Northern Ireland 2016

 

NORTHERN IRELAND (Anna Bryson, Ronan Deazley)

Ronan Deazley and I were delighted to be jointly appointed as regional networkers for Northern Ireland in June 2016. Before commencing this brief report we would like to pay tribute to the work of our predecessor, Linda Ballard, who has now stepped aside to pursue a PhD.

Having recently stepped into role, we are only just beginning to receive formal requests in our capacity as OHS regional networkers. The most recent was from the Cultural and Heritage Centre in Maghera who are embarking on a HLF-funded project titled ‘Maghera Roots’. I arranged to meet the project directors to discuss the first steps (necessary equipment, consent forms, scope and scale) and am now helping to facilitate OHS-accredited training.

We are, of course, both plugged into various oral history networks in the region and are striving to ensure that we use our role as networkers to strengthen links between the OHS and these various projects and initiatives. These include:

QUOTE

Professor Sean O’Connell (Editor, Oral History), Ronan Deazley and I have been driving forward a new initiative titled QUOTE (Queen’s University Oral history, Technology and Ethics) Hub. This involves an interdisciplinary team of scholars from Law, History, Drama, Creative Arts, English, Geography and the Faculty of Electronics, Electrical Engineering and Computer Science who wish to provide a holistic approach to the use of oral history at QUB. It is modelled on world leading oral history collectives such as the Centre for Oral History and Digital Storytelling at Concordia University. Our aim is to pool the many strengths that QUB has in the broad field of oral history and to develop a centre for research and teaching excellence that offers the foundations from which to build successful collaborative projects and to provide outreach activities to our partners in the community. We are currently working with a web developer and hope to go ‘live’ before the end of the year.

Healing Through Remembering Stories Network

We are both members of the Stories Network https://www.facebook.com/TheStoriesNetwork/. This network was launched in June 2014 by Healing Through Remembering http://healingthroughremembering.org/ (the leading NGO on ‘Dealing with the Past’ in Northern Ireland). It aims to assist and facilitate those gathering and sharing personal narratives related to the conflict in and about Northern Ireland by: encouraging people and projects interested in storytelling to learn from each other; promoting good practice / ethical principles for the gathering and sharing of stories and personal narratives; promoting, where appropriate, links between projects and accounts; sharing learning; holding seminars and events; participating in processes calling for national collections; and encouraging listening to stories and personal narratives. Dozens of oral history and storytelling projects (too numerous to list) are represented within the network, with a core of about twenty attending quarterly meetings in Belfast. Notable developments in the past year include the publication of the Stories Network briefing paper on the Oral History elements of the Stormont House Agreement http://web-previews.com/healingthroughremembering/wp-content/uploads/2015/11/TSN_Briefing_Paper_on_SHA_FINAL_Oct_2015.pdf and the organisation of a highly successful seminar on ‘Oral History Archives: Process, Methodology and Copyright’ in May 2016. An ongoing challenge confronting many of the oral history and storytelling projects represented within this network is the dearth of available funding. The majority of these projects got off the ground with the support of the EU’s Peace Programme but the priorities of that funding stream have since shifted, leaving many worthy projects without the means to develop and archive their collections.

Amongst the projects that have managed to find alternative means of funding in the past year are:

  • ‘Voices from the Vault’ led by Will Glendinning (Diversity Challenges) and funded by International Sites of Conscience. This project will gather stories from former members of the Royal Ulster Constabulary and An Garda Síochána (Irish police force). It builds on an earlier project titled ‘Green and Blue’ which used oral testimonies as the basis for a drama produced in association with Kabosh Theatre (I serve as an Advisor to both projects).
  • ‘Both Sides Now’ led by Paul McLaughlin of the Northern Ireland Mixed Marriages Association was funded by the Big Lottery Fund and has resulted in the publication of publication and associated play (this can be viewed on You Tube by searching on “Mixed Emotions Play Belfast” or by following this link).

Stormont House Agreement Oral History ArchiveIn January 2015 Professor Kieran McEvoy (QUB) invited a team of eight individuals (including two law professors, a former British Ambassador and the Director of the main Northern Ireland Human Rights NGO, the Committee on the Administration of Justice) to develop ‘model’ legislation for the implementation of the Legacy Mechanisms proposed under the terms of the Stormont House Agreement. The idea was that this might inform, influence and shape the official legislation. I led on the proposed Oral History Archive. This involved liaising with the political parties involved in the negotiations, senior officials from the British and Irish governments and the relevant devolved departments, and the relevant civil society groups. The Model Bill (including a substantial section on the proposed Oral History Archive) together with an explanatory framework and an analysis of the process of ‘legislating the past “from below”‘ was formally launched in October 2015 at an event at the House of Lords sponsored by Lord Dubbs in October 2015 and addressed by Shadow Northern Ireland Secretary of State Vernon Coker. It was also widely publicised through the local print and broadcast media, at a number of major conferences in Belfast, and a range of seminars and briefings aimed at civil society organisations and political parties. Related publications including ‘Victims, Violence and Voice: Transitional Justice, Oral History and Dealing with the Past‘ develop in further detail the ethical dimensions of oral history research in post-conflict societies. Progress on the development of the legacy mechanisms stalled in late 2015 due to political disagreement around the issue of disclosure of official documentation. Talks are ongoing and both the QUB/UU/CAJ team and the Stories Network are working intensely to influence the shape and development of the Oral History Archive.

Save Our Sounds

The Ulster Folk and Transport Museum is currently working with staff at the British Library to explore the Northern Ireland limb of the HLF Save Our Sounds programme (https://www.bl.uk/projects/save-our-sounds#sthash.oWOd6h9b.dpuf). This exciting £9.5 million project seeks to digitise and make available 500,000 rare, unique and at-risk sound recordings from both the British Sound Archive and locally based repositories. Work is also underway to scope out a major outreach programme involving schools and local communities.

Conclusion

It will be clear from this brief overview that a wealth of oral history work is underway in Northern Ireland – within, across, and between universities, community groups, the museum and archives sector, and the creative arts. Funding for community and voluntary groups remains a major challenge – as does resolution of outstanding concerns relating to the Oral History Archive proposed under the terms of the Stormont House Agreement. At QUB we have long since recognised the need for increased collaboration amongst oral history practitioners – hence the development of the QUOTE hub. Beyond the confines of the university, we hope that in our capacity as members of the HTR Stories Network and as Regional Networkers for Northern Ireland we will in the coming year help to provide a focal point for the myriad oral history practitioners and projects operating across our society.