Northern Roots: “Integration, for me, is not as simple as Catholic meets Protestant”

In the latest of our Northern Roots series, where we speak to people originally from Northern Ireland but currently living elsewhere, our interviewee is Treasa Harkin. You can follow Treasa on Twitter @TreasaHarkin1.

1. Tell us about yourself. When did you leave Northern Ireland, and where did you go? What do you do now?

I grew up in Derry, I was lucky enough to have been educated in the integrated sector and attended both Oakgrove Integrated Primary School and College. I moved to Belfast for university where I studied Law with Politics at Queen’s. I left Northern Ireland in 2012 and went to Beijing for four months on an internship. I had a fantastic experience in China and must admit I had notions of staying there, but soon realised it was too far away from my nearest and dearest; so I moved to London in 2013 and four years on I’m still there.

I live in east London and am a Technology Consultant; I’m fascinated by the endless opportunities which technology offers and enjoy working in an innovative and dynamic environment. I am also the Chair of a newly registered charity called the Integrated AlumNI. We are a network of past pupils from integrated schools and supporters of Integrated Education. We provide a network for past pupils, support current pupils and advocate the benefits of integrated education and the positive impact it can have on our society.

2. What do you think when you see the Northern Ireland of today, in the news and on social media?

I see progress, but often get frustrated. I think the outside world views Northern Ireland as a real example in reconciliation and are impressed by our journey, but it does not just stop at politics. We are getting lots of attention for our natural beauty, sporting role models, delicious local food and in the arts.

All these advances are sadly often overshadowed by the antics in our political playground. We have been over half a year without an Assembly now and, quite frankly, it is embarrassing and unacceptable. The citizens of Northern Ireland deserve a functioning Assembly.

3. Are you hopeful for Northern Ireland’s future? Will Brexit make a difference?

I am very optimistic for the future. Northern Ireland has come on leaps and bounds, and we will continue to do so. Our young people are full of ideas and are not afraid of getting stuck in! We have a natural charm and really are “people people” who have some much to offer.

Every time I visit home I see more to be proud of, for example the Open Coffee movement in Derry. Now you can get a coffee every night of the week until 10pm in at least one coffee shop; it’s fantastic.

In terms of Brexit, unfortunately I think it will make a difference. We have a lot to lose with the withdrawal of European funding. I am confident, however, that a pragmatic solution will be reached. Our politicians need to work together and come up with an agreed approach — this does concern me. Firstly, due to our lack of Assembly; and secondly, I worry that tribal politics will get in the way of a sensible consensus.

4. Do you think you will return to Northern Ireland? What could convince you to come back?

I will never say never, but not in the short term. I will re-assess in another five years. Whilst there are some jobs in the Tech sector for me, my other half would struggle to find employment. Regardless of whether I go back or not, I will always keep connected. The Integrated AlumNI is one way I do this currently.

5. What can Northern Ireland learn from the place you live now?

London celebrates and embraces different cultures wonderfully and this is certainly something which NI could learn from. I also think it could learn from the rest of the UK in terms of social policies; I would like an overhaul of our more conservative legislation on social issues and equality which in my opinion are totally outdated.

6. If Northern Ireland had a president with sweeping powers, and it was you, what would you do?

I would ensure every child who wants to go to an integrated school has the ability to do so and invest in promoting the benefits of integrated education and busting the myths that surround it.

Integration, for me, is not as simple as Catholic meets Protestant. It is about valuing all abilities and encouraging our young people to be the best people they can be and achieve their potential. Integration is not about stripping people of their heritage or beliefs, it is about embracing our cultures, talents and respecting them.

I would also negotiate Northern Ireland’s inclusion in the “Wild Atlantic Way” Costal Drive, it is marketing gold!

7. What would you like to see more of on Northern Slant?

I think Northern Slant is doing a great job and am looking forward to increased coverage of the 20th anniversary of the Good Friday Agreement next year. It would be good to hear different perspectives 20 years on.

8. If you could ask three Northern Ireland politicians (past or present) to dinner, who would they be? And why?

Monica McWilliams from the Northern Ireland Women’s Coalition, because she is someone I have huge admiration for alongside the other members of the NIWC. They played such a key role in the peace process which is often understated.

John Hume, so he could share his wisdom in the context of the current political situation. I would also enjoy hearing about his memories of my grandad and other prominent individuals involved in the Civil Rights movement.

Naomi Long, because she talks a lot of sense.

9. Do you have a favourite quote, or mantra?

I was lucky to hear Inez McCormack, trade union leader and human rights activist, speak on equality. One thing that has always stayed with me was her explanation that inequality and prejudice do not exist just because everyone is bad or nasty; they exist because “good people, do good things, but in their own reflection…” Unconscious bias is the hardest form of prejudice to combat and something which I always try to be aware of in my career and personal life.

10. What’s your message for people back home?

Every time I come back it is like I have never been away, but at the same time I am always excited by the progress in tourism, food, arts and culture. And let’s face it, there is no place in the world where you can have as much craic! So, it’s a big thank you from me for keeping the place so wonderful.


Originally published at Northern Slant.