Almost half of those attending the East Belfast assembly Speaks out were young. This shows the interest they have in the politics of their land, and their attempts to feel part of the community, because they are aware of that which directly affects them. This social consciousness was shared with dozens of people who were in the auditorium of the Ashfield Boys High School this evening, listening and talking to different political and media representatives at an event entitled, East Belfast Speaks Out.
The BBC’s Mark Devenport acted as moderator for the panellists: Northern Ireland’s First Minister, Peter Robinson; deputy First Minister, Martin McGuinness; Independent Assembly Member, Dawn Purvis; Minister of State, Hugo Swire and Sunday World journalist, Liam Clarke.
For an hour and a half, East Belfast residents expressed their concerns and ideas about the city, remembering the past while looking to the future.
Topics such as capital expenditure cuts, university fees, water rates, reductions in public sector jobs, a special corporation rate for Northern Ireland, were of particular interest.
However, the audience also touched on the constitutional matters, and the First Minister stated that it was not for the Government to decide upon a united Ireland, but that the decision was that of the citizens.
They spoke of the past, but also about improvement and progress. Each and every one of inhabitants of East Belfast are building their future day by day, learning from life experiences but always trying to fly higher. It became clear that we need a greater political support to move forward, but there is a willingness to walk that path together.
Some people asked about the low turnout for the event. The issue does not appear to be one of disinterest, given the hundreds that packed the room. What we need are more sessions like this, to continue hearing the real problems of real people.