Wednesday, 16 December 2009
Saturday, 5 December 2009
Thursday, 26 November 2009
Party activists from across our Comhairle Ceantair area had gathered to select their nominee's for the next Westminster election.
Alex Maskey was the only name in the hat for south Belfast and mine for the east of the city.
Gerry Kelly was our guest speaker, he was joined by Vincent Parker our party rep in Balmoral who chaired proceedings and Mary McArdle from Sinn Féin Cúige Uladh who oversaw proceedings.
East Béal Feirste was up first and I was nominated and seconded from the body gathered in the hall. I was asked to come forward and sign the Sinn Féin candidate pledge and say a cúpla focal. I won't bore readers of the blog but I think it's fair to say what I covered on Tuesday evening will be covered by this blog over the coming weeks and months. Thanks to Kells for his kind words also. Next up was the south of the city, naturally enough Alex was nominated unopposed and endorsed fully by the body of the hall.
Alex also signed the Sinn Féin candidate pledge and said his piece.
This will be the second time my name has found its way onto a ballot paper for Sinn Féin and it truly is an honour to be selected by friends and comrades from different generations and different experiences of the republican struggle. It is a very humbling thing to have them entrust me with representing the party in any election. Go raibh míle maith agaibh, is cúis bróid domhsa é.
The reality is, as Alec said on the night, that no one candidate can operate in isolation, and while we in south and east don't have the same amount of people as the north and west of the city I think its fair to say we are truly punching above our weight and that is down to the standard of activists we are lucky to have.
From people in the hall who are approaching their sixties and have been involved in the republican movement their whole lives, to those who were there who are much much younger, but are just as committed and just as determined to advance our republican objectives.
On another personal level, it's an honour for me to be selected alongside someone as respected as Alex, who is a true leader within our party, its humbling to watch him and to learn from him and for me, who better to learn from. He is a friend and a comrade and I wish him all the best in the time ahead.
Go neirí linn!
Monday, 23 November 2009
Unfortunately Alex wasn’t able to attend, he was in Baghdad, but Sinn Féin’s Representative in Balmoral, Vincent Parker stepped in to chair the event.
The main address was delivered by MEP for the Six Counties Bairbre de Brún who spoke extensively on her work in the EU Parliament on the issue of climate change and in particular on her role on the environment committee. Bairbre opened her address as Gaeilge and made clear that while the language of the seminar would be English she was more than happy to take questions and answer them in Irish. During the Q&A a interesting question on the cost of becoming ‘greener’ was put to Bairbre as Gaeilge.
Bairbre has recently returned from Washington DC where members of the Environment committee were lobbying the US Congress and Senate on this very issue. Bairbre also spoke on the role of the EU in the run up to the global conference in Copenhagen which she will attend.
Bairbre was joined by Declan Allison from ‘Friends of the Earth’ who spoke of measures that we can take locally in terms of individual action but also in terms of political lobbying to help tackle the problem of climate change and global warming.
A varied group of interested organisations were represented at the seminar and during the question and answers session it was interesting to hear many of their contributions on both speakers contributions.
Afterwards lunch was served and I think that was where the main discussions took place, people took the opportunity to speak to Bairbre and she clearly enjoyed the opportunity to touch base with such a varied group on an issue very close to her and to their hearts.
The event will be covered more extensively in this weeks An Phoblacht.
Wednesday, 18 November 2009
Tuesday, 17 November 2009
It was even carried on BBC Politics Editor Mark Davenport's Blog http://www.bbc.co.uk/blogs/thereporters/markdevenport/2009/07/following_in_carsons_footsteps.html
But I came across this interesting image over on Máirtín Ó Muilleor's Blog of well known Hurler and GAA enthusiast Edward Carson:
Monday, 16 November 2009
It was clear from the few events I attended over the weekend that Ógra are to the fore of this building work.
On Saturday afternoon I ventured over the bridge and into Castle Street where I bounced into a Black Hack and took the journey to the Felons. I was met at the door by outgoing National Organiser of Ógra Barry McColgan, he looked every bit the busy man. I was looking forward to the debate being held inside, ‘Ireland’s Future? Free, Green and Left.’ (I would have added ‘Gaelach’ to the title, possibly an oversight on the part of Ógra) Eoin O’Broin from Sinn Féin, fellow east Belfast man Steven Agnew from the Green Party and Dónal Lyons from Labour were to lead the debate; sadly Dónal sent his apologies.
I’m sure Ógra will cover the content of the debate on their own blog and I know that they also videoed it, so it’s probably better that I don’t venture into too much of the details other than to say it was a worthwhile debate and I think a necessary aspect of any event of this kind, definitely something Ógra should look to build upon in the coming years. I think it’s fair to say Steven Agnew took a lot of flack on the current standing of the Green’s in the 26 Counties, I don’t think he had expected anything less!
That evening it was back over the bridge, this time to the city centre and this time in the company of Alex Maskey. We were attending the celebration dinner in honour of 100 years of na Fianna Éireann. Gearóid Ó hEara was the main speaker and spoke of the role of na Fianna over it’s century of history. It was an emotional evening, given the vast amount of families of those Fianna who were in attendance; each one receiving a presentation on behalf of Ógra, a tremendous gesture and I think worthy of special recognition; maith sibh Ógra!!
All in all, for the small amount of events I was able to attend I was hugely impressed by the work ongoing in Ógra, it was fair to say that in the Felons on Saturday afternoon there was over 100 young people from across Ireland in attendance. Ógra have a vital role to play both within our party and within the wider struggle; I wish all of those who attended this year’s Congress (no doubt some of them being new to our party) all the best for the future and look forward to working with them in pursuit of our Republican objectives.
Friday, 13 November 2009
I have blogged on several occasions about the ongoing themed discussions taking place in East Belfast, organised jointly by the Short Strand Partnership and East Belfast Mission.
I have been fortunate in that I have been able to attend each one so far, and these discussions along with ongoing engagement in various formats in the East really make for interesting insights.
The topics of the discussions, which have been held in both the Short Strand and the Newtonards Road have been ‘Constitutionally Different, Politically Similar?’, ‘Civil Rights or Civil Unrest?’, the last one was on the issue of Parading and the latest on the whole topic of Policing and Justice.
The panel was Brian Maguire (PSNI Superintendant South & East Belfast), Jeffrey Donaldson (DUP) and Alex Maskey (Sinn Féin).
If I’m honest, last nights debate was probably the most heated to date (and that’s certainly not to exaggerate it either because thankfully all of these nights have been respectful and measured). Given that on this occasion we were on the Newtonards Road I think it’s predictable that Alex got a lot of questions directed towards him, and that’s fair enough.
In saying all of that, the other two panellists didn’t get off easy, in particular Brian Maguire was challenged on the shared issue of concern around police effectiveness in this part of Béal Feirste. Just what were they doing to tackle anti-social behaviour, burglaries, the scourge of drugs? This was an issue raised by people from both the Short Strand and wider East Belfast. Towards the end of the night Jeffrey was challenged by an audience member who was most definitely opposed to DUP policy on sharing power with Sinn Féin, he indicated clearly his opposition to equality and partnership government and even predicted the DUP taking a hammering at the next election because of their stance on the issue; Jeffrey challenged him to put his name on the ballot in Lagan Valley next time round.
Other issues raised were the whole issue of the PSNI full time reserve, any threat posed by so called dissidents and when and how Policing and Justice Powers will be devolved.
Once again I enjoyed last night’s engagement; of course I took the opportunity to ask a question too! I look forward to many more and once again commend Joe and Gary for the work they are trying to do in relation to these discussions in trying to build a degree of respect and in my opinion most importantly understanding of each other’s position. It isn’t always easy, as last night proved; at times things can be frustrating and sometimes even depressing when we listen to the views of some who are still out there but at the end of the day that needs to happen in order to be overcome. We still have a fair deal of work ahead but I think events like last night’s and others will go someway in making sure we all have a say on where we are and where we are going.
Go n-eirí linn!!
some of us who attended the debate last night
Thursday, 12 November 2009
Ar an droch uair bhí aimsir uafásach ann ach sin mar atá an saol is dócha!
We gathered on the Stormont Estate earlier today to join with Tom Daly, President of Ulster GAA, in celebrating 125 years of the GAA.
The weather was miserable but the spirits were high!!
Gerry Adams had hosted the event and it follows on from a similar one held a few months back on the Black Mountain, an Sliabh Dubh.
Above are some quick snaps I got (even I got in for a sneeky one!!), the weather didn’t do me any favours where that was concerned!
As I write my shoes are resting on top of the radiator in the office, they’ll need to be there a while!
Ach ar aon nós, go mairfidh na crainn agus go n-eirí leis an CLG le 125 bliain eile!!
Saturday, 7 November 2009
Thursday, 5 November 2009
Gerry Adams has blog significantly on this issue and you can read it over on ttp://www.leargas.blogspot.com/
I would urge as many people as possible to attend.
IS CEART É AN CÚRAM SLÁINTE!
HEALTHCARE IS A RIGHT!
Wednesday, 4 November 2009
As myself and David had a look over the grounds of Stormont from the window in Séanna’s office we weren’t too sure if what we thought we saw was actually what we were seeing!
“It’s just leaves!” says I
“I’m telling you, it isn’t, it’s something else!” says David
After I went down and had a look, turned out he was right.
Seems we have ourselves a Fairy Ring on the grounds of Stormont.
I made sure I didn’t fall in, who knows if anyone would even bother to pull me out!
Anyway, much folklore and legend applies to the presence of Fairy Ring’s or Fáinní Sídhe, and if I was the man who mows the grass in Stormont, I’d be careful to make sure I avoided it!
Tuesday, 3 November 2009
Speakers representing a number of ex-prisoners groups from across Belfast outlined areas of work that they are involved in as they challenge the prejudices that former prisoners still face.
It emerged from Saturday's meeting that a number of insurance companies have refused to honour their policies with former republican prisoners because of the fact that they had spent time in prison.
However, Coiste has spoken to other insurers who are happy to provide insurance cover for ex-POWs.
Former Sinn Fein councillor Joe Austin also outlined the work of the Still Imprisoned Project.
'Addiction is the elephant in the room', said Mr Austin.
'Many of our people suffer from issues as a direct result of the trauma they suffered during the conflict which includes alcoholism, drug dependency financial management problems, depression and anxiety.
'These people need and deserve the support of their comrades and the Still Imprisoned Project is there to help'.
Jim McVeigh who heads up Coiste's Advocacy and Research project described how Coiste is bringing to the fore issues around the treatment of prisoners during their arrest and conviction and their treatment while in jail.
Mr McVeigh said:
McVeigh highlighted the case of Derryman Charlie McMenamin whose conviction was re-examined by the Criminal Cases Review Commission (CCRC) and overturned.
He urged anyone, who was 17 or under, to bring their case to the CCRC.
Coiste's Youth Development worker Danny Murphy made an informative presentation around the work he is involved in.
'Our youth development strategy is designed to meet the specifically identified needs of the children and relatives of political former prisoners. Our youth provision is aimed at addressing the specific trauma, loss and grief experienced by young people who were affected by the prisonment of a parent.
'We are encouraging young people to get involved in our projects', said Mr Murphy.
Other areas of work that Coiste and it's satellite groups cover were outlined by various speakers including Agnes Frazer who is based in Tar Isteach in the New Lodge Road area of North Belfast.
Agnes outlined the breadth of work that she carries out to ensure that the welfare rights of former prisoners are not neglected and that former prisoners are not discriminated against.
Speaking after the information day Michael Culbert, Director of Coiste, described the day as 'a huge success' .
'We wanted to ensure that those attending this event went away with the knowledge that Coiste is working in a multi-faceted way to ensure that the welfare of former POWs is looked after.
'As many as 18,000 people from the nationalist community spent time in prison. We are out to ensure that the social, economic, legal and societal barriers faced by former POWs and their families are broken down.
'Former prisoners still face a range of obstacles and discrimination in their daily lives and Coiste is determined to break these obstacles down.'
Sunday, 1 November 2009
The planters had become overgrown and unkempt, like many of these same ‘flowerbeds’ throughout the district the residents living beside them were tired of them and didn’t really see the need or point of them.
Last March, following a site meeting with representatives from the Housing Executive we were able to have the flowerbeds at Mountforde and several other parts of the area improved.
The work continued to have them removed; that is what the residents wanted.
Thankfully we have been able to secure the removal of the planters at Mountforde and with the planned environmental improvements at Strand Walk we are making strides in terms of improving the physical condition of the area but in particular where these planters are in such close proximity of people’s homes.
Initially the work was to improve what was there and many residents were glad that the shrubbery had been removed and that the planters lawned instead. Now, as the residents wanted, the whole planters are to be taken away. This will no doubt improve access and visibility even further.
We will continue to work with the Housing Executive in the time ahead, they are keen to make sure that the planters are replaced with something supported by residents and that will generally improve the appearance along Mountforde Road.
Further information here http://www.sebelfastsinnfein.com/news/7707
Thursday, 29 October 2009
As always issues varied from door to door, some people had their own individual constituency concerns but other issues were common throughout the community; the proposed extension to Belfast City Airport, opposition to plans to develop Ormeau Park, community safety, alley-gating and anti-social issues, planning matters, policing visibility and things like dog fouling and environmental concerns in the areas.
While we work on these issues in the background it’s still important to touch base with the people who took the time to speak to us and raise matter on their doorsteps. That’s why we recently delivered update bulletins to homes in Rosetta and this time it’s Ravenhill’s turn.
Yesterday we covered Ardenlee and over the coming days we will distribute bulletins throughout that part of the city. Thankfully, yesterday bhí an aimsir linn, and that always helps to spur us on!
When the bulletins are distributed it will be available to view online at our local website @ http://www.sebelfastsinnfein.com/campaign
If you live in Ravenhill and we missed you during the canvass or if you don’t but have any issues you want to raise get in touch by contacting the office
South & East Belfast Sinn Féin
174 Ormeau Road
Belfast BT7 2ED
Tel: (028) 90243194
Our photo shows myself and David, who along with several other Sinn Féin activists distributed the latests bulletin around Ardenlee yesterday. Plenty more to cover in the coming days!)UPDATE: You can now read the bulletin online at http://www.sebelfastsinnfein.com/campaign/15407
Monday, 26 October 2009
Anyone who knows Strand Walk will know that it is an isolated part of our area, mostly because of the ‘peacewall’ that runs along the front of it. Much of the shrubbery has become vastly overgrown and as residents have pointed out to me, there is very little street lighting along the path.
This is something we must work to rectify.
I have already contacted the Roads Service and the Housing Executive regarding these issues and hope we can work to create a much more visible and inviting space for the residents who live there that will hopefully go someway in making them feeler safer in their own homes.
Be certain of one thing, the people carrying out these burglaries and attempted burglaries are not representative of the Short Strand community, most of the burglaries and attempted burglaries have been opportunistic, the Strand remains a good place to live with a solid community spirit. That is what will ultimately bring an end to these burglaries and what will face down those who seek to steal, hurt and intimidate residents in their own homes.
The PSNI also have their role to play, they are more than aware of the situation in this part of the district; I have raised it with them and they were left under no illusions about it at the last DPP meeting which met in the Short Strand Community Centre.
Much work lies ahead and on Wednesday afternoon the Short Strand Partnership Board, along with local residents, will receive a presentation from Belfast City Council’s ‘re-imaging’ team for plans to environmentally improve the area, I look forward to it!
In parallel with this, for sometime now, I have been working with NIE and others to come up with ideas for the now disused electricity sub-station in Strand Close, immediately off Strand Walk. I have no doubt that this will form part of the overall environmental improvements and I look forward to hearing the thoughts and opinions of residents along Strand Walk once again.
With all of these things when an problem arises the community in the Strand band together and think of a positive thing to do, this is just another example of that and it will be exciting to see what improvements we can make for people who live in this part of the area.
Go n-éirí linn!!!
Monday, 19 October 2009
I, along with a number of other Sinn Féin activists joined them in helping to get the leaflets out.
Formed in 2001 the SSDAG has done some brilliant work within the community, working with the local schools as well as the Doyle Youth Club. Many young people have passed through their courses and training programmes since it began it’s work.
The Group has recently undergone a bit of a rejuvenation and Thursday night’s leaflet drop was part of that.
Like most area’s in Ireland, the Short Strand has a drug problem, it isn’t huge, it isn’t spiralling out of control, but it’s there.
The work of the SSDAG is vital in a community like ours; it highlights the issues and gives people who are suffering, or fearful or concerned about a loved one, a place to go for help, assistance and support.
I’m very proud to assist the SSDAG with it’s work and I wish them all the best for the work they have ahead of them in the time ahead.
Pictured distributing the SSDAG update leaflet in the Strand is myself with Mick O'Donnell from the Drug Awareness Group
Tuesday, 13 October 2009
Monday, 12 October 2009
Thursday, 8 October 2009
The video is of a press conference held yesterday in Sinn Féin's Sevastapol St Offices on the Falls Road.
I think Gerry outlines the position enough in the video so i don't think I need to the same again here.
Wednesday, 7 October 2009
Sinn Féin Representative for east Belfast Niall Ó Donnghaile has given a ‘cautious welcome’ to plans by the Odyssey Trust to develop a £100 million project close to the Odyssey arena in Belfast.
Speaking after it was revealed that Trust are seeking planning permission for 800 residential units, two hotels and a promenade development Mr Ó Donnghaile said;
“Obviously any potential stimulation to the economy is welcome in the current climate, however any development of this scale must also secure the investment and support of the surrounding, established communities.
This part of the east Belfast is seeing increased levels of economic stimulation with the development of Titanic Quarter, Sirocco Quays and now the Odyssey. however it is essential that surrounding communities are consulted and involved with the process every step of the way.
For example, will the surrounding communities, some of them the most economically deprived in the north, benefit from apprenticeships for young people, or from the development of social homes? Will there be increased and improved connectivity between the Odyssey and these same communities as well as the other planned developments?
Given the fact that the Odyssey development will be financed entirely by private investment I am sure that other political and community representatives will share my concern that the project needs to be in line with the existing plans to develop the surrounding area’s and communities and not in isolation.
Sinn Féin has been to the fore in ensuring the necessary community involvement with both Titanic Quarter and Sirocco Quays and will approach this new development in the same way.
Some positives seem to be contained within the plans for the Odyssey, not least the planned leisure provision, as this is an issue which Sinn Féin has been campaigning on for some time now.
I will be in contact with the Odyssey Trust over the coming days to highlight some of these concerns and look forward to hearing their contribution.” CRÍOCH
I remember the first time I entered City Hall, it was on a school trip in second year of secondary school. It was an exciting adventure, as most school trips are given the fact that you are out of the classroom for a while. However there was a degree of anxiety on my part that day as well.
Like many thousands of Belfast citizens (or as former Mayor Tom Hartley calls us ‘Béal Feirstians’) I had passed the impressive building on countless occasions without ever being in it. I remember the first Republican rally to make its way to the City Hall in the 1990s; I ventured with the crowds of people from the Short Strand as we made our way proudly over the Bridge and into the centre of the city as a republican community.
That was a good day.
But even before that day and certainly since it, the City Hall has been a major site of struggle for Irish Republicans.
(A man who would be Mayor - This photo shows Gerry Adams leaving the City Hall in 1983 with Sinn Féin activists and supporters. To his immediate right is long standing Sinn Féin Councillor for Lower Falls, Tom Hartley who was only the second Sinn Féin Mayor of the city from 2008-2009)
When I entered City Hall I couldn’t help but be impressed with the architecture and appearance of the place; that feeling is very suddenly replaced with a feeling of isolation and hostility. On that day there was not one indication, not one reflection of me, my community, our culture and our history. Due to the work of some councillors that has since changed, if only in a small way. A bust of Republican revolutionary and humanitarian Belfast woman Mary-Ann McCracken now resides proudly in the City Hall; a window commemorating the great hunger in Ireland also has a prominent spot in the building.
But even yet when I enter the City Hall the trappings of British Militarism, colonialism and monarchy are in abundance. In the year 2009 that simply isn’t good enough.
The city of Belfast has and is continually changing, the people who make up our city come from many different backgrounds, many different places, this is of course a good thing that adds to the experience of Béal Feirste.
Because it is changing, the seat of civic responsibility must also change to reflect that.
Last Thursday I was in the public gallery of the council chamber, I watched Conor Maskey of Sinn Féin make the case diligently for change in the newly refurbished and now centurion City Hall. His argument won over. With the exception of the DUP, lead by MEP Diane Dodds (I was surprised to see her given how many times I witnessed her committing herself to giving up her council seat if she was elected to the European Parliament) making typical ignorant and sectarian arguments against throwing open the doors of the City Hall and allowing the space and ability for all our people to express themselves.Sinn Féin’s argument has never, ever been about taking down what is already there, we have been about creating and solidifying the conditions where the City Hall is open to, belongs to and reflects every Béal Feirstian, whether born and reared here or new to our city.
Most notably for me, as a member of the Irish speaking community here in the city, is the commitment by the Council to commission a major piece of art to be displayed in City Hall that reflects the vibrancy and history of Gaeilgeoirí in Belfast. I look forward to seeing it!
Long gone are the days when “ULSTER SAYS NO!” banners adorned the front and back of the City Hall; gone are the days when my friend and comrade Alex Maskey was the sole Sinn Féin voice in the chamber, subjected to intimidation, vile sectarian abuse and murder attempts; gone are the days when the City Hall itself was in the sole possession of a small group of wealthy, Unionist militarists.
The City Hall is now a hub of activity, with the Belfast Wheel, with the various continental markets, with its doors soon reopening to an ever changing and positive population outside. We must continue to ensure that instead of being a monolith in the possession of on side of our community it acts as a canvass for all of us to paint on.
Many people I know are still uncomfortable with entering the City Hall, I appreciate that, my answer always is to get in and make it their own. To take the lead from Alex, from Pat Beag, from Seán, from Marie and the many more in between, the people who stood their ground and made not just a building but the whole civic nature of Belfast an equal and fair playing field.
With the co-option of Caoimhín Mac Giolla Mhín on Thursday, in place of Paul Maskey who remains in the Assembly, the Chamber will once again be graced with the native language of the city it represents, Béal Feirste.
Much work lies ahead to make the City Hall, quite simply put, ‘better’.
It still remains a daunting and broadly unreflective place for many people, the work to change that must be concluded.
Every day of the year the City Hall breaches equality legislation with the flying of the Union Flag above it’s ‘Dome of Delight’. It still has various statues to British Military personnel and organisations scattered throughout its grounds, with nothing but the people who gather on its lawns on the occasional sunny days we get to indicate the different makeup of Béal Feirste.
So like I said we still have some way to go to create the conditions where the hub of Belfast acts as a beacon to reflect everyone who resides here; it’s exciting work and work that Sinn Féin is committed to!
Ar aghaidh linn, achan duine, le cheile!
Tuesday, 6 October 2009
Seo imeacht difriúil óna mórshiúlta thit amach roimhe seo ach sílm gur smaoineamh den scoth é, go háirithe ina dhiaidh dom freastal ar an Mela Bhéal Feirste cúpla mí ó shin. Bhí sin ina ceiliúradh galánta de cultúr na hIndia agus na cultúrtha eile anseo sa chathair. Is ceart go raibh ceiliúradh cosúil le sin ag pobail na Gaeilge anseo fosta, leis an Acht nó gan an Acht!!
Ach ar aon nós, bígí linn agus bain sult as na himeachtaí ar fad a bheas ar fail ar an lá, beidh mé fhéin ann agus tá mé ag súil go mór leis.
Monday, 5 October 2009
Anecdotally, the residents in our community have had firmly held beliefs that the fumes from this facility have a direct impact upon the health standards in the area; I have repeatedly called for a comprehensive health survey to study the health implications of having a large bus depot located in the middle of a small residential area.
Thus far the City Council have said that the pollution levels are within adequate levels, neither I nor the community in the Short Strand accept this.
I know, having spoken with him on this issue, that the Minister Conor Murphy shares my concerns.
It is unacceptable that the 9th most socio-economically deprived electoral ward in the north of Ireland is inflicted with what is essentially and out dated, unnecessary and dangerous bus depot.
I have lobbied Translink on this issue who have insisted that there are no immediate plans for the bus depot.
Once again I am calling on them to review the necessity of this facility and to heed the calls of the community for immediate relocation.
Sinn Féin, in conjunction with the Short Strand community have been campaigning on this issue for a long number of years; we will continue in this endeavour and intend to up the ante over the coming weeks and months.
This image shows very clearly the proximity of the depot, and therefore the fumes, to the local community. I live just across the road from the depot and have witnessed, like many others, the cloud of fumes that hangs over the area as dozens of buses start their engines there at the crack of dawn.
I have no doubt that many people support the notion that this facility needs to be relocated and the vast amount of land used for positive development in what is an already economically deprived community. I look forward to the challenge ahead.
I will be meeting with the newly formed ‘Short Strand Healthy Living Group’ later this week and I have no doubt it will be an issue for them also.
Thursday, 1 October 2009
For over a decade now, ‘West Belfast Talks Back’ a key event during Féile an Phobail, has brought opposing political and cultural viewpoints together to thrash out the issues of the day. It is truly an established event that has seen many groundbreaking things over it’s history.
Last night it was east Belfast’s turn.
I went along to Ashfield Boy’s School with Gerry Kelly, we had a decent discussion on what the main issues are locally; as always Gerry likes to be very clear in his head before he enters into events such as this, about what might be asked and how he intends to answer. Good practice in my humble opinion.
Also on the panel were Naomi Long of the Alliance Party, Jeffrey Donaldson DUP, Lawrence Robertson who is Tory MP in England and Patrick Corrigan of Amnesty International; the event was chaired by the BBC’s Conor Bradford.
To be honest I thought the evening was pretty tame; I tweeted on the night that I thought the panel was allowed to dominate things and there wasn’t enough coming from the floor. I have been a regular attendee of ‘West Belfast Talk’s Back’ and I must say we have seen some very heated, hard, and sometimes unprecedented exchanges at that event. Last night seemed all very ‘ordinary’.
Of course Gerry Kelly came under some pressure regarding his past as an IRA Volunteer, I don’t think given the part of the world that he was in, he expected anything different. But that’s fair enough, he’s more than capable of dealing with the issue and I think at the end of the day people appreciate honesty and straightforwardness much more than trying to dodge particular issues. He made the point that he was proud of his time in the IRA but was now just as committed to peace-building and conflict resolution as he was when he was a Volunteer.
Other issues discussed, unsurprisingly, were the planned runway extension to Belfast City Airport, NAMA debt effecting development at the Titanic Quarter, Loyalist communities being abandoned and Education.
Ag deireadh na dála, I’m really not sure what to make of last night as a ‘political’ event but as an ‘event’ I enjoyed it, I thought it was worthwhile and I hope and trust that it will continue to grow and grow. East Belfast clearly lacks this type of outlet and I have no doubt with continued community interest in how the Assembly and other institutions are working more and more people will want to avail of the chance to engage directly with elected representatives.
Go n-éirí leo!!!