In the second of our Northern Roots series, where we speak to people originally from Northern Ireland but currently living elsewhere, our interviewee is Andréa Hanna. You can follow Andréa on Twitter @AlwaysAlreadyMe.
1. Tell us about yourself. When did you leave Northern Ireland, and where did you go? What do you do now?
I left NI when I received my A-Level results. I accepted my place at Durham University in the north east of England where I read Theology. I then accepted a government grant to train as a R.E. teacher at St Mary’s University College in Twickenham. Following my PGCE training I accepted a position as an R.E. and Philosophy & Ethics teacher at in Dagenham, Essex, where I taught for two years.
Once I realized living around London on a teacher’s salary was pretty untenable, I accepted a teaching position at an International Curriculum Centre at the High School affiliated to Renmin University of China in Beijing. I taught there for three years, and travelled around China and wider areas of Asia.
I finally decided I wanted to go back to grad school and get my MA and PhD, so I accepted a fully funded placement at the University of Pittsburgh, USA, where I am presently pursuing studies in Communication and Rhetoric.
2. What do you think when you see the Northern Ireland of today, in the news and on social media?
Fortunately, for quite some time, Northern Ireland has remained largely out of mainstream news media and, subsequently, social media.
I say “fortunately” because news about NI has historically been bad news. However, more recently there have been various articles highlighting the extremely conservative and downright questionable attitudes of NI’s DUP party.
I speak particularly about their ultra-strict anti-abortion stance, anti-gay marriage stance, creationist beliefs (and certain desires to have a museum exhibit of said creationist beliefs) as well as climate change scepticism.
I recall ‘cakegate’ which made major news headlines, and the [South Down MLA] Jim Wells’ quote about the so-called ‘dangers’ of gay adoptive parents. I also recall the DUP voting against gay marriage.
Many of these kinds of headlines make me feel dejected; the heteronormative, religious majority of NI feel they have the right to dictate the lives of others.
However, I also recall the NI fans’ patriotic behavior during the Euros which sent various videos viral and saw them awarded a medal from the Mayor of Paris. Such friendly and jovial behaviour abroad makes me feel proud of the example NI people can set.
An example of a fiercely proud, patriotic nation, but also a nation which is eager to be globally engaged citizens.
3. Are you hopeful for Northern Ireland’s future? Will Brexit make a difference?
I am nervous about NI’s future. The DUP campaigned hard for Brexit with beliefs that the fishing industry and farming will be regenerated. Both of which are yet to be determined by Brexit negotiations and may still limit the scope of fishing waters and quotas.
I also think the DUP have neglected to recall the amount of EU funding that literally rebuilt the country after the Troubles, when less money was forthcoming from Westminster.
I think, too, that whilst the DUP don’t want a hard border with the ROI there will be severe pressures on border security from NI to the mainland UK.
If the ROI remains the only land border between the EU and the UK, surely NI airports and sea ports will have to tighten security to the mainland?
4. Do you think you will return to Northern Ireland? What could convince you to come back?
I don’t see myself returning on a permanent basis to NI. I’ve lived away for the past ten years now and, given the recent General Election results, I worry certain tensions between republican and unionist communities may resurface.
After all, the DUP cannot think they possibly speak for all NI’s citizens. To even consider moving back, I would have to see massive progress in social policies, such as the legalization of gay marriage, abortion etc., and serious reaching across the table between unionists and republicans for a better NI, not just a better unionist or republican NI/united Ireland.
5. What can Northern Ireland learn from the place you live now?
Don’t elect a celebrity as First Minister.
6. If Northern Ireland had a president with sweeping powers, and it was you, what would you do?
Legalize same-sex marriage and have the first marriages at Stormont. I would reward the best NI football fans with top ministerial positions; they would be good for PR.
7. What would you like to see more of on Northern Slant?
I always like a good satirical piece. The days of the Hole in the Wall Gang were great at diffusing NI community tensions. I feel that with Brexit in the works something similar, in written/ visual form, with a specific NI focus would be well received.
Perhaps also a local focus, on what is going on/growing in cultural groups; food, music, nature etc., would show areas evolving in NI.
8. If you could ask three Northern Ireland politicians (past or present) to dinner, who would they be? And why?
Does St Patrick count? He’s meant to be buried in Saul, right? He got rid of the icky snakes and he’s responsible for creating all the Christian monks who would later reconvert England back to Christianity. Pretty big deal, politically, eh?
9. Do you have a favourite quote, or mantra?
It is what it is. Sleep before brilliance.
10. What’s your message for people back home?
There’s a world beyond Northern Ireland. Go see it. The Irish are probably the most liked people around the world, capitalize on that!
Also published on Medium.