The inaugural Imagine! Belfast Festival of Ideas & Politics.

The inaugural Imagine! Belfast Festival of Ideas & Politics:

Well and truly launched at Belfast City Hall on 11 February by the Lord Mayor, Nichola Mallon and writer and performer, Nuala McKeever. Involving over 35 events during 9-15 March in 12 venues across the city, Northern Ireland’s first festival of ideas & politics is supported by 20 partner organisations, many of whom attended the launch event.

Speakers such as Ray Mullan from the Community Relations Council and Cathy Gormley-Heenan, Ulster University, were keen to stress the need for the greater participation of people in political debate and policy-making. Other contributors included Paul Braithewaite from Building Change Trust; Quintin Oliver, Joseph Rowntree Trust and Nuala O’Neill, Stakeholder.

Festival Director, Peter O’Neill explained that the festival is designed to celebrate and support the role of the citizen in political and cultural life. He argued that with talks, theatre, workshops, film, humour and lively debate, the festival will provide a unique opportunity for people to have their say and engage with some of the big issues impacting on people’s lives in a fun, dynamic way.

He added: “More than ever, our society needs to cultivate a culture which provokes imaginative ideas and ways of engaging with each other on the big issues of our time. We want to encourage participation from people not normally involved in political debate and stimulate a discussion on new ideas and activism”.

The organisers believe that there is something for everyone in the programme – most of the events are free and spread across the city. The line up of speakers includes Steve Richards, BBC presenter and political commentator; Philip Coggan, author and columnist with the Economist; leading artist Rita Duffy; and local professors from Queen’s University and Ulster University such as Dave Archard, Arthur Aughey; Derek Birrell; John Brewer; Yvonne Galligan; Dagmar Schiek; and Peter Shirlow.

Other contributors include Lord Alderdice, Liam Clarke, David Grant, Margo Harkin, Tom Kelly, Paula McFetridge, Susan McKay, Duncan Morrow and Nicholas Whyte.

The touchstone topics in the programme, which are likely to be prominent in the forthcoming general election, include Voting and Identity; Dealing with the Past; Immigration; Gender Quotas; Faith & Politics; Young People & Democracy; Public Sector Reform; Charities & Politics; the post-election political landscape; and Peace Building & the Arts.

However, other events examine wider themes such as the threats to democratic processes; the right to have children; the public value of universities; the tension between free trade & social rights; and issues raised by audiences in a series of informal Café Conversations.

The programme also includes cutting-edge theatre from Terra Nova Productions; a special Tenx9 storytelling event on People Power; and workshops that explore identity and the visual manifestation of politics. In addition, a film strand, programmed by Queen’s Film Theatre, features some of cinema’s sharpest satires and the Great Big Politics Pub Quiz is resurrected for those who want to have some fun whilst raising funds for Amnesty International.

The launch event generated considerable coverage in the local media but particularly on social media platforms. You can view this record on Storify.

Photos: Kevin Cooper/Photoline

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