The state of us! Slugger’s panel at the John Hewitt International Summer School #JHISS23

John Hewitt International Summer School banner decorated with butterflies The John Hewitt International Summer School is back in Armagh towards the end of July. And Slugger O’Toole is running a panel at 7pm on Tuesday 25th. Details on how to sign up to attend in person on the John Hewitt Society website (ticketsolve).

If Northern Ireland had a mother, she might stop it at the front door and say, “The state of you! You can’t go out looking like that.” It’s easy to find fault and criticise the Northern Ireland political system. Arguably, politicians have a large role in boosting or diminishing public confidence and trust in the democratic institutions. But the electorate also need to provide challenge and community leadership. So, what might be some solutions?

We’ve assembled a panel who will bring their ideas to the table and pitch potential ways to improve the polity. On the night, we’d love to hear your suggestions too. Joining me around the table will be Megan Fearon, Lee Reynolds and Jon Tonge.

  • Megan Fearon was a former Sinn Féin MLA for Newry and Armagh (2012-2020) and Junior Minister in The Executive Office, the youngest government minister in Europe. She is now senior policy and public affairs manager at the Open University in Ireland, promoting educational opportunities and lifelong learning for all.
  • Lee Reynolds was a former special adviser to First minister Arlene Foster, a previous DUP’s Director of Policy (2010-2020) and a Belfast City Councillor. He ran the Vote Leave campaign in Northern Ireland in 2016. Lee was the winner of the Beard of Ireland title in 2018 and 2019.
  • Jon Tonge is Professor of Politics at the University of Liverpool and the author, co-author and editor of numerous books on Northern Ireland politics. As a political commentator, he is the so-called, ‘Mystic Meg of political forecasting,’ during elections.

Other events at the summer school that may interest Slugger readers include:

  • Monday 24 July at 11:15 – Opening address by former Irish diplomat Bobby McDonagh
  • Tuesday 25 at 09:45 – Jon Tonge – Is better possible? The Good Friday Agreement and reconciliation, 25 years on
  • Wednesday 26 at 09:45 – Olena Snigyr – The War for Europe. In her talk Dr Snigyr will discuss Russia and its reasons for initiating the war against Ukraine, its goals and the acceptance of this war by Russian society. She will deal with Ukraine itself, the impact and meaning of this war for Ukrainian society, its historical memory and future challenges and how this conflict impacts European stability and security.
  • Wednesday 26 at 7pm – Talking About ImpermanenceImpermanence is a celebrated collection of twelve essays by writers from or living in Northern Ireland, written against a backdrop of Brexit, the Covid pandemic and the centenary of the partition of Ireland. Joining author and co-editor Neil Hegarty around the table will be contributors Jan Carson, Nandi Jola and Susan McKay, as they reflect upon the book’s themes and suggest ways of looking at our past, present and future as we live through a period of unparalleled change.
  • Thursday 27 at 09:45 – Owen Reidy – Why Northern Ireland would benefit from proper social dialogue. Owen is General Secretary of the Irish Congress of Trade Unions.
  • Thursday 27 at 19:00 – Women Speaking Out – A discussion of the personal, political, social and economic issues facing northern Irish women today. Given both the progress and setbacks of the past, how do we best meet the challenges of the future? With Monica McWilliams, Bronagh Hinds, Fionola Meredith and Bethany Moore.
  • Friday 28 at 09:45 – Connal Parr ‘Irish, British, Left: the Progressive Bookmen of Northern Ireland Revisited’ – In Northern Ireland’s culture from the 1930s to the 1960s, writers identifying as Irish involved themselves in British institutions including the Left Book Club and Workers’ Educational Association – reflecting multiple identities characterizing a particular Protestant identity. Think of Louis MacNeice, John Boyd, W.R. Rodgers and John Hewitt. All were versed in Left wing thought and opponents of the Unionist establishment, which they challenged in writing and in the corridors of various establishments. While Northern Ireland’s predicament eventually submerges the Progressive Bookmen, this talk reminds us of this group’s complicated identity, and its rich, progressive, and overlooked literary heritage.

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