Thursday, 1 October 2009

Glór an Oirthear / East Belfast Speaks!!

Some new ground was broken in east Belfast last night, not because Gerry Kelly took part in a panel discussion in that part of the town, but because the panel discussion itself took place.

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!!!

Sorry for the quality of the pictures, once again they were taken on the Sméar Dhubh / Blackberry

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