My other half is fond of saying “we need some carnival in our revolution”. He works a bit too hard for me to say he always lives by it, but he is of course right about this (like so much else).
Last week Féile an Phobail embodied the saying.
Credit must be paid to the organisers for some fine talks and debates. The crowds at them all, from Falls Library, to Duncairn Cultural Centre to the heart of it all St Mary’s, bore witness to the success of providing space for debate.Everything from debates on education, health, housing, LGBT rights, language rights, abortion rights, women who fought in 1916, to Brexit, to hopes for a New Ireland, a new Palestine and a new Basque country, was attended in huge numbers.
Over the past few years turnout at debates were not what they were. Some events of course have drawn huge crowds, but some were worried about the fall off in audiences for many of the debates. This year just about every debate was packed. This was despite some significant clashes which I think last year would have had impact. Eamon Phoenix was speaking in Duncairn about the Tan War at exactly the same time Robert Fisk was speaking in St Mary’s. I saw this one and thought it was going to end in tears. Nope. Two massive crowds at both events and a Twitter stream that brought joy to the heart of this old anorak.
Of course the clár was not different to previous years. It was the same high standard. What was different? Why did West Belfast Talksback get packed to the gills again despite the DUP pulling out for no good reason? My little theory is this. A re-engagement in politics this year is reflected with an energised re-engagement with debate.
Féile an Phobail managed to capture this year’s political zeitgeist and the result was a huge success. And it is remarkable that it could happen respectfully, inclusively and with great positivity, even when the debates were of a contentious nature. Many could learn from that example.
The lack of mainstream media focus on the week was therefore deeply regrettable. Only Michelle O’Neill’s comments regarding constitutional protection for unionism in a new Ireland, an idea mooted by Sinn Fein 14 months ago, gained any focus. Censorship really does not need to be formal policy to be in daily use.
On Friday night as I swayed to the UB40 along with 6000 others I felt so proud to be part of my adopted community. I looked around and saw young people, victims of conflict, elected politicians, journalists, lawyers and leaders of industry all smiling and cheering and taking selfies. So much to be proud of.
Féile an Phobail was born of the darkest days of conflict when this community was called animals and worse. It gave voice to the most politicised electorate on the island, and continues to do so. It provided an alternative for young people not interested in the criminality of bonfires with a free rave that young people are calling the best concert of the summer. With one word – Féile – we have a week where whatever your progressive revolution might be you have a carnival to participate in with respect and pride.