In the latest of our Northern Roots series, where we speak to people originally from Northern Ireland but currently living elsewhere, our interviewee is Carrie Hynds. You can follow Carrie on Twitter @carriehyndsLD.
1. Tell us about yourself. When did you leave Northern Ireland, and where did you go? What do you do now?
I initially left Northern Ireland in 2006 to study English Literature at St. Anne’s College, Oxford. The car was laden with books; we took the Belfast to Birkenhead ferry and drove down from there. I arrived as a travel-sick wreck!
After graduating, I stayed on for another two years, working as a digital schoolbooks production editor at Oxford University Press. I had a ‘boomerang year’ back to the family home in 2011, then moved to Brighton & Hove in 2012, where I work as a freelance editor and proof-reader.
I’ve always had a keen interest in politics, and after a lot of soul-searching I joined the Liberal Democrats in May 2015. I stood as the Lib Dem candidate in Hove in the snap general election on 8th June, which was a complete roller-coaster experience. I learned so much in seven weeks!
2. What do you think when you see the Northern Ireland of today, in the news and on social media?
What was interesting upon first moving to England was the discovery that there’s a completely different narrative here to what I’d grown up with. National news coverage usually over-simplifies things, as if Northern Ireland was a total war zone until 1998 and then everything became fine overnight. The Omagh bomb gets edited out and Tony Blair picks up more than his fair share of credit.
As a result, people’s knowledge of Northern Irish politics is really very shallow: few of my friends here had realised that until last month Northern Irish political parties were exempt from declaring donations, or that the DUP had voted against the Good Friday Agreement. But actually, on social media I’ve had a lot of great interactions and sensible questions about it over the past few months.
And it’s not all politics – I follow my favourite Northern Irish pubs, restaurants and other businesses on Twitter, and my social life’s a real mixture, so there are plenty of reminders of the excellent food, drink and banter. Conversations about Northern Ireland these days are just as likely to be about golf or Game of Thrones as the Troubles, which is fantastic. I miss the north coast – the English channel can’t compete with those Atlantic breakers! – so I feel a bit of a tug when I see coverage from there.
3. Are you hopeful for Northern Ireland’s future? Will Brexit make a difference?
Northern Ireland has huge potential but its people are often let down by its politicians. I’m worried about the lack of clarity on Brexit, particularly with regards to customs arrangements along the border, and David Davis has indicated that the issue won’t be resolved until late on in the process. It also concerns me that we’re going into the summer recess with no prospect of the Stormont deadlock being resolved. James Brokenshire seems completely out of his depth.
I am, however, hopeful that now Northern Ireland has had some recent attention on the mainland, we can get into a new era of debate. Labour MP Stella Creasy’s amendment to the Queen’s Speech was huge for me: a Westminster politician gaining huge cross-party support for championing the rights of Northern Irish women. Between that and the increased financial transparency of party funding, there’s a greater sense of normality. We have a real chance of making politics a more attractive area for young Northern Irish people to go into, which in turn will make for a better future for the country.
4. Do you think you will return to Northern Ireland? What could convince you to come back?
Northern Ireland has huge amounts of potential but also real issues, such as lack of mental health provision and ingrained areas of poverty, which never get to take centre stage. If we could focus on improving services, with a wider recognition that it needs to be an attractive place for people to live as well as visit, I’d be more likely to return.
5. What can Northern Ireland learn from the place you live now?
I think the learning process on this has already started, but the obvious answer from Brighton & Hove is not to fear or ridicule something just because it’s different or new. There’s a relaxed live-and-let-live atmosphere here, yet people are polite and friendly. You can definitely embrace diversity and still keep a sense of manners: people always ask after each other and thank the bus driver!
6. If Northern Ireland had a president with sweeping powers, and it was you, what would you do?
I’d first of all get on the phone to the UK government with two requests: prioritise the NI border in Brexit negotiations and appoint a Secretary of State for Northern Ireland with the right levels of interest and expertise for the role.
For domestic issues, I’d change the spending priorities to invest in health and social care, particularly mental health, autistic spectrum disorder services, nursing bursaries and GP surgeries. Once those crisis areas were stabilised, I’d look at long-term planning across the board including farming, the environment, transport, infrastructure and broadband services. With a bit of innovation, Northern Ireland can do a better job of retaining its graduates and attracting bright young graduates from elsewhere.
I’d like different areas of government to work more closely together; for instance, the education and employment sectors so that careers advice in schools links in with known skills shortages, and the housing and health sectors so that we have properly heated homes with fewer cases of diseases and deaths in winter. Sometimes investing money in one area is the economically right thing to do as well as the morally right thing to do, because it provides immediate help and prevents problems in another area.
7. What would you like to see more of on Northern Slant?
Perhaps a light-hearted section of things that make immediate sense to those of us who grew up in Northern Ireland but baffle everyone else! There’s lots I didn’t even realise was colloquial, like “doing the messages”.
8. If you could ask three Northern Ireland politicians (past or present) to dinner, who would they be? And why?
I’d love to have met Mo Mowlam – did she know what she was letting herself in for? She took NI politics by the scruff of the neck which is the right approach. If we’re going into the realm of death being no barrier, I’d have her over for dinner together with Michelle O’Neill and Arlene Foster. Chances are, they’d have restored power-sharing by dessert.
9. Do you have a favourite quote, or mantra?
My Dad, who passed away last year, had some great one-liners of advice. On politics, it was: “Nobody ever suffered from a speech being too short!” He was right.
10. What’s your message for people back home?
Get involved in whatever it is you want to do, even if it means starting before you feel ready. If there’s a club, society or business you want to join that doesn’t exist yet, why not set it up? I think there’s always potential to change things for the better; sometimes, we just need to back ourselves.
Also published on Medium.