Yvette Shapiro introduced this year’s panel to an audience of 30 or so youth and another 30 less youthful in Whiterock Leisure Centre: Cllr Steven Corr (SF), Julie-Anne Corr (PUP), Anna Lo MLA (Alliance) and Sean Connolly (applied psychologist).
She reminded the audience that the young people from West Belfast’s Upper Springfield Development Trust Participation Group had identified education, racism and apathy as local concerns.
But the first question [MP3] came from a gentleman who asked the panel about their opinion on the current conflict on Gaza. Two points stood out from the responses. Firstly, author and motivational speaker Sean Connolly expressed the view that people might find it uncomfortable to diverge from the predominant pro-Palestinian view in republican areas to voice a different opinion. PUP councillor Julie-Anne Corr said she wasn’t taking sides in the dispute but insisted “I’m pro-peace and anti-violence”. While she’s planning to attend this evening’s peace vigil at the City Hall (7pm), she admitted that some loyalists were reluctant to attend in case the vigil turned into conflict between normally diverging groups.
The discussion eventually moved on [MP3] to apathy. Councillor Steven Corr spoke about the need to address the underlying issues of education, employment, health etc whether in West Belfast or the Shankill or Lower Newtownards Road. He cited some examples of communities that were complacent about offers of low-wage jobs and lacking more aspiration, and not taking advantage of open days organised in the area. With Steven Corr saying there was “no heavy industry in West Belfast [since Mackies closed]” (which his Dad could never get a job in), Yvette Shapiro asked whether with so many trade missions and jobs announcements, was Sinn Fein failing West Belfast given the lack of new jobs in the area?
Post traumatic stress disorder, the commercialisation of Belfast Pride parade (and the PUP’s decision to stand on the pavement rather than join the march) and a final positive comment from the panellists to encourage and uplift the audience brought West Belfast Youth Talks Back to a close for another year. We never really got around to tackling education and racism properly. Anna Lo’s contributions were remarkably low key.
Given the low attendance by West Belfast republican youth organisations never mind wider school or community groups from across the city, the event is a waste. While numbers were marginally up on last year – three or four lads from PUP Youth sitting to one side – the cost per head couldn’t be healthy. Given the event’s many sponsors, Féile should really encourage the organisers to flood the venue with a much wider range of youth groups from across the city to open up the conversation.