Last night I was invited to take part in a cross party panel discussion by the Belfast YMCA's 'Youth in Government' Programme.
I took part in the same event last year and much like then last night's event was brilliantly attended and brilliantly organised. There is no such thing as sitting back quietly at these discussions, the young people, who have been on the course, cut us no slack.
I was joined on the panel by Cllr Tom Akin (Alliance), Cllr Matthew McDermott (SDLP), Basil McCrea (UUP), Cllr Christopher Stalford (DUP) and fellow East Belfast man Cllr Dr John Kyle (PUP).
There were a broad range of topics debated, including the notion of a shared future, Education, Irish Language and Victims. All of us on the panel were put under a fair amount of pressure by the audience and I say fair play to you, no point in us weighing in to be given an easy ride!!
There was of course, a few more light hearted moments, not least of all when Tom Akin (who was delayed and arrived slightly late for the meeting) was finally allowed to speak! (maith thú Tom as a faoighde) another was when Christopher Stalford informed the audience he was only 26 to a somewhat loud reply "ARE YOU SERIOUS?!"
For me the real discussions usually take place when these things end and people from the audience choose to have a quiet word with you afterwards and that was the case last night. A man approached me and shook my hand, he informed me he was a former British Soldier who had served here in Ireland, he seemed surprised that I had no issue in accepting his hand. He went on to tell me of a number of issues he had with Sinn Féin, we discussed it and I hope he had a better understanding of where Republicans are coming from, I certainly, in the very brief time we spoke, got a better understanding of some of the issues he expressed.
Mar sin de sin é, deireann an tseánfhocail, mól an óige agus tiocfaidh sí; is léir ón ócáid aréir agus aonuraidh, go bhfuil ceannairí polaitiúla na blianta atá romhain, idir iadsiúd ar an phanál agus iadsúid sa lucht éisteachta, dul a bheith breá abálta don oibre!