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An Interview with Dualta Roughneen

by Gordon Nary

Gordon: Where did you attend college and what degrees did you earn?

Dualta: I am a Civil Engineer by qualification, graduating from University College Galway in 1997 and later received a Masters in Human Rights from University College Dublin, 11 years later in UCD. I might be qualified as an Engineer but I wouldn’t be employable in that area any more. I worked as an Engineer in Ireland for a few years before taking up a volunteering role in Afghanistan for a year – based on my engineering degree to work on a rural reconstruction programme in the North East but realistically, it was a different type of engineering to what I was used to. I was a little out of my depth but pushed through.

Soon after I went to North Korea for a few years, as a kind-of engineer, designing rural water systems in the countryside: very basic, gravity fed systems. But nice. A year in Sudan working in Darfur followed along with a few months in Liberia – more project management than engineering, but learning about drilling wells. I ended up back in Ireland to take some time out and study was a good excuse: hence, the human rights. It might not have been the best choice, but that’s a conversation for another day.

Gordon: What have you been doing since?

Dualta: Since then I have been working in the area of overseas aid and humanitarian work. I had a very fortunate few years where my job in Dublin allowed me to travel extensively and I had, fortune is the wrong word, the responsibility of being part of a number of very important humanitarian responses.

In 2013 there was the super typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines that caused so much damage, so much loss of life in the country. A year later I was in Sierra Leone working on the response to the ebola outbreak. Shortly after that I was in Nepal after the very large earthquake. Again, huge devastation. When the second earthquake hit a few weeks later, I was very close to the epicentre dealing with the first one.

Those were very blessed years for me in many ways. I had many great experiences but also had the privilege of being able to do what I feel was some great work with great people.

Gordon: You are a popular author. Please share with our readers an overview of The Pope and the World: The Thoughts of Pope Benedict XVI.

Dualta: Pope Benedict XVI and his writing became a pet project for me in the last few years. I am not really an author. I don’t see myself as one. It is a hobby or a compulsion.

I am not sure which Certainly, I am not not a popular one, nor a prolific one but sometimes there are projects that come along and motivate me to try to write. The more I read of the Pope Emeritus, the more I felt that there was a need to try to somehow create an overview of this thoughts and writings.

With hundreds of books, more papers, and all his speeches and messages as Pope, it isn’t possible to synthesize his work in a way that does him justice. But I kept reading and discovered what I felt was a theme running through a lot of his writing, about the nexus of where faith meets the earthly world.

I am never sure if I got that description right because a lived faith is always of the world, but I think I wanted to capture where his writing moved from the abstract to interact with human life. I know for sure I didn’t do it justice, but am pleased enough with the outcome, even if it only ever sees life on my bookshelf.

This piece of work coincided with another where I edited a volume of essays from a range of people in Ireland into a short book, Pope Benedict XVI: An Irish Perspective available from the bookshop at Knock Shrine, in County Mayo in the West of Ireland. I am probably still recovering from the effort of putting together those two book while holding down a full time job. I am still waiting for the next inspiration.

Gordon: Before this you had a shorter book published called Humanitarian Subsidiarity: A New Principle? What was that about?

Dualta: The principle of subsidiarity is one of those that has its orgins close to Catholic teaching but is used in other areas as well. It came up in the course of my work, dealing with humanitarian action, responding to emergencies and all that, a few years ago when I was talking with a few others about the humanitarian principles in life saving work: neutrality, impartiality, etc. I was never fully sure whether subsidiarity was suitable as a principle to underpin this type of work, hence the question mark, but felt if the discussion was moving in that direction that it provided the best ethical framework to understand things better. It nearly gained some traction, but then didn’t!

Gordon: Your first book is The Right to Roam: Travellers, Human Rights and the Modern Nation State. What took you there?

Dualta: I was doing the Masters in Human Rights that I talk about above and I had to pick a dissertation or thesis for my final project. I wasn’t really sure what I wanted to invest my energy into. There was not a lot of new thinking from first principles and I didn’t want to do something prosaic of formulaic, so I partially stumbled on the issue as discrimination against Roma gypsies was increasing in Ireland and Europe at the time and I wanted to explore a theoretical underpinning to a possible right live a nomadic life. I didn’t resolve it but felt I established a normative reasoning under a human rights and recognition framework for it to be considered. Of course it didn’t resolve the reality that most human rights are negotiated and balanced with the rights of others but I still feel there should be room for greater exploration of how sedentary society can accommodate the peripatetic.

Gordon: Please share with our readers an overview of North Korea: On the Inside Looking In.

Dualta: This just my rambling thoughts from my three years living in North Korea. It is probably an easier read than the other books. I’d recommend it but there are much better insights into North Korea from many Koreans who have escaped the country!

Gordon: Who is you favourite writer and why is that writer your favourite?

Dualta: I don’t have a favourite but if I was pushed to say someone, I would probably choose the English philosopher, Roger Scruton for his ability to see inside the reality of things and to be able to say in few words what I want to think but don’t have the vision to see. But, of course, I am always taken by the writings of Joseph Ratzinger. I was drawn to his work immediately – there was a crispness and a clarity to it that just made sense.

Gordon: Thank you for a memorable interview.

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