As we announced in our last newsletter to members, we have had a dedicated but diminishing committee running Irish PEN for some time. As Chair I’ve been in situ on committee for much longer than is healthy in any organisation and have been looking at ways to move Irish PEN forwards.
As a committee, we agreed that the events aspect of Irish PEN’s activities, which has been so valuable in the past, has been superseded by the vast numbers of festivals and other author events now running. Our feeling was, that in the current political climate, Irish PEN needed to become involved much more with PEN International’s activities, focusing on free speech and using our status as a PEN centre in a neutral country to PEN’s advantage.
We were not alone in this, and Freedom to Write, a subgroup of dedicated writers (whom you will all be familiar with) from the Word group at the Irish Writers Centre, also felt the need for action and began to do exactly this.
Many of the Freedom to Write group are PEN members. And Éilís Ní Dhuibhne and Catherine Dunne are past Award winners. So they all understand Irish PEN. We are delighted to announce that Freedom to Write have agreed to merge with Irish PEN to produce a new organisation with a new constitution in line with our shared goals.
Freedom to Write group have agreed to act as a steering committee while guiding the transition to a completely new Irish PEN. The new Irish PEN will be launched in November. An AGM will follow in the New Year when a new committee will be formed, as elected by Irish PEN members. In the meantime, the Freedom to Write Campaign will continue its support of the PEN charter through various actions, carried out in the name of Irish PEN/The Freedom to Write Campaign. Those who have paid their membership for 2020 will automatically move across to the re-energised organisation, although those on subscriptions may have to set up new ones to the new organisation in 2021.
We want to build PEN into a real voice for writers and will be asking you to sign up to a new mailing list (GDPR compliant) in order to keep you informed of actions and events.
On a personal note, I will be retiring as chair, and news of your new committee will be communicated in the autumn. Until then, Freedom to Write will become custodians of our vital tradition, ensuring the new organisation is built on firm ground.
Vanessa Fox O’Loughlin
Freedom to Write and Irish PEN by Lia Mills
Who we are: The Freedom to Write Campaign (Ireland) is an informal, independent group of writers that has emerged from WORD, a professional writers’ network associated with the Irish Writers Centre.
We work to promote Freedom of Expression by raising public awareness about writers who are at risk, or in prison, or who have been murdered because of their writing. During the last two years, our members have worked with, among others, Irish PEN, PEN International, the Irish Writers Centre, Poetry Ireland, Fighting Words and Front Line Defenders, on events and campaigns to promote the work of writers who are at risk or in prison.
We have taken part in various festivals, such as Listowel Writers’ Week, the Red Line Festival and the Belfast Book Festival. Some of us have contributed to the recent anthology of essays Yes, We Still Drink Coffee!, by and about women Human Rights Defenders at risk (published by Front line Defenders and Fighting Words).
- June Considine
- Catherine Dunne
- Kate Ennals
- Sophia Hillan
- Liz McManus
- Maria McManus
- Lia Mills
- Éilís Ní Dhuibhne
When the current committee invited us to consider stepping up to devise and manage a reorganisation and revitalisation of Irish PEN, the idea made a lot of sense to us; the work we already do is based on the PEN charter and we have had consistent support and encouragement from PEN International from the start.
We are looking forward to this challenge and the adventure of changing our existing structure to conform to PEN conventions, while redesigning a constitution for a new and invigorated Irish PEN to move into the decade ahead. We’re excited to meet and work with both existing and new members.
There will be a period of transition this summer while we manage administrative changes, to be followed
by a complete relaunch in November and a subsequent AGM early in 2021 – the centenary year of PEN International.