On Friday morning I went to a panel discussion called “Prospects for Devolution?” that was part of the New Lodge Festival and was held at Belfast Castle. There was a whole weekend of speaking engagements, but I opted only to go to that one–in part because it looked the most interesting, and also because I thought that the other topics were pretty vague and not necessarily up my alley (if you will).
The panel was made up of David Ervine MLA from the PUP, Dean Pittman, US Consulate General, Belfast, and Gerry Kelly, SF MLA and also their spokesperson on Policing and Criminal Justice. (Kelly is also an ex-prisoner who was brutally force-fed in an English prison while on hunger strike in the 70s–recall my quote from the Critical Moment article where he describes what that is like–and was part of the massive prison break in 1983. I’ll see him speak about this next weekend as part of the Feile.) It was moderated by a woman from the BBC.
The discussion was pretty interesting, even though there was not necessarily anything new said. Ervine said that he felt prospects were never better, that the north needs to come to terms with its terrible history and its future must be shared; that he doesn’t know what the DUP will do come November 24th, but that there is nowhere else to go–nowhere logical anyway. “The opportunity must be taken; SF is no more frustrated than I,” he said.
Dean Pittman, the American, talked about how the main US interest in the north was to help keep stability and peace in the area, and that even though many have said that Bush has no interest in Ireland, US policy has not changed since Clinton. To be honest, though Pittman seemed like a very nice man, I wasn’t very interested in the American perspective. It was more of a “let’s cheer on the peace process” speech.
Most of the conversation revolved around Paisley, and the prospects of moving forward with him in office. Does he really reflect the majority Unionist opinion, are there factions within the DUP who want to move forward, who will replace him when he dies? The DUP is run by a demagogue–that is the problem, according to Kelly. Everyone fears change…the changes that equality and power-sharing will necessarily bring–especially the DUP. Kelly also commented on the irony of the DUP standing in the way of Stormont, when they were the ones who wanted it in the first place. Kelly also discussed how far away he believes fair policing and justice is, but I’ll not go into the details (more of the same- policing must be accountable to nationalist community, should represent people, etc).
I’m getting a bit restless and eager to leave this place. [Note: by this place I meant the Europa, where I sent my emails, not Belfast!! Ha.] One more post and I’m off. In the future I’ll try to spend more time on these.