Thinking about Gerry Anderson’s good idea

7th February 2001

GERRY Anderson presents a morning show on Radio Ulster, broadcasting out of Derry, which I sometimes listen to when I’m up home in Cavan. The thing that strikes you about him is his absolute confidence behind the mike.

He’s the master of his own studio – entertaining listeners with banter, observation and commentary.

A man of the world.

He’s so good that a few years back the BBC brought him over to Radio 4 in London to do an afternoon show.

To shorten the story the upshot was that the well-meaning, well-educated, well-to-to audience met Gerry’s Derry drawl with such a wall of derision, contempt and outright hostility that he was forced to give up the programme. He’s now safely back in Derry.

And being from Derry, he knows a thing or two about hostility.

The episode probably confirmed to him the fact that people set in their ways can be a study in contrariness. Gerry, on the other hand is a study in reason and even-handedness and is famed for coining the term, Stroke City, to overcome the Derry/Londonderry situation.

He’s got an idea that he thinks would shake up the conflict in the North. I think it might shake up everywhere. He thinks everyone should be thrown out of Northern Ireland on reaching the age of 18. They wouldn’t be allowed to come home until they are 21.

All right, he says it tongue in cheek. But its been rattling around my brain because it’s such a good idea.

In the context of the North the advantages are obvious. Young people might have a broader perspective on life if they were taken out of the political and sectarian hothouse and forced to meet some of the 5.998 billion people who don’t care which flag flies over Belfast.

Down here we’re now faced with a generation who will never go abroad except to get the three S’s in Spain or Greece. Most of them will end up getting sloshed in nightclubs identical to the ones they’ve left. And they’ll never leave home because they won’t be able to afford a house.

Now I’ve never agreed with the proposition that travel, of itself, broadens the mind. The model where each community is a microcosm of the city, or country, or world is the one I’d subscribe to. The things you learn and the characters you meet are all around you if you look.

So I wouldn’t send the young abroad to learn about others. I’d be sending them to learn about themselves.

Life for young people is now so linear that the kids are entombed by it.

Go to school. Get the Leaving Cert. Go to college. Get a job. Get a partner. Buy a house. Spend the best 20 years of your life paying for it. Get a pension. And so on and so on. Like a timetable.

We never ask young people to take a risk. We’re afraid to. We never ask them to imagine themselves outside the loop because we’re afraid they will fail and then we’ll be to blame.

Looking back now at my journey through the system, I think I was institutionalised by it. The whole process of discipline, structure, obedience, the right way and the wrong way, leaves its mark.

We want it to keep youngsters away from vandalism, drugs and violence. Do we factor in that it might also keep them from discovering their own creativity and personality? Could it be that all the vandalism and anti-social behaviour is an expression of the frustration of young people trapped in the system?

So I propose two measures.

Firstly, the entry age for college should be set to 21. Secondly, every student leaving secondary school should be given a £2,000 grant to leave the country.

I reckon that this would save us a fortune putting people through college who don’t really know enough about themselves or the world to decide what they really want to do.

I’d make one refinement on Gerry’s idea. You couldn’t go to an English-speaking country. It’s too much like home and being functionally illiterate is an eye-opener everyone should go through.

As well as that…

Stating the fundamentals

I HAVE a fundamental belief that is shared by very few people in this country or in Europe or indeed in the wider world.

I believe that any barriers to the free movement of people anywhere in the world is both immoral and ultimately self-destructive.

The North (I’m talking globally) locks its doors to the people of the South for fear that we will be inundated with hoards of poor people. It’s probably a well founded fear.

But the reason we’re rich is that they are poor. They supply us with the cheap commodities we need to live in the style we’re used to. I was gobsmacked to read that in the UK, for instance, services now make up 73 per cent of the basic economy while private consumption accounts for 65 per cent of where it’s spent.

This is clearly a post-manufacturing economy. Yet someone is making the stuff and they are not getting paid for it. That’s the poor.

Population growth is a huge threat to the global environment. Economic development is indirectly proportional to population growth. We maintain the current disastrous status quo by locking the doors.

Ultimately, the only solution to population movement is the even development of the world. Immigration law just shores up the present unjust and destructive inequality.