Don’t mention racism: West Belfast Youth Talks Back at Féile an Phobail
by Catherine DOYLE for Northern Ireland Foundation
6 August 2014
This year’s West Belfast Talks Back had a diverse panel: Steven Corr (Sinn Féin), Julie Anne Corr (PUP), Anna Lo MLA (Alliance Party) and Sean Connolly (motivational speaker). The Upper Springfield Development Trust Participation Group organised the event as part of Féile an Phobail (Festival of the People). Yvette Hill (UTV) chaired the discussion, and she started by explaining that the three main areas of concern for the young people involved were education, racism and apathy.
The first issue discussed — and one that monopolized the event — was the conflict in Gaza. Anna Lo described how she has been inundated with concerns from South Belfast. She said: “I have received a number of emails from my constituents saying the same thing; they are all disgusted by the atrocities in Gaza.” Ms Lo has passed on their concerns to the party leader.
Steven Corr described the media coverage of Israeli-Palestine as “crazy”. He went on to call for a “boycott of Israeli goods”.
Julie Anne Corr (PUP) stayed neutral on the subject. She said: “When you associate yourself with a side, you become a part of the problem.” Ms Corr’s impartial standpoint led to a member of the audience using her own words against her. She had earlier quoted her mother’s advice, explaining how it had helped motivate her into politics, when she said: “you can simply exist or you can be the change”. But Ms Corr defended her stance as “diplomatic”.
Yvette Shapiro commented on the use of the Israeli-Palestine flags by loyalists and republicans, “Don’t we have enough flags?”
Ms Lo blamed Northern Irish politicians for “politicising” and “sectarianising” Gaza. She said: “I think people don’t understand what’s going on in the Middle East”, and that it was a “tribal thing”.
Mr Corr disagreed: “I don’t know if that’s true.” He mentioned the number of mothers and children attending rallies and pickets, saying that it is a “humanitarian issue … above politics”.
Both Ms Lo and Mr Corr called on America to step in.
Ms Shapiro had to intervene and “park” the discussion on Gaza, when the audience wouldn’t let the panellists change topic.
Julie-Anne Corr complained that Belfast’s PRIDE parade has become too “commercialised”. As a lesbian herself, she said that the advertising side to the parade had led to her making the decision for the PUP to stand to the side during PRIDE, instead of parading. Ms Corr commended Sein Finn for leading the parade, and said it was “great to see them there”.
The other main topic discussed was apathy.
Sean Connolly explained that the psychology behind it lies in young people not believing in themselves, saying that the “foundation of human potential is belief systems”.
Julie-Anne Corr stated: “Our educators need to take more of a responsibility”. She said: “It’s great having a poster”, but independent bodies like FASA and PIPS need to be brought into schools to tackle depression.
Anna Lo MLA also discussed the nature of Northern Irish politics. She described a “cabal” between Sinn Féin and the DUP, and called for a more “inclusive politics”. She said: “The future is bright, but we all need to work together.”
Steven Corr mentioned the Féile an Phobail and said: “It’s a very positive time for West Belfast”.
The space in Whiterock Leisure Centre was a room more than half empty, but it was a diverse range of speakers. It was great to see a panel with an equal number of women to men. Indeed, Anna Lo described “her first taste of discrimination” as being gender based, when her family told her to leave school to support her older brothers.
The event overlooked racism, which was one of the issues supposed to be discussed. It should have been covered considering the increasing number of racist attacks in Belfast. This wasn’t entirely the panellists’ fault, as it was a question and answer event.
West Belfast Talks Back offered an interesting and constructive debate from an assorted panel, but hopefully next year there will be more numbers in the audience to appreciate it.