Two minutes with Allan LEONARD
by Allan LEONARD for Northern Slant
24 April 2018
Want to find out more about the Northern Slant team? Every week we put 10 questions to our community of contributors – about them, their interests and hopes for Northern Ireland’s future. This week’s interviewee is Allan Leonard. You can follow Allan on Twitter @MrUlster.
1. Tell us about yourself, and why you got involved with Northern Slant.
I blew into Belfast at the time of the paramilitary ceasefires in 1994, from America, and I’ve been here ever since. Northern Ireland is a place that I call home. I rowed at Queen’s University Belfast, got a Master’s degree in Irish Politics at University College Dublin, and have worked at the Northern Ireland Political Collection at the Linen Hall Library; a Policy Officer and General Secretary at the Alliance Party; and I once lectured Americans at the US National Archives on how to go about their Irish family history (not everything was destroyed by the 1921 Customs House fire).
I met Connor [Northern Slant Editor] when he worked at Stratagem in Belfast. Northern Slant was an emerging concept, and I suggested a feature section to highlight photography and other arts in Northern Ireland, the lens we bring to what we see. “Northern Lens” was the result. I believe in the transformative potential of the arts in peacebuilding, and I like to share what I think are good examples.
2. Describe Northern Ireland in 5 words.
Hallion. Beezer. Brilliant. Melter. Sound.
3. What makes you proud to be here?
Everyone’s genuineness, whether they like you or not. “Dead on” or “gobshite”. Still the only place where passengers regularly chat with the bus driver or strangers say “Good morning” to you. In our evermore hectic lives, may we never lose that charm.
4. Are you hopeful for the future?
Yes. I remember learning somewhere that hope implies doubt, so I never take the future for granted. It’s something that you have to contribute to. I see so many doing this in ordinary and extraordinary ways, every day. In Patrick Kielty’s recent documentary, “My Dad, the Peace Deal and Me”, he complimented a passer-by’s positive attitude; she replied that there were many like her here. That gives me hope.
5. If you could change one thing about Northern Ireland, what would it be?
Waiting for political leadership (says this former politician). I understand why folk vote to keep the other side out. But that doesn’t prevent any of us from doing meaningful work for all of us.
6. Favourite NI celebrity?
Mary Peters. What an ambassador for Northern Ireland, giving a ray of light during the darkest days of the Troubles, and continuing to inspire new generations.
7. Politician you most admire, from outside Northern Ireland?
Angela Merkel. I was standing on top of the Berlin Wall in 1989, about the time the East German entered politics. A protégée of Chancellor Helmut Kohl, she participated in the reunification of Germany and has stewarded stability in Europe.
I also admire the late Irish Taoiseach, Garret FitzGerald, who was my motivation to come here to advance my learning and understanding of Irish politics. He is credited with the 1985 Anglo-Irish Agreement, and I remember the controversy at the time. That detente between the Irish and British governments enabled work on the peace process.
8. Favourite place to bring a visitor?
A drive down the east coast of Ards Peninsula, which is conveniently close to where I live. Approaching Portaferry from Ballyquintin Point is scenic bliss. Then a seafood dinner at Katch 27 in Kircubbin.
9. Potato bread or soda bread?
Potato bread. My wife and I always ask for the soda bread in an Ulster fry to be replaced with more potato bread.
10. Snow Patrol or Van Morrison?
Meh. I prefer Shauna Tohill from REWS (previously Silhouette, of fame with her Northern Ireland Tourism theme song in 2012, “Can’t Keep Up”). She knows how to rock.