Northern Ireland? What could convince you to come back?
Having married a Derry girl earlier this year we have decided we are going to return in the near future, say 3-5 years time. That being said, the decision still remains as to where. It will be hard to find a job that pays as well back home, but if the house prices remain as comparatively low as they are now that will be a big draw. We both went through the Northern Ireland education system and hope for the same for our children. Getting back into the GAA community would be another draw for me.
5. What can Northern Ireland learn from the place you live now?
Acceptance of culture is a massive thing we could learn. I watched my first Loyal Orange Lodge parade in Liverpool having been caught off guard on London Road one July morning, and had to admit I was impressed by what they did. The best thing about Scousers is their acceptance of every person who wants to be part of their city. I would love that to be said of Northern Ireland one day.
6. If Northern Ireland had a president with sweeping powers, and it was you, what would you do?
Invest massively in infrastructure, I.T, education and draw a line under the past. My generation caught the very last of the Troubles; I was 9 when the Good Friday Agreement was signed. Any money or time spent on the past is wasted.
Let’s get people jobs that pay a good wage, hospitals with realistic waiting times and transport networks that can get you somewhere in a reasonable time. When people have something tangible to focus on the past will become just that, the past.
7. What would you like to see more of on Northern Slant?
More of the same, I’ve really enjoyed the coverage so far and the 5 political points of the week keep me informed if I’ve kept my eye on other areas of news.
8. If you could ask three Northern Ireland politicians (past or present) to dinner, who would they be? And why?
Fellow Armagh man Ian Paisley Snr and Martin McGuiness. I’d question what deep down drove their hatred and what really changed their minds, and also if they regretted not getting to where they got to quicker.
The final person would be John Hume in his prime; I’d like to find out how he was able to influence so many polarised groups of people and help bring them together.
9. Do you have a favourite quote, or mantra?
Phil Lynott was once asked by a journalist what it felt like to be black and Irish. He quipped, “Kinda like a pint of Guinness.”
10. What’s your message for people back home?
All you need is love.
Also published on Medium.