Belfast’s newest festival launched this morning in the Lord Mayor’s parlour in the City Hall. Nichola Mallon described the city of Belfast as “young, edgy, colourful and creative” as she introduced The Belfast Festival of Ideas and Politics.
Organiser Peter O’Neill [Ed – no, not that P O’Neill!] explains that the festival’s mission is “to stimulate people’s minds and passions [with] an annual programme of discussion and debate”. None of the invited keynote speakers are politicians.
Running between 9 and 15 March, over thirty five events will “showcase politics, culture and activism’ in Northern Ireland. There’s something in the programme to tickle every reader of Slugger O’Toole, though that’s not the only audience. There’s also a conscious attempt to engage the interest and minds of the growing mass of discontented non-voters. [Ed – they read Slugger too!]
Some highlights from the programme (which is available in full on the Imagine Belfast website and also sitting in paper piles around city centre venues and libraries). Most of the events are free but should be booked in advance on the festival website.
Monday 9 March
Who Cares About Voting and Identity? // 1pm-2pm // Ulster University York Street, Room 82A31 // As we gear up for the May UK general election, can we still rely on the framework of our ancient quarrel to help us understand twenty-first century behaviour? What can we learn from census findings? And from our newest citizens who have settled in Northern Ireland? What lessons can we learn from elsewhere, the stark divisions of Belgium or Bosnia, or the more assimilationist model of England or France? Nicholas Whyte will guide the audience through these questions.
What Public Sector Reforms does Northern Ireland Need? // 4.15pm // Ulster University York Street, Room 82A02 // Prof Derek Birrell asks how public sector reform is defined – eg, in the Stormont House Agreement, an OECD report and the policies of a special ministerial advisory group – and look at the possibilities for joined-up government, reducing governance by large quangos, and increasing user participation and supporting localism.
Tuesday 10 March
Who Cares about Gender and Dealing with the Past?/ // 1pm-2pm // Ulster University York Street, Room 82A31 // Dr Fidelma Ashe and Carmel Roulston ask if we don’t incorporate recognition of the gender norms and inequalities that were an essential part of the conflict and have contributed to the instability of the settlement into strategies to deal with the past, how can the future be made more safe and equitable for younger men and women?
The Threats to Western Democracy // 1pm // The Harp Bar // Philip Coggan argues that we ignore threats to our democracy today at our own risk. Amid the turmoil of the financial crisis, high debt levels, and an ever-growing gap between the richest and the rest, he believes it is easy to forget that the ultimate victim could be our democracy itself. But what exactly is democracy? Why should we value it? What are its flaws? And could we do any better?
Is Democracy Dead // noon-2pm // The Black Box // NUS-USI host an interactive session to discuss and debate whether democracy is dead and whether voting in elections can bring about change in society.
There’s also a discussion on whether charities should “stick to their knitting” and keep out of politics, and a comedy night with Steve Richards.
Wednesday 11 March
The Role of History & Historians in Dealing with the Past after the Stormont House Agreement // 1pm-2pm // Ulster University York Street, Room 82A31 // Grainne Kelly, Adrian Grant and Cillian McGrattan make up a panel to debate the role history and historians can play in addressing the legacy of the Troubles. The Stormont House Agreement included a commitment to establish an oral history archive, as well as a timeline and statistical analysis of the conflict. But is the production of an objective history of the conflict possible? History can be both constructive and destructive by bringing to light issues that could cause further sectarian entrenchment. Are historians the appropriate profession to take a lead role in addressing the legacy of the Troubles? Can an oral history archive bring us any closer to the ‘truth’ of what happened? Do we need a wider archive of documents etc. to complement it?
Peace Building and the Arts // 7pm-9pm // Ulster Museum // Elected representatives are responsible for forging public policy but is law sufficient for dealing with matters of emotion within a society in transition? Chaired by commentator Susan McKay, a panel will present examples of their work and explore how art has progressed peace building in Northern Ireland, along with its potential going forward and how practice can be shared internationally.
People Power: a Tenx9 special event // 7.30pm // The Black Box // The monthly storytelling event where 9 people can take up to 10 minutes to recount a real story from their lives. This month’s theme will “true stories about people power”, stories from your life where the people had the ideas, used their power and made the change. Visit the Tenx9 site http://tenx9.com/peoplepower if you want to tell a story.
Thursday 12 March
Gender Quotas in Politics // 12.30pm-2pm // Queen’s University Council Chamber // Political parties have not taken seriously the democratic problem of the male super-majority in politics. This talk by Yvonne Galligan will discuss aspects of the gender quota debate and address popular myths and misconceptions about quotas. It will bring evidential research to bear on the topic, showing the difference quotas can make in improving women’s share of political power.
‘Say what you see’: the catchphrase of British political posters // 1pm-2pm // Ulster University York Street, Room 82A01 // A picture is worth a thousand words, they say. Party political posters are visual manifestos. How do you read them? Prof Arthur Aughey will illustrate how political posters can capture not only distinct historical moments but also the continuity of political messages.
Living Well with Faith and Politics // 7pm-9pm // Duncairn Cente for Culture and Arts // Hosted by Susan McEwen from the Corrymeela Community, this event will bring together people with a background in political leadership and faith leadership and analysis. Along with questions from the audience, the evening will look at how faith and politics can each bring out the best in each other. Panellists include Duncan Morrow (Ulster University & Corrymeela) and Liam Clarke (Political Editor, Belfast Telegraph).
Great Big Politics Pub Quiz // 7.45pm // The Black Box // Yes it’s back. The (sometimes) annual quiz and a band of guest question-masters will test your team’s knowledge of political trivia, political history and political culture. A treasure trove of books, DVDs and political ephemera awaits the winner, donated by regular quiz supporters, political consultancy Stratagem. The ticket price will go to support Amnesty International’s work to free Saudi Arabian blogger Raif Badawi and others similarly imprisoned for exercising their right to freedom of speech.
Friday 13 March
Rethinking the Public University // 12.30pm-2pm // Queen’s University Council Chamber // The once revered ancient institution of the public university has almost disappeared under neo-liberal marketisation, with a loss of public finance and public function. Rather than lament, Proj John Brewer believes we need to turn it into an opportunity. Universities need to recapture and reshape their global mission in the 21st century to make themselves truly public institutions again but in a new sense. This requires them to redefine their public value and make themselves relevant to the complex problems threatening the future of humankind. This requires more change to universities, not less; broader visions, not narrower ones; and for them to be outward facing with a renewed sense of public purpose and engagement.
Conversations on Commemorations // 1pm-2pm // Ulster University York Street // With Dr Maire Braniff and Sara McDowell discuss some of the opportunities and challenges for commemoration in Northern Ireland during this ‘decade of commemorations’. What is remembered? What is forgotten? Why do we commemorate? Can we share commemoration? Annotate what events you think should be remembered and what principles commemoration should follow on the ‘Remembering Wall’.
What Will Happen on May 8th (the Day after the Election?) // 2.30pm-4.30pm // Carnegie Library, 121 Donegall Road // An interactive seminar to explore the politics of the post-election landscape, the implications for the jurisdictions within the UK (Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland) and the possibility of addressing poverty more effectively through positive participation and engagement. Chaired by Grainne Walsh with contributions from Jeane Freeman (Women for Indy, Scotland) and Nerys Evans (former Assembly Member, Wales).
Arrivals 2 is a night of “theatre tapas” that promises five plays, featuring four actors, by five of Northern Ireland’s most exciting local writers (Daragh Carville, James Meredith, Deirdre Cartmill, Maggie Cronin and Finn Kennedy). Following last year’s production of Arrivals, the story continues with a set of plays about children: a haunted house, a murder monologue, a budding romance, a long lost brother and a visit from God at a drunken party.
Wednesday 11-Saturday 14 at 8pm (Thursday 12 at 1.30pm, Friday 13 at 230pm) in the Crescent Arts Centre; and Sunday 15 March at 7pm in Strand Arts Centre.
A set of informal civic conversations will be hosted in café situations across Belfast: Monday 9 March in Duncairn Centre for Culture and Arts between 3pm and 5pm; Monday 9 March in Flowlens (139-140 Holywood Road) between 7pm and 9pm; Tuesday 10 March in Common Grounds between 4pm and 6pm.
Mr Smith Goes To Washington // Monday 9 March at 6.30pm // American democratic ideals under threat from political corruption and complacency, with only the idealistic and the pure of spirit able to lead the nation back to its principles. Sound familiar?!
Dr Strangelove or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb // Tuesday 10 March at 6.30pm // Ever feel as if the world is being run by madmen? Stanley Kubrick’s sharply paranoid Cold War satire takes this fear and runs with it. The ultimate comedy about mutually assured destruction, it asks what would happen if an actual madman became part of the system. Remember, just because you’re paranoid doesn’t mean they’re not out to get you …
Four Lions // Wednesday 11 March at 6.30pm // Arch-satirist Chris Morris’ 2010 comedy is almost spookily prescient in its depiction of the misadventures of four incompetent British Jihadists as they plot an act of terrorism. Now, looking back from 2015’s post-ISIS/Charlie Hebdo perspective, Four Lions makes particularly unnerving viewing – life become a tragic imitation of Morris’ comic art.
Beyond Right & Wrong: Stories of Justice and Forgiveness // Friday 13 March at 6.30pm // How do whole societies recover from devastating conflict after the blood dries and the screams fade? The memory of violence transforms survivors into prisoners of their own pain: can they live, converse, smile – and even laugh – beside someone who blinded them, killed their parents, or murdered their children? Can victims and perpetrators work together to rebuild their lives? This documentary explores the intersections of justice and forgiveness as survivors heal from these tragedies. Followed by a discussion hosted by Lord Alderdice (chair the Centre for Democracy and Peace Building).
Duck Soup // Sunday 15 March at 1.30pm // The Marx Brothers are in fine anarchic fettle in this classic knockabout comedy. A subversive satire on militarism, nationalism and the pomposity of politicians, Duck Soup ruffled plenty of feathers on its 1933 release, with its cynical take on war and international politics at a time when the world was just waking up to the crisis of Nazism. Soup – probably not duck – served in the QFT bar from 12.30pm.
When you think back to the excitement in Scotland over the independence referendum, with more than 90% of the electorate casting a vote in some areas, is this the sort of civic participation in political life we should be aiming for?
Alan Meban. Tweets as @alaninbelfast. Blogs about cinema and theatre over at Alan in Belfast. A freelancer who writes about and reports from civic, academic and political events, reviews cultural performances, chairs discussions, and live-tweets, streams and records lectures and conferences. He delivers social media training, coaching and consultancy, produces podcasts, is a member of Ofcom’s Advisory Committee for Northern Ireland, FactCheckNI board member, and is a member of the Corrymeela Community.