“every discussion of the experience of west Belfast there is going to be blinkered”

In the Belfast Telegraph, Malachi O’Doherty takes a critical look at that “plenty for all” Feile.  From the Belfast Telegraph article

The story of what west Belfast experienced through the Troubles is complex and amazing, but it is filtered at the Feile through a determination to defend the reputation of the IRA, the organisation that brought much of that grief upon the people and to write out of history the pain and horror suffered by those – and we know them – who despise the IRA and whose sleep is still tormented with rage and grief.

One of the most ironic events, from my perspective, is the talk by John Conroy on torture, Unspeakable Acts, Ordinary People. This will surely be an incomplete event if no one reflects on how some of their own neighbours in west Belfast became torturers.

There are popular local figures in the bars of west Belfast who have personally shot dozens, perhaps hundreds, of young men in the legs, and there are others who gave the orders who now mutter thoughtfully in the media about the need for human rights principles to govern policing.

Without wanting to scupper the political set-up on the monstrous burden of the past it would be nice to think that these people and those who vote for them have some awareness of these anomalies, but there is no evidence of that in the public discourse on emergence from conflict that we hear every year at the Feile.

As he says earlier in the article

The toxic idea is that those who brought most grief to the area, the republican paramilitaries, are, in fact, an adornment and a credit to the people and the place.

That in itself would be manageable, given that the history books and the memories of the people will preserve diverse accounts of what actually happened. The problem is that the republican vision of an Ireland liberated by murder and sabotage and the intimidation of communities is being maintained by the dissidents.

No one is better placed to undermine the bombers and gunmen of the Real IRA than the retired Provisionals who can say plainly that their project did not work. It was a waste of life and effort and they could own up that, had they their lives to live over again, they would make better use of them.

It’s not as if they haven’t had plenty of opportunities to do so.

Btw, perhaps the statement quoted in that post was the “PR operation” Francie Molloy was complaining about…

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  • HeinzGuderian

    Indeed !!

  • But a certain amount of Begrudgery.
    I dont know if Malachi O’Doherty still lives in West Belfast but presumably those that still do have lived thru the same experience as Malachi O’Doherty and …..myself (not resident in West Belfast since 1979).
    But the people who actually live there have returned a Sinn Féin MP to Westminster (although he wont go) and five of six MLAs to the Stormont assembly.

    I dont suppose I would have voted for them in 2010 or 2011 and we can take it as read that Mr O’Doherty wouldnt…..so it would seem that an electorate, at least as informed as Mr O’Doherty and myself are backing the people who caused all this damage to them.

    That seems odd. Unless of course the people there dont see it that way. I think I might have playeda small part in the first Feile…..a soccer match in St aidens School…..a week designed to hope that nobody would actually get killed during the week which commemmorated Internment.

    From my recollection I played alongside an English priest temporaily attached to a West Belfast parish and Im sure in the SF version of events that guy is a non-person.
    But the “hold” that SF holds on West Belfast is indeed complete. Just try getting an unpaid volunatry job there and explaining your connexion to West Belfast (“I left in 1979”) to the interviewer who happily has an accent different to my own.
    The lady from Western Europe judges MY attachment and committment to the Falls Road!!
    Indeed. She belongs. I dont.
    So whether its politics or community jobs or An Feile mood music, the stranglehold is complete.
    Some people who dont much care for Sinn Féin effect to not understanding how this happens.
    The people of West Belfast have retrospectively endorsed the campaign of terrorist violence and dont accept the analysis that the main cause of their inconvenience was Sinn Féin or the IRA.

    It really is that simple.

  • Professor Yattle

    Yes, the same simple point you make – at great length – in every post.

  • nightrider


    That was then, greater now.

    An area within 5 minutes of bus/car/walking distance of nearly all jobs in Northern Ireland?


  • nightrider

    For comparison, from the EB partnership website:

    Economy and Employment
    Unemployment in East Belfast is lower than the Belfast average, with 1.9% of its working age population unemployed in June 2008. However there are underlying issues of inequality based on gender, with many females in part-time and relatively low paid employment.

    Discuss and explain?

    BTW Disability and Incapacity benefits are not included in either link.

  • Mick Fealty


    Do you think Malachi must be mandated before expressing an opinion on his native west Belfast?

  • keano10

    So there are popular figures among The Republican community who used to shoot people but who now support the peace process and they openly express their viewpoint? Wow. And there was me thinking that was such a positive thing…

    This is such poor journalism ultimately. Absolutely no detail of any note. Just another re-rash of Malachi’ ‘one piece serves all’ which he amazingly gets away with churning out over and over again?

    Chris gave a very detailed outline of the numerous events on Feole which have a cross community theme and i was very surprised at the scale of them.

    Lazy lazy work here, im afraid…

  • keano10

    Feile – this i phone is a nuisance for typing on!

  • HeinzGuderian

    Ayeee,how dare you malachi,criticising the good peeps of west Belfast. For shame.
    Don’t you know they have an all inclusive Feely ?
    I remember me dear aul Da saying years ago,that if they tied a Union Jack to a goat,the Unionists would vote for it………………….thankfully,that has now changed,as Robbo knows to his cost.
    But as my good friend Fitsy rightly points out,the good peeps of the Wild West will vote shinner,no matter what colour the beard on the goat is !!


  • Chris Donnelly

    Malachi is, of course, entitled to his views, but I don’t think he has credible grounds for this complaint.

    Take these events, for instance:

    West Belfast Talks Back- Jim Wells (DUP) scheduled as one of the guests

    Blood and Thunder- discussion on loyalist band culture, chaired by Austin Hunter (former Newsletter Editor)

    Bread and Roses (Discussion on Women in Leadership Positions in Ireland)- including PSNI ACC Judith Gillespie

    Samuel Scott grave unveiling- to include speech by DUP MLA Sammy Douglas about the history and legacy of shipbuilding to East Belfast

    Shared Experiences- Dealing with the past- victims’ groups to attend and speak, including relatives of Shankill bombing

    Youth Talks Back- speakers to include Newsletter editor, Darwin Templeton and UPRG’s Frankie Gallagher

    One can assume that the unionist and loyalist representatives, as well as representatives of the PSNI and victims of republicans, who have been invited to attend and speak at these events are more than capable of articulating the perspectives of these communities and how they sharply contrast with those of republicans.

  • Mick Fealty


    Is Malachi not saying that the world and his wife is welcome to Feile except SF critics/close to home? I speak as a major fan. Most of the events I’ve been to over the years have been top class.

    I’d prefer to see it get a little more confident in it’s development. Though. Pick up some of themes that MacGill does. And maybe begin to address the problem of dissent.

  • “And maybe begin to address the problem of dissent.”

    Mick, omerta rules the roost where the Lafia and the Rafia rule the roost.

    Children have been grossly abused by paramilitaries and paedophiles alike yet the latter group has attracted virtually all of the opprobrium. I doubt very much if there will be any investigation into the use of children in riots or their grooming for military and organised crime activity within paramilitary organisations.

  • Independent Ulster

    “One of the most ironic events, from on my perspective, is the talk by John Conroy on torture, Unspeakable Acts, Ordinary People. This will surely be an incomplete event if no one reflects on how some of their own neighbours in west Belfast became torturers.”

    This is not unlike the Catholic Church holding a symposium on the horrors of paedophilia.

  • Pat Mc Larnon

    O’Doherty seems to be saying that he wants Feile to represent his views and promtoe the line he has fed to those who follow his comments in the Telegraph.

  • sonofstrongbow

    Provo-fest has for a number of years headlined a few events that avoid indulging in the Irish Republican myths of their “war”. I suspect that it’s because of the need to maintain funding and to endure the sponsor-horses are not frightened.

    Of course a peek below will reveal Provo-fest very firmly inside its comfort zone. Can’t say I care, although I do find the fest’s infection of the city outside West Belfast objectionable.

    Coincidentally I will be in Malaga at the home of a retired police officer at the same time as the plastic bullet (sic) vigil in Andersonstown. In solidarity we will hold an anti petrol bomb vigil before proceeding with the families to a candlelit dinner at a local restaurant where we will raise a glass to the Heckler and Koch Baton Gun.

  • Mr Fealty…….
    No of course I dont think Mr O’Doherty should be mandated before expressing an opinion on his native West Belfast.
    But you possibly did not note that I linked his experience to mine……also previously of two of those parishes…….and quite obviously I dont think that I should be mandated either, before speaking of West Belfast.
    Indeed you may also note that I was not entirely buying into the vision of West Belfast that SF has…….and even indicating that my own feeling for the place (I last lived there in 1979) has bee marginalised and people who buy “into the programme” are actually more welcome there (in quasi leadership roles…..even if they are from Western Europe).
    Neither I or Mr O’Doherty are the “right sort”.
    I am in fact in broad agreement with him.
    But the salient fact is that nobody listens to the likes of us in West Belfast. And Mr O’Doherty will be writing the same article next year.
    Perhaps the only difference is that he is genuinely angry about it.
    Im just a little saddened but having worked all my life in Belfast and my wife still working there and Ive used the Falls Road up to 2005 on an almost daily basis…..my sadness is tempered by the fact that it is actually a much better place to live than the place I left (actually related to a likelihood of intimidation which did not actually materialise).
    As Mr O’Doherty himself might know, incidents where intimidation “could” happen were actually as potent as incidents where they did happen.
    So I have absolutely no delusions of West Belfast in the 1970s.
    I merely recognise that the voting and other patterns there indicate people are kinda ok with West Belfast 2011 and Mr O’Dohertys article might have been enhanced if he had mentioned that.
    But I dont suppose his readers want to read that either.

    The resolution (?) of any conflict results in a certain amount of myth making…..Ulstermen at the Somme, the unifying nature of the Belfast Blitz. Indeed “conflict resolutionists” are still at it.
    And An Feile is a part of that myth making about West Belfast. But on the whole pretty enjoyable. And the “myth” has (on balance thankfully) taken hold…..and that helps future generations.

  • Independent Ulster


    you say,

    “And the “myth” has (on balance thankfully) taken hold…..and that helps future generations.”

    Arguably such myths make a return to violence, by Loyalists or Republicans, more likely, by sanitising the past and suggesting that murder and mayhem were in some way either inevitable, or justified, despite the perpetrators living in a Western democracy.

  • A perfectly acceptable viewpoint “Independent Ulster”.
    The point is that the people of West Belfast (and Im sure you love it as much as Mr O’Doherty and I do) did not accept the prescription offered to them by you, Mr O’Doherty or me.
    They seem to be ok with that.
    And it would be churlish of us to resent that they have not taken our sage advice.

  • slmccni

    I agree with the jist of this article but I think picking the feile to make the point is perhaps a weak opportunity. It is true that Sinn Fein have a grip on west belfast, their electoral strategy is to have a grip on anything they can. I am from the Falls and now live in North Belfast. In both areas this year they came rapping the doors on election day inquiring if we had been to the polling station to vote and when my aunt (who had just arrived home from work) informed the activist that she had kids to put to bed and therefore would not be voting, she was told the kids could wait, get in the car!

    This is Sinn Feins way…

    I agree that within Sinn Fein there is disdain or perhaps, even more so a complete unwillingness to understand that there are Catholics who don’t see them as liberators. Four members of my family were murdered in the troubles, all of them innocent hard working Catholics who embraced the idea: we are up against inequality but the way to fight it is to take it on in an honest way that commands respect.

    For that they were killed and yet those “men” in our area who were there to defend and liberate, who joined to die for Ireland, are still in the park with their grandchildren, still walking up and down the road enjoying the peace that my families heartache helped to bring around. In West Belfast nearly every memorial garden is a paramilitary one, but the vast majority of the names in them are civilian. Sinn Feins success will not sooth the pain of those who have lost. This is just a long honeymoon period for the party I think.

    The recent comments surrounding the NI Life and Times Survey helped me arrive at a conclusion. Aside from their core republican support people vote for Sinn Fein the workers, not the ideology that comes with it. I helped arrive at this when talking to a Scottish lady who said she had no interest in independence but thought Alex Salmond and the SNP were hard working and trustworthy. She votes for their work, they misinterpret that as an endorsement for independence. The same way Barry McElduff couldn’t get his head around the fact that the statistics were right as regards the proportion who would vote Sinn Fein but didn’t match with those who would vote for a United Ireland.

  • Well obviously I have no time for these surveys.
    But Im confused about Sinn Feins doorstepping technique in North Belfast.
    If I genuinely wanted to vote….Sinn Fein or other…and did not like their attitude…….I would have got in the car and gone to the polling station and voted against SF.
    Its that easy.

  • Independent Ulster


    I asked you politely why I had received a yellow card and I don’t seem to have had a reply. In fact my original posts have been deleted as has my post querying the yellow card.

    Are you saying the Irish Times can carry a story but it is not suitable for Slugger?

    Anybody know what exactly is going on?


    You say,

    “And it would be churlish of us to resent that they have not taken our sage advice.”

    We have been down this route before, you and I, this groupthink by the majority of Nationalists, that glorifes terrorism and murder still needs a proper explanation.

  • Yes I did indeed say that.
    Who needs an explanation? Who deserves one?

  • Surly if Malachi O’Doherty and other critics of the West Belfast Feile do not like its content, etc, they have the answer in their own hands, set up their own Feile in a nice leafy suburb elsewhere. They can all come together as a single harmonious group; and put on a festival that suits their rather eclectic tastes.

    Aha, but that may take years of hard work, much easier to snipe from the sidelines.

  • Limerick

    “this groupthink by the majority of Nationalists, that glorifes terrorism and murder still needs a proper explanation.”

    Independent Ulster,

    The explanation is extremely simple. The political party which is perceived to be best at sticking it to the Prods will always gain the most votes in areas like West Belfast. Regardless of what they have done to their own people. The dissidents don’t get major support because a vote on them is regarded as being wasted.

  • slmccni

    First of all, Mickhall, there is nothing leafy about me and I am critical of the content and purpose of the Feile! I know Sean-Paul O’Hare (one of the organisers). I see the great benefits to it and the effect it has on the catholic areas of west Belfast. But I also am aware of the fact that it was started to try and change the worlds impression of “barbaric” west Belfast. With the murder of two soldiers at a republican funeral the world saw the worst of west Belfast. The festival was set up to try, those that didn’t deserve the reputation, to set things right and for those that were the worst of west Belfast, to use it as a mask.

    If the audience was as widely sourced as the organisers intend then the events, talks and debates would be more constructive but the audience it has make the political events associated with the festival self-serving.

    I also question why you are on a political forum voicing your opinion when you have the Stalinist view of others opinion that they shouldn’t speak unless they do. Many people in our country have strong enough opinions of the other side that they would kill but would never for a second see their point, even to disagree with it.

  • HeinzGuderian

    If they want to vote shinner,they can vote shinner till the British Isles is no more. Doesn’t change the fact they vote for hoods who murdered more of their own religionists than the Security Forces put together !!

    Go figure 😉

  • granni trixie

    The Feile programme is always interesting and I enjoy the events I attend, usually related to the arts and politics. This has added value for me in that it is an excuse to revisit old haunts used as venues such as St Marys College, St Louises where I taught etc.

    That said, it has been disappointing that the programme does not live up to its diversity claims eg if you are in the DUP or from say Nigeria you are welcome to be on a West Belfast Talksback panel – but not if you are someone from WB such as Mr O’Doherty. I remember when his book about the Year 72 came out I asked 2 people from the Feile committee about should he not be invited to the Festival to talk about it. They just laughed at the very idea ie Malachi is not in with the in crowd.
    Also, some years ago I knew of someone who joined the organising committee on grounds that if you cant beat them joiin them. She wanted the programme to reflect more of the diversity within WB. She gave up however, deciding it was hopeless. Until the organising committee is more diverse the progamme will reflect the confines of the usual suspects.

    A basic problem is that notwithstanding the evidence of a sustained SF vote, WB is more diverse and fluid in attitude than outsiders allow.

  • granni trixie is absolutely right in respect of the diversity. Outsiders like to label West Belfast in a certain way and shes right that An Feile would see Jim Wells or the Stranglers as some kinda evidence of diversity.
    But in a sense thats no different to a SDLP Conference in the Ramada…….Invite Duncan Morrow, Rev Norman Hamilton Davey Adams (!!!) but no likelihood of inviting Jennifer McCann or Alex Maskey.
    The difference is that the SDLP never listen to their own voices either.

  • Chris Donnelly

    Is Malachi not saying that the world and his wife is welcome to Feile except SF critics/close to home?

    The irony of making this assertion whilst having recently declined an invitation to participate in an event should not be lost on readers. Some of the most vociferous opponents of Irish republicanism in this country have appeared at Feile, including Eoghan Harris, whose rather arrogant claims made whilst deriding republicans during the event were the subject of multiple posts on Slugger during the recent southern elections.

    Also, SDLP representatives have spoken at Feile events throughout the years, so that criticism also falls.

    Ultimately, Malachi reveals the bogus nature of these criticisms when making his concluding remarks, which pretty much indicate his opposition to the Feile is based simply on his loathing of mainstream republicans and their narratives on the past and present, which he patently does not share.

    That is fine and he is entitled to articulate such a position.

    But presenting it as something else is just dishonest.

  • I also question why you are on a political forum voicing your opinion when you have the Stalinist view of others opinion that they shouldn’t speak unless they do.


    Where did that come from, I was reading your post, thinking this guy makes his point well, I would like to hear more from him on this subject and them bash! I am a stalinist who suppresses free speech, etc. I can only say you are wrong, yes I have strong political and societal opinions, but I am not blind to SF’s version of democratic centralism, which appals me.

    I do wonder though, if for many critics of the WB Feile, it is the fact that the festival has a radical edge which they hate and despise. At times during its debates etc it has given a space to people who are otherwise often marginalised from public space and to folk who would not normally come within a mile of each other.

    Sadly I feel you are expecting a little to much of human nature for a festival not to be self-serving, as it is the very nature of the beast. Even those like Glastonbury which claim they are not self serving are being deceitful.

    I also note people like Malachi and your good self feel they must say a good word for the Feile before putting the boot in and whether you believe it or not I am more than happy to listen to other peoples opinions.

  • AntrimObserver

    Correct me if I’m wrong, but hasn’t the West Belfast Festival been inviting people like Jeffery Donaldson to the West Belfast Talks Back part of the event for several years now? Donaldson has attended, expressed his views and has been received with respect by the audience.

    No fear of dissenting voices amongst the Festival organisers, it appears. I mean, could you get a more anti-republican voice than wee Jeffery?

    I don’t recall the same level of maturity or openness eminating from the loyalist community.

    As for O’Doherty’s absence, maybe the organisers – like me- know he’d just bore the hell out of people.

  • Well in fairness, Peter Robinson and Martin McGuinness attended a Question Time thingy in East Belfast and were seemingly well received.
    SDLP and GAA people attended an event in Strandtown UUP Offices just ten days ago.
    While not fully paid up member of Sinn Féins vision, I am a pan-nationalist and quite content that West Belfast is a much better place than it was when I left it (probably a coincidence…..I dont think its actually better BECAUSE I left it).
    The prescription that I, Malachi O’Doherty and granni trixie might have written for West Belfast is obviously not the one they took…….but its hard to argue with the fact that we were rejected and ultimately West Belfast seems to have done ok without us.
    I dont feel any regret other than I made to feel peripheral on occasions by the people who “run” West Belfast, not necessarily one SF MP, five (of six) MLAs and ten (of twelve councillors) but rather the voluntary structure of the place.
    I will certainly be attending several events and insisting that Mrs FJH accompanies me to as many free and cheap events as possible.

  • aquifer

    As Sinn Fein have performed their fireworks and ideological acrobatics act they had a massive fire hose handy and safety net underneath them.

    The British state, protecting them from pogroms and making sure children had the material wherewithall to finish school even as the Provos drafted them out of it to throw stones.

    Thanks GB taxpayer for funding the festival, and for fixing all that went before.

    Social democracy trumps communist ethnic gun gang.

    There is still the matter of all those businesses that were bombed burned and driven away, but lets not spoil what is a now first class party.

  • lamhdearg

    Lets all hope the young anti-social elements on the other side of broadway roundabout (loyalists)do not return the serve, as to what happened on the 11th night,ie look over the divide see people celebrating their gaelic/green culture (as opposed to orange) and attack.

  • Clanky

    While Malachi O’Doherty’s article is bang on the nail it is also somewhat naive, if Sinn Fein are going to organise a festival then of course it will not tell the true story of west Belfast, in the same way that no-one (at least no-one with half a brain) would expect a festival organised by the orange order to tell the true, warts and all, history of Sandy Row or the Shankhill.

    Of course there were terrible atrocities carried out by the IRA in west Belfast, of course the whole community would benefit from an openess about those attrocities and an admission that the IRA did far more harm to that community than the Brits anmd of course that openess and admission will never come from sinn fein.

    They are after all a political party who are still in the minds of their electorate inexorably linked with the IRA and as such they will want to promote the idea that it was the IRA and Sinn Fein which forced the advances in equality and prosperity which the catholics in west Belfast can clearly see today rather than the idea that the IRA’s campaign of violence actually held back those advances which public opinion in the UK would undoubtedly have demanded earlier.

  • pippakin

    Surely Malachi is right many of the people who bought pain and grief to W Belfast are still there and applauded as heroes, that’s difficult to understand particularly when those who did the same or even perhaps less, on an individual basis, are condemned and still hated.

    I don’t think its possible to have debates about the troubles particularly the victims of torture and abuse unless those debates include IRA violence against their own. There does appear to be an ongoing attempt to whitewash the IRA out of any community violence.

    The shocking thing is that the community most affected by IRA community violence still apparently support them to the extent that if a previous member falls out of favour he/she often become the victims of ridicule and abuse.

    Its hard to disconnect Sinn Fein from the debate but really the political party do need to be extracted from it because although they may still be interlinked internal community violence was not carried out in SFs name.

  • carl marks

    For the first time in many a year I will be attending Fiele, and for the first time I will be there as a participant on Thursday afternoon in the falls park myself and some friends will be giving a demo.
    The people I will be with have never been at fiele before some of them would never have considered going to west Belfast at all ( prods eh) the invite came as a pleasant surprise.
    Maybe Malachi is right but if so they are not on their own, and if you look at other festivals in the north Fiele is perhaps the most inclusive by far

  • Chris Donnelly

    I remember when his book about the Year 72 came out I asked 2 people from the Feile committee about should he not be invited to the Festival to talk about it. They just laughed at the very idea ie Malachi is not in with the in crowd.
    Also, some years ago I knew of someone who joined the organising committee on grounds that if you cant beat them joiin them. She wanted the programme to reflect more of the diversity within WB. She gave up however, deciding it was hopeless. Until the organising committee is more diverse the progamme will reflect the confines of the usual suspects.

    The organising committee is a fairly small group of individuals. Given that your making such an allegation against two of the individuals concerned, perhaps you’d like to further elaborate on this matter as I find it difficult to accept the accuracy of your point, not least because of who else has appeared at Feile, not to mention other individuals who I’ve no doubt you’d consider as ‘in crowd’ members who haven’t appeared at the Feile as guests.

    Regarding the second point, I’m fairly confident about the identity of the individual concerned and feel you are deliberately misleading the readers with your allegation.

    If I’m right, the individual who walked away because of the allegedly insular nature of Feile works for an organisation which has a number of events on during this year’s Feile.

    I’d also suspect that you’re on shaky ground arguing that she resigned for the apparent reasons you’ve provided.

    But it’s easy to toss out some superficially credible stories which are actually untrue or distorted in order to support Malachi’s false contentions about Feile.

  • son of sam

    For those of us west of the Bann,could Chris or anyone else advise us of the current members of the organising committee?Presume it must be fairly common knowledge in West Belfast.Where does the funding for Feile come from?

  • Chris Donnelly

    The Feile promotional booklet lists a broad range of funders, doubtlessly due to the breadth of events now under the programme’s banner. In fact, the ‘Sponsors and Funders’ are listed under that title on the Feile website.

    The organising committee is probably in there as well, Sam.