So Féile starts in two weeks. The West Belfast Festival.
On 9th August 1971, Internment Without Trial was introduced. That night, the Ballymurphy Massacre took place. For some years afterwards, the anniversary was marked by often intense rioting in West Belfast. The Festival has its origins in trying to turn the anniversary into something more positive. It is my recollection that the first year (mid 1970s) featured a Football (Soccer) Tournament. I myself played in that Tournament.
For some years, I defended Féile against accusations that it was a “Provo” event. Previous Directors of the Festival have included Caitriona Ruane (current Sinn Féin MLA for South Down) and even more recently, Danny Morrison a former Sinn Féin MLA and their former Senior Press Officer).
I attended part of the Launch last Thursday and there were a lot of Sinn Féin worthies in attendance. No great surprise. The current Westminster MP is a Sinn Féin member, Sinn Féin hold five of thesix Assembly seats in West Belfast (SDLP hold the sixth) and May’s Council Elections confirmed that the Party holds the lions share of the West Belfast seats on Belfast City Council.
West Belfast IS a Sinn Féin fiefdom. They would claim they deserve it. Certainly they have a finger in every pie and want to preserve that status. They appear to be using the Festival to further embed themselves into West Belfast life.
But there is a lot of good stuff….music, drama, comedy, art…most of it a bit “lefty” and some of it a bit pretentious.
For the political anorak, there is a lot of interesting stuff. The showpiece is “West Belfast Talks Back”. This is essentially a Question and Answer session, chaired by BBC journalist, Noel Thompson. The only confirmed panellist so far, is John O’Dowd, Sinn Féin Education Minister. To shw their open-ness and to celebrate Diversity, there will likely be a unionist politician, a Protestant clergyman and/or an English politician.
The “junior” version “Belfast Youth Talks Back” …confirmed panellists Stephen Corr, a SF Councillor and Anna Lo, Alliance MLA for South Belfast.
You might well say that this invalidates the point I made that Sinn Féin has a one-party state in West Belfast but lets be frank…the Alliance Party or any unionist politician is irrelevant in West Belfast. I wonder if Sinn Féin or any Committee member at Féile would be so happy giving a platform to…their only rival in West Belfast…SDLP.
Interestingly SDLP sponsored an event last year. A highly successful one on Victims. Even Danny Morrison and his hat (he has a very big hat) sat thru that ……in sullen silence.
But this year……..no SDLP event. Why not? Well on Thursday, I heard two versions. One version has it that SDLP did not submit an event for the programme. The other version has it that no political party can sponsor an event. I will make further enquiries of course.
Other interesting things…a lecture on the Wild Geese, the Irish regiments who fought in Europe, before and after the Treaty of Limerick in 1692, a Palestine Day, a lecture on Leonard Peltier…and the unveiling of a bust to Bobby Sands in the Felons Club. The man doing the honours will be Gerry Adams TD….an event, which certainly appears “party political”.
As always Amnesty International will be sponsoring an event. As always it will be a love-in between Amnesty and local journalists. In the chair will be Malachi O’Doherty. The subject will be “Human Rights and Investigative Journalism”. Quite properly, there will be reference to the horrible injustice of journalists jailed in Egypt….but wouldn’t it be nice if Malachi mentioned that Andy Coulson and other British journalists are rightly in prison for infringing the rights of others thru phone hacking.
All in all …a good ten days in prospect.