On 6 and 7 June 1999, I had the pleasure of interviewing Declan Kiberd in Morgantown where, for the past three days, he had conducted a seminar at West Virginia University, Translating Tradition: Irish Writing Past and Present. What follows are selections from that discussion. [...]
SS: In the Irish Studies chapter in Inventing Ireland, you indicate how important you think it is that people in the North and the Republic know and use the Irish language. Im wondering if your thoughts have changed about that since 1995.
DK: No, I dont think that its changed all that much. I was never one of those who believed that those who dont know Irish are somehow less Irish than the rest of us. My father didnt know a word of Irish, and I certainly am not removing him from the constituency. I do think, though, that most people who speak Irish have a cultural self-confidence which is admirable and in no way chauvinistic.
SS: Thats a lovely phrase, cultural self-confidence. It seems very clear, from my limited observations, that Irish speakers do have a kind of self confidence that people who have no knowledge of the language do not. That is a very interesting point.
DK: I believe, for instance, that if more people from the unionist population were to realize that Irish belongs as much to them as it does to nationalists - and historically it was spoken by their ancestors as much as it was spoken by anyone else - this could be a priceless possession for them. I mean they would understand, for instance, how deep are the reserves of the culture thats available to them. This is a problem that they are having at the moment, because they are caught in an anti-English posture; theyre fretful and fearful that the English will betray their contract with them. But at the same time they have to keep saying that the roots of their meanings are in English culture. So theyre dependant on the very thing they increasingly distrust.
Now this is, of course, a problem that Douglas Hyde dealt with in the 1890s in his lecture on de-anglicization, when in many ways he anticipated post-colonial theory by saying that it is not the same thing to be English as to be anglicized, and that those who were anglicized were very often caught in patterns of psychological extremism. For instance, anti-Englishness was far more virulent, as it still is, among those who were rather anglicized than it was among, say, Irish speakers, who tended to be at home with themselves and therefore easily able to cope with cultural difference. If you go to Belfast at the moment you would often get very virulent anti-English outbursts, say, from a taxi driver who happened to be unionist. So that the pathology Hyde described as pertaining to many Irish people in general in the late-nineteenth century is specifically applicable now, I think, to the unionists.
One way to soften it is to think in terms of the Irish language. For example I read a book recently called Mise by a man called Colm Ó Gaora, an autobiography in Irish by a native speaker from Rosmuc, who was in the Gaelic League, and was also involved in the Uprising against the British in 1916. He made the point that nationalism - and he was a recruiter for the republicans - never made headway in the Gaeltacht areas because the people didnt feel any need to prove their Irishness. They were Irish anyway. But when the recruiters went into County Meath and County Kildare, which we still conventionally think of as very anglicized counties, even in their terrain, even in the look of their villages, they got lots and lots of takers. So it=s as if the idea of a flawed mimesis, of an incomplete anglicization, co-exists with an anti-English feeling and has done repeatedly as a syndrome through the last century.
I suppose that what I get around to arguing is that a knowledge of the Irish language might actually prevent some of the xenophobia and chauvinism and, if you like, anti-Englishness, of which certain people in Ireland are sometimes accused. Its also obvious that people who knew Irish would have a better understanding of the roots of the way Irish people speak English, of how Hiberno-English works on a template that is based in the Irish language. Even for people who dont know a word of Irish and speak Hiberno-English, it would give them a greater cultural perspective on the words they use.
SS: I have been endlessly impressed with Frantz Fanons delineation of the three stages of moving away from colonial status - assimilation, nationalism, liberation. I wonder how you see the Republic, the North, and - since you have mentioned the possibility that England perhaps is the last of the British colonies - England in those terms.
DK: In terms of the Republic, which is the society that I know best, we are obviously on the cusp between nationalism and liberation. When the state forms were inherited in 1921-22, they were so uncertain that most of the early leaders spent all of their energies simply defending them rather than transforming them or modernising them, with the result that nationalism went into a kind of stasis. This is one of the tendencies of nationalism, to seek uniformity and to override real differences. So that people in minority groups who didnt form part of the main script tended to get edited out whether they were Protestants, women, Travelers [Irish gypsies], whatever. A kind of bogus unity was forged in order to make the state seem more secure than it was, and a clientelist, brokerist politics was practised to secure the allegiance to the state of those whose support might be considered doubtful. So it had very corrupting effects, not just in terms of the treatment of minorities, but even in the kind of politics that we practised. At the present in the Republic, the state is utterly secure, and the argument is not with the state as such, but maybe about its incursions into peoples private lives at certain moments. I think we are ready to move beyond monotone nationalism into a recognition of all the voices, the rich plurality of voices that are to be heard in Ireland and have always been available if only we could have listened. That is the move towards, in Fanons terms, an enhancement of the expressive freedom of the individual, which is, of course, his version of liberation.
Yes, you are right to include England in the question because England has been caught in that second nationalist phase, probably for centuries. But sooner or later it will have to move on. I mean, Fanons thesis is that nationalism wills its own supersession. There will always be elements in, say, English culture doing that, but first of all, before they can do that, they have to know themselves fully as a nation. Witness the point I made to you earlier: you cant give it up until you know what you are giving up. I think that is probably more true of them than of people in Ireland. Irish people are actually much more relaxed about Europe and the European Union, because theyve been able to cope from the basis of what they are. I think one of the reasons a lot of English people have problems with that is because they dont. Mrs. Thatcher obviously was completely convinced that social democracy in Europe was really a kind of Catholic plot sponsored by Jacques Delors and the soft-left liberal wing of continental Catholicism. Even though this is never officially stated in British discourse, there is a kind of sectarian element to the British reservation about Europe, because Europe is seen as primarily Catholic or neo-Catholic in its thinking. Of course, its easier for people in the Republic from a Catholic background to identify with Europe.
SS:Lets think, now, about the Belfast Agreement. June 30 was the deadline for reaching agreement on decommissioning. I dont understand why it became such an issue when the Agreement indicates it didnt need to be moved on until 2000. Im wondering about how this issue is functioning in terms of the Agreements holding, or not holding. What do you make of decommissioning?
DK: I was initially surprised that it was in the Agreement at all because historically no prior group of republican insurrectionists has handed over guns. In the more recent past, the Official IRA, which became, eventually, the Workers Party and then the Democratic Left, and now has some of its members in the Labour Party in Dublin, moved from paramilitarism to political activity without handing over a bullet. Some of their former members are now calling on the Provisionals to decommission, but they never decommissioned themselves. If you go back to the 1920s, it is well known that Fianna Fáil in 1927 entered the Dáil and at least some of its members carried revolvers in their pockets, because the previous year one of their leaders had described it as a slightly constitutional party - slightly constitutional in the way one can be slightly pregnant. They never handed over guns. You would search the world and find very few instances of people who have, in those conditions. So I was surprised it was in the Agreement. Im not opposed to it, I think its perhaps a useful symbolic gesture, and it will only ever be a symbolic gesture. I mean, no one is ever going to hand over all the guns and bombs. It is really a gesture to the unionists, by the other side: but one that is very hard to make.
I dont, by the way, see it as a surrender, because it isnt as if there is no other alternative. When people hand over their guns in a situation of surrender, its because they usually are cornered and are about to be marched away as prisoners. These people would be about to enter government and perhaps become ministers of education, and so on. These are the people who said for years they were going forward with the ballot box in one hand and an armalite [rifle] in the other. In a way, the ambiguity of the current situation is a reflection of the ambiguity of their recent campaigns. So they cant complain utterly about it. My view would be that they have not been defeated, and that that is implicit in the fact that they are about to enter government. Ergo, they should not see the handing over of a few weapons as surrender; they should see it just as part of a process. Now, Im not an IRA person, nor was I ever a supporter of the IRA or Sinn Féin, so Im trying to enter the mindset. And I think the mindset would be that this would be a surrender of appalling proportions, an admission of a defeat that never happened and an implicit rejection of comrades who died in the fight. Were talking about macho people whove lived with guns and bombs for many years and who in one way could make the case that if they are to hand over their guns, why dont the British army do so, and why doesnt the heavily armed unionist population, the majority population, do so? So it is a hugely difficult issue.
You asked me why it became an issue now. I think it became that because David Trimble proclaimed it one, and he is the chief minister, in potentia, in the new executive. He is the leader of the mainstream Unionist Party. There are two ways of viewing that proclamation. One is to say that this man, like all unionists, is ultimately incapable of imagining the sharing of power with the minority population, and the closer it gets to that eventuality, the more he invents excuses to postpone that moment. That is a widely held view in the Northern minority population, among many people who are not IRA supporters, and I would feel that there may be some truth in that analysis. On the other hand, it has to be said that Trimble, like all politicians, has a constituency with which he has to deal, and which he has to bring with him. I would believe him when he says that his constituency is just not able right now to bear the spectacle of Martin McGuinness as a minister for education, without Martin McGuinness having been seen to hand over a gun or two beforehand.
SS:I dont understand the issue at all, because both sides can go right out and re-equip themselves. So whats the use?
DK: Thats the intelligent human response. What matters anything else, so long as the guns are silent? Its as simple as that, and I think that the discipline shown by the republicans in keeping their guns silent has been impressive. If I were Tony Blair, or Bertie Ahern, or Bill Clinton, it is to that that I would mainly be responding now, to the fact that those people, who had been involved in terrorism, have shown a kind of discipline of which any political party would be proud.
SS:Ever since the partitioning of Ireland, cross-cultural institutions have been devised that would try to bring together the North and the South. But every time the North, in some way, has been able to disable the cross-cultural institutions from becoming a reality. Do you think that the 1998 Agreement is going to be able to foster cross-cultural institutions that will really be workable?
DK: Obviously, I would hope so. A strange thing about Ireland is that a lot of cross-cultural activity happens by stealth rather than overtly. Not just cross-cultural activity but real cooperation of a practical kind. Im thinking of the fact, for instance, that the northwest region of Derry and Donegal is logically a unit for the purposes of touristic promotion, and has been promoted in that way, over the years; or, for instance, that energy supplies could straddle the border between County Down and County Louth and might be on a unified grid. This could all be happening without officialdom necessarily noising it from on high. In that sense, theres been a great deal of cooperation. Ive even heard of Northern Irish farming lobbies, which have asked the Dublin Minister for Agriculture to argue their case for subventions in Brussels or Strasbourg, these lobbies having seen how well these people have made the case for the southern farmers in the past. So there is a sense in which this kind of activity at an informal level has been going on.
Now, the North-South institutions, if you like, would in some way formalize those arrangements and I think they probably will work if people in the North realize they are for their practical benefit and will lead to economic and cultural gains. Some of the elements in the Agreement are much easier to imagine implemented than others. For instance, in cultural terms, the idea of parity of esteem being given to both the Irish-language speaker and the exponents, say, of Ulster-Scots dialect doesnt seem to pose huge difficulties. It might mean endowing, for instance, more chairs and lectureships in the universities in Ulster-Scots, because certainly theres been a lot less academic activity about it than there has about the Irish language. There would be obstacles in other areas, but they wouldnt necessarily even be cross-border obstacles. I think, myself, that education is hugely important if youre to transform Irish society, North or South. In the North, in particular, the opposition to integrated education is massive, and it comes not just from political extremists, it comes from the very hierarchy of the Catholic Church. Some of the Catholic bishops have been quite scathing about integrated schools, despite the fact that everyone knows these integrated schools are an honorable attempt by liberal, decent people to make, if you like, the multiplicity of traditions in Ireland available to their children. So I think there could be problems there.
On the other hand, its very important to achieve integrated courses in Irish studies in schools, even if the schools retain their sectarian affiliation, especially if the schools retain an affiliation with one or other tradition. It would be imporant that, for instance, school children in nationalist areas would be exposed to, say, the writing of Swift or Yeats or the great exponents of the Protestant tradition in Irish culture, and that, equally, children who attend schools in unionist areas might know a bit about the Blasket Island writers or Gaelic folk traditions, and so on. That kind of work is a logical implication of the Belfast Agreement, which thinks about identity as Irish or British or both. It would be very important to insist that this flow, and flow very quickly, from the Agreement.
SS: Id like to think more particularly about where the Republic is now in terms of expressive freedom for groups that in the Republic have had a difficult time. Youve talked a little about the Traveling folks. Im thinking also about lesbian writing which has not found a happy reception. What about expressive freedom for people who have fallen outside traditional cultural boundaries?
DK: Ive said that one of the problems there was the attempt to manufacture a spurious sense of unity, a bogus consensus that constituted the nationalist project and wished away all troubling internal differences. I think that people now are much more relaxed, and theres less hysterical insistence on that particular agenda. In fact, there may be insufficient insistence in some ways on that agenda at the moment. But its almost as if there are three narratives: the global one, the national one, and the local. Of all those three, the nationalist is the weakest at present. As the Europeanization, globalization process continues, so also does an increasing identification with ones local history, with local writers, even with the continuing culture of a region through local radio, and so on. There have been lots of very vibrant presses, local poetry societies, local history societies, in Ireland for the last ten or fifteen years. So that the breakdown of the national narrative into its local elements has expanded not just the expressive freedom of individuals but of entire communities that might have felt cut off in some ways or estranged. Its important to say that because that freedom has been won not at the expense of community, but often by people within community. It is a very hopeful element in our culture at present.
Now, the specific groups you mention are very interesting. Id say that the position of Protestants in the Republic is now far more respected, understood, and legally protected than it was in the past. Of course, there are far fewer Protestants, and thats a tragedy. But nevertheless, in terms of religious minorities, a lot of Protestant people are active in politics and dont feel any sense of strain. We had three Protestant TDs or MPs in our parliament in the last few years - and some Jewish ministers in government. We dont notice the fact that theyre Protestant or Jewish most of the time, but when a question like this is asked, one does. I think what it shows is that these worries have all but evaporated, the kind of worries expressed by Yeats in the famous speech on divorce in the mid 1920s when he objected, in the name of the Protestants, to the legislation brought in by a narrow-gauge administration. Now, I would say the same about gays and lesbians. I think that the position of gay and lesbian people is far more secure and far more fully understood than it was ten years ago. Ten or fifteen years go, you would still read in the newspapers about so-called queer-bashing, that sometimes a very unpleasant attack had been perpetrated on a gay person in a park late at night. Just a couple of years ago, legislation to decriminalize homosexual activity was passed by the Dáil with no murmur of dissent from any significant social force.
SS:Which is more than we can say for the U.S.
DK: About the Travelers, I wouldnt want to be so sanguine. There are huge problems. Many communities behave with something approaching racism towards the Traveling community. I think this is a class question, in the end. Most Protestants are middle class. It so happens that, rightly or wrongly, the image of gays is middle class, because the ones who appear on TV arguing the case are all highly educated, articulate, respectable people. The Travelers are seen more as an under class, or even an out class. What that shows you is that the process of embourgeoisification, which has overtaken Ireland in the last ten or fifteen years, has allowed a more tolerant approach in the classic tradition of middle-class liberalism on certain issues but not on others. The Travelers are the test case, there.
Of course immigrants would also be a test case. Most Irish people are genuinely interested in the culture and values that people bring from Romania, from Turkey, from wherever, but there is an unpleasant undercurrent of racism in some inner cities, in some of the politicians who represent poor people in the inner cities, against people from other countries. It may be that as more overseas people settle in Ireland that will get worse. Personally, I dont believe it, because one of the great qualities of Irish people is their genius for assimilation, their genius for adaptation to other peoples cultures whenever they emigrated, but equally, that capacity to take in what seemed initially discordant elements and make them their own.
DK:Declan, youve been incisive in analyzing the cultural work that Irish literature of the nineteenth century and of the twentieth century up to the 1950s has done. How would you talk about the cultural work being done by contemporary Irish writers? How does this differ from the work of writers who published before the Republic was well established? I am thinking here of something you wrote in your chapter for The Oxford History of Ireland: modern Irish artists seem all too like the more conventional bards of classical Ireland, all too willing to reflect rather than to interrogate current state policy. That statement was published in 1989 and I am wondering if it still seems an accurate assessment.
DK: Well, the situation has changed a lot even in the decade since 1989. Weve had a period of great affluence in the community and this has to some extent been shared in by artists. The society itself has changed very rapidly as a result of this affluence so that one needs constantly to reassess what one says. For example, at the present moment if you are a young Irish writer of novels, its a very good time. Youve a good chance of being picked up by a prestigious London publisher, given a generous advance and certainly published and well marketed. Compare that with what Patrick Kavanagh wrote at the mid-century: I have never been much noticed by the English critics. Or even think of the struggles of pretty significant figures like Austin Clarke and Tom Kinsella when they were young, to get that sort of outlet. So in some ways its easier now to be an Irish writer; its not just that there is no censorship at home, but there is a good market at home for your books of a kind not available in the old days.
Its also that overseas there is a demand for Irish writing. Its sexy at the moment to walk into an office in London and proclaim yourself an Irish rather than a London writer. I think that does have large-scale implications. For example, weve seen at one point in the spring of 1998 in London, nineteen or twenty plays by Irish authors simultaneously going on in London playhouses, perhaps allowing the English in an oblique way to explore their own unadmitted national questions but also, I think, appealing with their storytelling art to a community in which storytelling may be beginning to die as a form. So in all these ways writing is much more encouraged than it was and to that extent it is more official than it was.
The point Im making is, I suppose, that people like Clarke and Kavanagh, by virtue of the position from which they began, were oppositional and were more likely to write satire on a regime that was very possibly going to censor some of their work. The relationship was adversarial. It was more like the relationship of the continental European intelligensia to its establishment, more like the Sartre-Camus approach, whereby the intellectuals saw themselves as the internal opposition in a state. Weve gone from that to what I would call a more British style model, where they then seem, at times, to be extensions of the state apparatus as often as they are critics of it. I dont think that is entirely a result of the existence of aosd~na, or the tax holiday for writers, though some people have argued that the tax holiday had the effect of co-opting artists and making them extensions of the body politic, or that a group like Aosdána did that. I dont think thats true because Aosdána has an independent charter which allows the writers to hold what opinions they like or express what opinions they like without necessarily being disciplined by any political group.
But I would still risk the generalization that literature before 1950 was more satirical, more oppositional, more willing to engage critically with the powers that be than it now is. However, I think thats also a global phenomenon because there is an increasing privatization of art and of everything, and the experience rendered in many art works is so personal as to seem an avoidance of the political on occasions. I think, though, in the phrase to interrogate current state policy, current is the important word there. To me, the great difficulty of contemporary writing in Ireland is in fact to realize the present moment; there are very few books being written about whats happening now. There are lots of books being written about ten years ago, twenty years ago, forty years ago. There is an obsession in Ireland with the recent past and particularly with outing its failures and liquidating its cultural agendas. Its almost as if people can only make themselves feel that they are modern and living in the present by doing this, by looking over their shoulder and producing a book about those earlier themes. But what I really want is an interrogation of the present moment; in the words of Harold Rosenburg, to excavate the present. I still dont see that happening widely in our art. In fact, the strange thing is, its happening more in criticism. I wouldnt often say that the critics were in any area ahead of the artists. But I think there are attempts in the criticism of people like Luke Gibbons or Emer Nolan or David Lloyd to try to get a handle on whats going on now in Ireland.
If you contrast that with, say, the days of Sean OCasey, I mean when one of OCaseys plays was put on in the Abbey, they had to put a note in the program saying that any gunshots heard during the performance were part of the play and not to be assumed as coming from outside, which showed you just how contemporary the play was. This was a play, of course, that responded to the very recent experience of the war of independence and the civil war. One doesnt see major plays responding to the hunger strikes within a five-or ten-year period. Maybe it takes people longer now to sift the meaning of an experience, maybe you need a whole generation.
SS: In that same chapter of The Oxford History of Ireland, you use the phrase the subversive potential of truly great art. Im wondering if you would want to apply that phrase to the work of any current Irish writers. Im especially interested in the subversive nature.
DK: I meant subversive in the internal sense of an art work which might even agree to subvert its own code at some late point in its development because Ive always believed what D. H. Lawrence said, that all good art contains the essential criticism of the code to which it finally adheres. I do think there are contemporary Irish writers who do that and who are able to question - by framing devices - the very art they deliver. I would name Brian Friel as a key exponent of this. Particularly in his use of the framing device of the narrator in a play like Dancing at Lughnasa, where once the narrative has been delivered, he has the honesty and genius to throw it into question and to admit that it may be more atmosphere than fact. That strategy is very like, say, Swifts at the end of Gullivers Travels, where Gulliver, who has delivered all these narratives to us, is suddenly revealed as a potential lunatic. The larger question must then be asked about the narrative.
More generally, though, I would think of subversive in a wider political sense. The great frustration in my adult life has been the shrinkage in the notion of Ireland. When I was a boy listening to the All-Ireland Finals in the 1960s on the radio, messages would be sent to Irish people in Brazzaville or Seattle at halftime by the commentators, and you had a sense as you listened to the football game of being part of a global community of Irish people. Now one of the effects of the Troubles and of the revisionism in history writing which followed them was a determined attempt by many Irish journalists and even historians to shrink the identity of Ireland initially just to the Island, to the five-million-odd living on the Island and subsequently to the three and a half million in the Republic, the point being that we should not even claim the one and a half million up North, let alone anybody anywhere else. We should accept, in the words of one of the young writers of the time, the inherited boundaries, and that anyone who tried to move beyond that was guilty of some kind of emotional imperialism.
Now I never agreed with that analysis. I always felt that one must subvert literally that analysis and that the really interesting artists were the ones who refused to accept that shrunken version of Irish identity. I would name both Friel and Heaney as having played a crucial role in that challenge. Friel was pivotal by virtue of his location near the border in Donegal but also because he travelled in and out of Derry across the border every day as a leading member of the Field Day Company. He seemed to epitomize that challenge in almost a physical way by breaching the border many times a day, but he breached it also in his art because that was clearly addressed to people on both sides of the border and was in fact an attempt to imagine a time when there would be no border. This was the meaning of the whole fifth province of the mind towards which Field Day worked. So when Mrs. Robinson was elected president in 1990 and achieved that expanded definition of Irishness with her candle in the window reaching out to the diaspora, I felt then that the artistic agendas of Friel and Heaney had at last found a political embodiment.
SS: Would you want to speculate at all on what the next stage of subversion is going to have to involve for Irish art, assuming that the effort to expand Irish identity continues to be as large as one would want it to be?
DK: I think we have always had a talent for subverting any attempt to make any particular code official. I would therefore think that the subversion likely to emerge in the next twenty-five years might well come from religion even more than from art or it might come from an alliance between certain forms of religion and certain artistic movements. Im thinking particularly of the role increasingly played by some of the left-wing clergy of Catholic and Protestant denominations in political agitations, whether its picketing the American Embassy because of the bombing of Iraq or whether its an attempt to compel a local community to behave more justly to Travelers. There is no doubt that the institutional churches are now in a virtual minority situation of a kind that has often appealed to avant-garde artists and will increasingly do so. There is also no doubt that those men and women who are choosing to become priests and nuns are making a very deliberate, considered, thought-out option rather than simply following a kind of career path which might have been available to intelligent girls and boys in the past. There is a real commitment involved. It is to the idea of a minority church, a sort of catacomb church, an insurrectional church, even.
SS: You observe in Inventing Ireland that the combination of emigration and the consequent breakup of families led 1930s Ireland to define the family as the basic unit of society. Now in the 90s when the emigration pattern has reversed and, as I read in the New York Times, more Irish are returning to Ireland to live than are leaving it, Im wondering what you think defines the basic unit of society.
DK: A great number of those returning families are returning because they believe Ireland is a good place in which to raise your children through the teenage years, the years of high pressure. So in one sense, the Ireland to which they are returning in their own minds is one that still places a high premium on the family and on family life. I think many of them will probably be quite disappointed by what they find, which is a society not very different from the one they may be leaving, whether its in the United States, Britain, France, whatever. Ireland is extremely like many of these other places now, and I suppose thats the answer to the question. The family was fetishized in the early years of the Irish state, and I think its true to say it was fetishized often by leaders like Eamon de Valera, who officiated over the disintegration of many rural families broken up by emigration, by economic hardship, seasonal migration, and so on. So that this almost became the myth of compensation. We know in de Valeras own case, in terms of his own personal history, that he had his own private demons to exorcise and his own personal reasons for wanting to believe in the family as a very intact, nurturing, loving, parental structure. That was, of course, what he did not have as a child, although he was very well looked after by his relations.
At the beginning of the century there was too much memory of the past and it was a good, subversive thing to forget a bit of it. In the earlier decades of this state, the family was super important and it was perhaps a good thing to ask some questions about that: how it worked, in whose interests it was worked. Now I would say, though, the problems almost the reverse: that the family may be in some need of ratification, not necessarily by artists, but by government. The government has tried to implement the kind of liberal laws we have in other developed consumer democracies which increase the freedom of individuals. I think people have got to a point now where they worry that this may be at the expense of social cohesiveness but also of the family itself. One shouldnt forget the subversive value of the family as such: it need not be a tyranny and can often provide a platform from which to confront all kinds of injustice.
SS: Im wondering about reintegration of the North and the Republic. Youve spoken frequently about the phenomenon of different speeds of development. The North is moving at a very different speed, now, than the Republic. Is reintegration is foreseeable in the 21st century?
DK: A short answer is I dont know. A modern, plural, liberal republic might not be the kind of place that would attract many unionists. We always hoped in our naiveté that that was what we needed to create in order to attract such people. It may still be so. I hope it is. Im beginning to think that the question of Northern Ireland can only be solved by a kind of political Buddhism. I remember once being told that when Buddhists play marbles, they always aim to miss and hope that they might hit the marble. I think in a way if Ireland were ever to be reintegrated, it might happen because people stopped consciously sweating and trying to reintegrate it. For instance, if the affluence in the South produced not just material comfort but also a genuinely social community in the ways Ive been sketching, I think most intelligent people in the North of Ireland, irrespective of their background, would want to be part of that. If people from the North toured more in the South, stayed more in guest houses, went to conferences, relaxed into the feel of that society, then they would realize that it is much less foreign to them than they think and far less foreign than contemporary Britain or contemporary England.
SS: Is that happening to any extent now? I know Catholics from the North tend to come down for the July unpleasantness.
Thats to escape the Drumcree crisis of recent years. I wouldnt say its happening yet, but when I was a student in the early 70s, many Northern unionists came to Trinity. I think the southern universities should all mount a campaign now, encouraging the children of Northern Ireland families, irrespective of their background, to study in the universities of the Republic. We have large numbers of junior-year-abroad Americans and Erasmus students from the continent. It would be crazy if we were taking people from all over the English-speaking and non-English-speaking world and not trying to have people from the North of Ireland. Equally, I think students from the Republic should go north. That is happening. There is quite a number of students at the University of Ulster who have come up to it from Dublin because they are particularly attracted by a specific course offered. One cannot overestimate the importance of all this for this reason: In the last twenty-five to thirty years of the Troubles, many children of unionist families have equated getting an education with getting out, literally. Somebody once said that the union has been lost on the golf courses of north Down.
Because, in fact, if unionism itself is to modernize and revise itself, it needs an injection of intellectual and emotional energy by educated young people of the next generation. But they, in the years of the Troubles, went to British universities, whether in Scotland or England, and they tended then to pursue careers in London or Edinburgh. I think that was a huge loss. It was a brain drain to the whole Island. We have to develop policies of university recruitment which encourage people to mingle more. One of the reasons this didnt happen traditionally in Ireland was - and its a big difference, say, from university life in Britain or the States - because people of modest family incomes tended to go to the university nearest their parents home and frequently to go as day students and commute to the house. That meant that it was harder for someone in the North to go south, although it was possible there because of the British grant system, and thats why people came to Trinity in the 70s. But equally, it was very difficult for people from Galway or Dublin to go to Belfast or Coleraine when they had the option on the doorstep. But it would be extremely useful now that this should happen. I think young people have reached a point where they expect to be away from home when they go to university and would welcome the liberation from parental control that that implies. Also, I think the South no longer wants to co-opt the North. The 94 per cent who voted to admit that maybe the six counties were as much British as Irish and were not necessarily to be reintegrated as a constitutional imperative - that should have a huge effect in allowing unionists to relax and to feel that no one is trying to dragoon them into anything they dont want to be part of. I think, therefore, I couldnt speculate on a date, and I actually believe it would be wrong to do so.
SS: I understand that. It seems in light of what youve been saying that really what needs to happen is the kind of forgetting of the past in order to just let the present continue to happen, and once thats gone on for awhile, it might be possible to speculate about economic and social reintegration, maybe not political reintegration for a very long time.
DK: I wouldnt want to forget too much of the past because its what got us to the point where were at, and we wont understand the present if we forget it. What I mean is, its important to remember why the IRA emerged in the early 70s and how it emerged and not to think of it merely as sort of a terrorist phenomenon of that decade such as you had with the Red Brigades in Italy or something. It was in its own way an overdetermined response to a feeling of economic exclusion and deprivation. The IRA didnt emerge because people read nationalist history books and were fired with hatred of the British. It emerged in streets and towns because people felt insecure in those streets.
SS: Would you say the same thing about the loyalist paramilitaries?
DK: I would. I would say that loyalist paramilitaries have emerged with increasing ferocity in the intervening period because of insecurity about their relationship with the British. I think that if you affect to bury the whole of the past, you actually increase those insecurities on both sides, because its almost as if you make people look like terrorists when in fact however awful the things they do and however unforgivable the ways in which they do them, theres always some kind of reason. Youve got to address the reason to remove the provocation and the violence. Having said that, I think people just need to move around more and learn more about one another. Many of those loyalist paramilitary leaders have been in Dublin since the ceasefires and have talked to the people at the highest levels there and probably realized that these are decent people with whom they could do business and not necessarily horned enemies. But the problem is the rank and file: How many of them have been in Dublin? How many of them have come in to chip shops and talked to their counterparts? Very, very, very few.
SS: Thats so surprising, given the relative distance.
DK: Yes, Ive always believed, for instance, that if we were serious about, lets not say uniting Ireland, but uniting people, then the road between Dublin and Belfast should long ago have been widened and improved so that you could actually do the journey in less than two hours.
That would be a marvelous - not only symbolic - gesture of hope for the future. Has anybody broached that as a serious prospect?
They are constantly improving bits of the road, often with the help of European money on our side of the border and British money on the other side. There are still parts of it that are very narrow and very slow, and thats almost an image of the current condition. Its as if people say, Make us chaste, Lord, but not yet. They want to slow down the rate of change and perhaps they have reason for that. I would always have taken the view that the southern government, whatever the northern was doing, should have made the road very, very good up to the border and should have also provided money to encourage, say, Belfast theatrical groups or whatever, to tour in the Republic. One of the reasons I admired Field Day was because when they did a play, they went with it through rural towns and villages. They usually ended up in Dublin and Belfast but in the process they took in parish halls North and South, and restored to the community the idea of a really national theater that actually crossed the nation and was available in the most surprising places where professional plays had not been performed for maybe forty or fifty years.