Podcasts are a useful medium, even though listener numbers are not always massive. But if considered as an alternative to a series of public meetings, their value is significant. They can be cheaper and gain more listeners than would be attracted to a meeting. They can be a way of collecting together different voices, without the need to bring them all together in one place, on one date. And, we can guess, they attract a very different audience.
Since early 2018, the Holywell Trust has put out monthly podcasts considering Brexit and its impact on Northern Ireland, especially the North West of the island. It has been a very positive exercise.
In that time we have attracted an impressive list of interviewees: Greece’s former finance minister Yanis Varoufakis; Taoiseach Leo Varadkar; the de facto deputy prime minister of the UK, David Lidington; Claire Sugden MLA; former SDLP leader, Mark Durkan; deputy leader of the Alliance Party, Stephen Farry; leader of the People’s Vote campaign, Lord Andrew Adonis; Eamonn McCann of the pro-Brexit People Before Profit; Martina Anderson MEP; the former head of the European Commission in Northern Ireland and co-founder of the Women’s Coalition, Jane Morrice; Elisha McCallion MP; economist David McWilliams; academics Dr Katy Hayward, Professor Kevin O’Rourke and Professor Colin Harvey; Stephen Kelly of Manufacturing NI; Claire McCann of the Human Rights Consortium; economist Dr Karl Huebner; the BBC’s NI economics editor John Campbell; Brian Gormally of Northern Ireland’s Committee on the Administration of Justice; Conal McFeely of Creggan Enterprises; Seamus Leheny of Freight NI; William Taylor of Farmers4Action; Kemel Scarpello of cross-border food business Scarpello Bakery; Derry City & Strabane District Council chief executive John Kelpie; Donegal County Council chief executive Seamus Neely; well known unionist Terry Wright; independent republican councillor Darren O’Reilly; Maeve Connolly of Derry Girls Against Borders; and two presidents of the Londonderry Chamber of Commerce, Brian McGrath and Jennifer McKeever.
Each of these interviewees gave their opinions on Brexit and its impacts. It’s an impressive list, though lacking balance in terms of the absence of unionist opinion. Repeated requests for interviews with DUP politicians were unsuccessful, as was our request to interview UUP MEP Jim Nicholson.
We have been more successful in having a balance between a consideration of different concerns around Brexit. As well as the interviews, we have maintained a monthly commentary on what is happening with regard to Brexit, keeping listeners informed about the implications for their region and answering questions. The podcast was supported by a monthly blog, which was published both online and in the Derry Journal.
Jobs and the economy have obviously been a real worry for people living in the border area, but so too has the fall in value of the pound, especially for the many cross-border workers in our region. And we have considered in detail the human rights implications of Brexit, including whether people who designate themselves as Irish while living in Northern Ireland actually have the same rights as Irish people in the south. In short, they don’t.
The availability of the European Health Insurance Card was a concern raised repeatedly with us, but so also was the ending of the right of NI residents to obtain hospital treatment in other EU member states if they are on long NHS waiting lists. There is also a worry about future mobile phone roaming charges. The voluntary sector has been anxious about the future of the Peace Programme and the extent to which EU funding will be replaced by the UK government. All these concerns were discussed on the monthly podcast.
Few people who participated in our podcasts were in favour of Brexit. But that is representative of the North West. In the Foyle constituency, more than 78% of voters opted for a Remain result – one of the highest votes in the UK. Judging by the responses we received, there has been a hardening in support for the Remain side, alongside a growing frustration at politicians’ failure to resolve and clarify the future of the border.
Part of the purpose of the podcasts was to inform, but it was also to engage politicians and community leaders in the local conversation. To have David Lidington – the UK’s second most senior politician – actively engaged in a discussion on the impact of Brexit on Derry and the border region was a real coup. As was Leo Varadkar addressing concerns about the rights of NI residents post-Brexit. And both Yanis Varoufakis and David McWilliams were as scathing of Brexit as might have been expected.
The podcasts have been successful beyond our expectations and it has been particularly pleasing that we were listed as one of Ireland’s best Brexit podcasts in an RTE Listener Guide. The Community Foundation for Northern Ireland deserves praise as well as thanks for being far sighted enough to finance the project. We will follow it up with further projects based on the podcast theme. Watch this space.
Holywell Trust podcasts, including older editions, can be accessed at its SoundCloud page, https://soundcloud.com/holywelltrust. The podcasts can also be accessed – along with the monthly blog and my Brexit analysis for The Detail – via my website, http://www.paulgosling.net/brexit-analysis/.