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As previously mentioned on Slugger, last night was the Belfast Salon’s attempt to make sense of Northern politics – and, indeed, the wider question of what politics mean.

Speakers were Owen Polley, Malachi O’Doherty, Liam O’Dowd and myself. As a panellist I’m not in much of a position to judge how things went but the audience certainly raised some interesting points.

Audience members questioned the existence of civil society, the role of the press in the peace process, made tentative comparisons between here and other divided places such as Cyprus and Belgium.

O’Dowd and O’Doherty both argued that my dismissal of the possibility of a re-ignited conflict was incorrect. I was left wondering if it was a generational issue – the conflict during my youth in the 1980s and 1990s was bad enough, but the really bad days were before my time. I don’t disagree that the potential for conflict is there, I just think that a sustained conflict of a guerilla nature cannot exist without some measure of popular support – of which I see no evidence.

O’Doherty puts a lot of stock in the civic forum, though with various caveats. Polley and myself were more dubious. O’Dowd said the middle class withdrawl from politics was a significant problem.

The sole elected politician to turn up was the PUP’s Dawn Purvis and she took issue with what she saw as the bleakness of my outlook. My only possible response to that is that I may think very little of the assembly but I’m not bleak about the prospects for politics. I believe Purvis is acting in good faith as a politician and if more representatives were like her we’d be in better shape. The PUP’s anti-sectarianism is all the more interesting – and meaningful – as it comes from the loyalist working class, not from the golf club. She will be disappointed to hear that I intend to continue not voting: it’s not a point of principle, it’s literally the case that no party is anything like remotely close to representing my views. If one did I would happily vote. for it. Besides, I don’t live here anymore.

Anyway, thanks to all who came and participated and to Belfast Exposed for hosting the debate.

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