To conclude our week in Ireland, a few of us took Friday to visit Kilmainham Gaol, an old Irish jail famous for its role in the prison reform movement and in imprisonment and execution of the leaders of the Irish uprising in 1916. The reforms this jail exemplified were separate cells, silence and supervision, meant to encourage reform instead of punishment for those it housed. The simplicity of these reforms surprised me because I had no idea of how prisons were run before the time of cells and guards. I also visited St. Patrick’s cathedral and was surprised to learn the role of Jonathan Swift in the church’s history because his works Gulliver’s Travels and A Modest Proposal didn’t strike me as religious.
However, the best part of my week was the weekend where I went to London to see my cousins and explore the city. I haven’t seen my cousins in 5 years and it was a much needed reunion away from Georgia Tech and with my family. My cousin took me to an anti austerity protest against the coalition government. There were a variety of groups there that have been affected by government cuts in the healthcare services and welfare programs along with tuition hikes for college students. I saw multiple placards campaigning against TTIP and defense spending which I found interesting because of the discussions we have had on both those topics. In terms of defense spending, I know that the US has been urging NATO members to increase their defense spending and I also know that while the UK meets the 2 percent NATO guideline, it has been decreasing since 2010. A trend I’ve noticed here is that Europeans don’t seem to feel the need for any sort of defense spending and often belittle the US for its reputation in military matters. I find this odd because of Europe’s proximity of Europe to the Middle East and Russia, both of which are security concerns that should be taken very seriously. I understand where the protesters are coming from especially those who lost their jobs due to budgets cuts, but speakers were promoting violence as a threat if the government didn’t change with phrases such as ” if you[the government] force us outside the confines of the law, we[protesters] are not responsible for the results.” One speaker also spoke about the lack of democracy in the last elections, pointing out that a majority of the voters had not voted for the party in power.
I also had some great conversations with people I met through my cousin and with a cab driver. I asked my cousin’s friend, Nina, why she and others were against TTIP and she surprised me with her answer. I was expecting their reasons to be based in labour markets and the threat TTIP would pose to the workers just like the Democrat platform in the US. However, people in the UK also feel that TTIP would impose the “lower US standards” for goods and they do not want to be forced into adopting these lower standards. From her tone, I could tell that she feels as if the US has all the power in these negotiations and will do anything to get its way. This was an interesting UK perspective because the UK and the US have a closer relationship that any other member of the EU and so I did not expect US standards to be a reason of objection from London. I also feel like the EU has not done an adequate job of explaining the process of TTIP negotiations to its citizens since so many feel that it is a method of US imposition. This may also stem from a mistrust of the EU by its citizens.
I also had a great conversation with my cab driver on the way to the airport. He is Nigerian and moved to London ten years ago. When I told him that I was studying the EU, he brought up the topic of Brexit. To my great surprise, he was in favor of Britain leaving the EU and his reasons were different than any I have heard. He said that the freedom of movement has led to many people coming to London in search of jobs where there are none left and it has increased the homelessness around the city. It makes him sad to see all these people coming here to send money back home and living in such horrible conditions. He also expressed relief at not being part of the Euro due to the Eurozone crisis that is ongoing. I was not expecting an immigrant to advocate against freedom of movement so strongly and it just goes to show that people will surprise you with their reasons when you least expect it.
Overall, London was a very educational and relaxing trip that showed me opinions in the most reluctant member of the EU and I won’t be forgetting it any time soon.