I’m delighted to share my recent interview with Ciarán Hanna, Deputy Chair of European Movement in Northern Ireland. From Northern Ireland, but having lived in Poland and France, and studied European Studies, Ciarán was keen to share his thoughts.
Before we get to the interview, a word about The European Movement Northern Ireland:
The European Movement is a network of organisations that has mobilised citizens and advocated for a democratic, federal and enlarged union since 1948. The European Movement Northern Ireland is a not-for-profit, independent, all party and grass roots organization and is part of European Movement International.
The European Movement Northern Ireland’s is the country’s leading pro-European organisation. It brings together people who share a common interest in European cooperation in its widest sense. It is a non-governmental organisation owned and funded by its members. EMNI organises a programme of events – evening meetings and seminars, lunches and conferences – and publishes material to inform our members and the wider public about European affairs.
1. Please tell me where you are from, where you currently live and work, and what you do.
I was born in Co Antrim, Northern Ireland, and currently live and work in Belfast. I am currently deputy Chair of European Movement in Northern Ireland.
2. Which European languages can you speak?
3. Would you describe yourself as European? Is this important to you? Is your national identity more important?
Yes, my European identity is important. It unifies me with my neighbours, as indeed it should. I am proud to be European, and it is as important, if not more to me, than my Irishness.
4. When you think of the European Union, what is the first thing you think of?
5. Do you feel that living and working in the EU has made a difference to your professional career? How?
I was fortunate to move and live and work in Poland just over a year after they joined the EU. I was able to formulate a career in teaching English as a foreign language. I was able, through EU membership, to also teach and live and work in France.
6. Do you feel as though the European Union is beneficial to area you work in? Can you support your answer with examples?
EU membership allows us to cross a seamless border (to the rest of Ireland) only by membership of the Customs Union. This is taken for granted with meetings in Dublin, or people coming up North.
7. Does Europe inspire you professionally or personally? If so, how?
I am a history and European Studies graduate, and am aware of the devastating history of 20th century Europe. At the end of that century, I was so proud that we were entering a completely new era in European history. I’ve been to Oradour Sur Glane, and Auschwitz-Birkenau and while this played on my mind, I was committed all the more to reconciliation and co-operation that underpinned the EU.
8. What do you think of the result of the Brexit referendum in the UK?
Devastating. On many levels, not least for us in Northern Ireland. Northern Ireland was a net beneficiary of EU membership. Membership of the EU and the Customs Union and Single Market was vital to such a small island economy.
9. Do you think the EU helps maintain peace?
EU promotes stability and has brought relative peace and relative prosperity. The ‘Peace Fundings’ for Northern Ireland have promoted reconciliation since their inception.
10. Do you feel as though you have a lot in common with people from European countries other than your own? Can you give examples?
It’s interesting as there’s nothing tangible. I believe my knowledge of history and Europe helps me relate to people’s culture.
11. Are you involved in any campaigning activity related to the UK referendum result? If so, please tell me more about it. What would success look like for your campaign?
I was involved in fact-checking claims made on radio and TV programmes. I wrote letters in local papers and campaigned with Stronger In. Success would be to have a referendum on the final deal.
12. How would you feel about ‘ever closer union’ or a ‘United States of Europe’?
I believe that it could be an option for countries who did want an ‘ever closer union’. There should also be an option for countries not enthusiastic about this, like Poland etc. A kind of ‘two-speed’ Europe. I genuinely do not feel a ‘United states of Europe’ is a wise course at this juncture in European history.
13. Do you have a favourite place in Europe? If so, where is it and why do you love it?
I love France, the diversity of le paysage, the culture, the language etc. I’m not that well travelled and would love to experience more.
14. Which European national stereotypes are true, in your experience?
The Italians are always late, I think! The Irish take a relaxed approach to things, and have a culture based around alcohol. The French are very proud –arrogant-even of their food. They are quite right to be. Germans are very precise.
15. Where is the best place in Europe to drink coffee? What would you order?
You can get a nice coffee anywhere really. In France, I would have un café or un grand crème.
16. What do you think is the biggest challenge facing Europe today?
The rise of right-wing nationalism. However, the EU has to be seen to deliver for its citizens and create a meaningful prosperity, and this would not provide populists with a credible electoral platform.
17. Name a place in Europe you have not visited, but would like to. Why?
Barcelona. Everyone has visited this city have so many positive things to say about it. A city imbued in culture and a must-see for anyone passionate about Europe.
18. What do you think is the most significant moment in European history? Why?
1914 was a destructively significant moment when Europe went to war, which would bring down empires and the rise of sovereign European states, as well as the destruction that Europeans have vowed never to repeat. However, the decision of such countries, like West Germany and France to help create the EEC has, and will hopefully always be seen as significant for the history, and future, of the continent.
19. Do you think the UK will leave the EU in 2019?
My heart says no, but my head says yes. –Unless there is a vote on the final deal.
20. Are you hopeful for the future of Europe?
Despite Brexit, yes.