Ahead of her upcoming appearance at the annual Scariff Harbour Festival next month, Derry born author, journalist and broadcaster Susan McKay tells Carol Byrne that Brexit “is an unnecessary block that has been put in the way of peace in Ireland but it will have to be overcome”.
SUSAN McKay has said “It is important to realise that awful as Brexit may be it is not the end of the world” and while economically is will be “disastrous for the North” the people of the island of Ireland will still be able to work together afterwards.
“Brexit, economically is just going to be disastrous for the North. It’s going to be problematic in terms of North South communications. My own preference would have been for a new referendum at a much earlier stage than this, but it all seems to be hurtling towards a pretty bad end at this point. But I think it is important to realise that awful as Brexit may be, it is not the end of the world, and we will still be able to work together afterwards and we have to commit to doing that. It is an unnecessary block that has been put in the way of peace in Ireland but it will have to be overcome, we don’t have any choice. If it is put in place then we will have to live with it,” she said.
Susan is to officially launch the Waterways Ireland Scariff Habour Festival on Friday August 2 at the Waterways Marina at 6pm and will deliver the annual festival highlight, a talk at Scariff Library on Saturday August 3 at 3pm. Here she will focus in on the border issue, Brexit, and the death of her friend Lyra McKee. She also welcomes audience participation in the discussion.
“I will talk about how important the North South connection is and I want to talk about Lyra McKee and how she stood for people communicating. Lyra was of the opinion that people needed to not be judgemental of other people’s level knowledge but to be constantly willing to talk about things” she said.
Susan and Lyra were good friends and a thread in Lyra’s writing prior to her murder in April of this year surrounded the level of understanding people in South had of the North.
“I think a lot of people in the North are quite shocked at how little people in the South know about the North. I think it is important to deal with that by talking rather than just by giving out about people in the South not knowing. So I’m looking forward to having that conversation,” she said.
The books Susan is probably most well known for include Sophia’s Story, which is about Sophia McColgan whose father was sentenced to prison for the serial rape and abuse of his children over many years in 1995. He had first raped Sophia when she was only six. The records a triumph of the human spirit in the face of the most degrading and destructive betrayal of trust.
She also wrote Bear in Mind These Dead, which is about the conflicts in the North and the legacy it has left.
“I will talk about the way that Lyra McKee wrote about that legacy, that she was from a younger generation who didn’t live through the Troubles but has still been impacted by it, so it shows how really crucial it is that we take every step possible to avoid a return to violence because it doesn’t just effect the generation that is there when it happening it also casts a shadow over future generations” Susan outlined.
The instability with the collapse of the Northern Ireland Assembly has in Susan’s opinion undoubtedly led to the unrest in the North.
“Creating a political vacuum is always risky in Northern Ireland and always has been. There is ample evidence that a political vacuum attracts violence. So I think obviously what happened to Lyra should represent a warning. This has been an opportunity for people who never accepted the Peace Process to insert themselves, and the same on the Loyalist side. You have seen a lot of belligerent talk in Belfast over the 11th Night bonfires,” she said.
The Derry born writer has said that for many the existence of a border had “all but disappeared in many ways”. While she said not in all ways by any means most people had become comfortable with that.
“That is going to change now and for border places like Derry, where I am from, it is going to be very difficult and for places like Enniskillen, which has the link with Scariff because of the Shannon. It is just going to become much more problematic because of the border,” she said.
Susan is currently working on her next book, which will focus on borders, rather than specifically the Irish border.
As a person who comes from beside the water in Derry in the far North West she is appreciative of the ethos and message behind The Scariff Harbour Festival and is looking forward to being involved this year and fostering those links through the Waterways.
Susan herself has always had a connection with the waterways, not only having grown up by the sea but now having settled in the Republic she now lives in North County Dublin right by the sea. .
“I think it is really really important to have an input from Northerners in the South of Ireland. I think it is brilliant to have events that actually note the friendly relationships which exist between Northerners and Southerners. The fact that the rivers run freely the length of the country and that I think recognising Ireland as an island with its waterways, its lakes and its seas is a unifying thing,” she said.
She enjoys meeting with people from the Republic in the North and in Enniskillen where they are enjoying the beautiful Lough Erne scenery. “For some of them maybe it is the first time they have come up there and people are often dazzled by how lovely it is”.
She said having looked at the long list of distinguished guests the Scariff Harbour Festival has had over the years she is really looking forward to the event and to being on Lough Derg and meeting people locally.
“I think it is a really commendable tradition to have Northerners down to open the festival, it is fantastic to be involved,” she concluded.