Imagine this! A brand new festival for Belfast.

Imagine this! A brand new festival for Belfast – the first of its kind in Northern Ireland.

The inaugural Belfast Festival of Ideas and Politics is designed to celebrate and support the role of the citizen in political life. With talks, workshops, theatre, film, humour, a quiz and lively debate, the festival provides a unique opportunity for people to have their say and engage with some of the big issues of our time.

The sceptics among you may think ideas and politics are mutually exclusive! But we think there has never been a better and more urgent time to discuss innovative ideas and ways of bringing these into the mainstream of our political and cultural debates. In the face of widespread public apathy and disenchantment with the political process, the very legitimacy of our political institutions is threatened as public confidence in our systems of government and local politicians ebbs away. We risk a low turnout in the forthcoming elections and, particularly from younger people who appear to be increasingly alienated from political life. However, it’s too easy to blame the politicians for all our ills – now’s the time for ordinary people like you and me to set the agenda and spark some new ideas on transforming the way we live together.

Across the world, citizens are taking control of their political destiny by coming up with new ideas and ways of implementing change. Perhaps it’s time we joined this movement? When you think back to the excitement in Scotland over the independence referendum, with more than 90% of the electorate casting a vote in some areas, is this the sort of civic participation in political life we should be aiming for?

The mission of the festival is to stimulate people’s minds and passions by organising an inspiring annual programme of discussion and debate. Our aim is to provide a high quality showcase for new ideas on politics, culture and activism in Northern Ireland.

As we approach the UK general election, the week-long series of 37 events is aimed at engaging people like you in political discussion and debate in the broadest sense. The festival covers a wide spectrum of issues including, but certainly not limited to, mainstream political debate. We will, for example, look at 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 cafe conversations.

The touchstone topics in the programme, which are likely to be prominent in the forthcoming general election, also include Voting and Identity; Dealing with the Past; Immigration; Gender Quotas; Faith & Politics; Public Sector Reform; Charities & Politics; and Peace Building & the Arts. We want to encourage participation in these debates from people not normally involved in political debate and stimulate a discussion on new political ideas and activism.

In case you are wondering, the organisers are not aligned with any political party or interest group and we are representative of a wide range of backgrounds. In fact we would welcome your involvement and ideas for future events.

Participation in the festival is open to all and while the main debates will not be party-political, we will be discussing hard issues and ways to make change happen. We don’t have the answers to resolving the problems that limit our society – that’s why we need you to participate. But maybe our speakers and performers can spark an idea and with your help bring it to life. Our programme also includes some cutting edge drama and workshops that explore identity and the visual manifestations of politics. We think there’s something for everyone in our programme – so why not take a chance of discovering something new in a talk or taking part in a workshop?

Nor do we have much funding to play with so our programme is quite experimental. But most of the events are free. The organisers are all doing this in their free time – no one is paid and we’re not for profit. The festival will be piloted this year and evaluated to see if it has the potential to be become an annual festival with events hopefully organised outside Belfast next year.

So what do you think? If you like what you’ve seen, join the debate on some of the big issues of our time and spread the word!

Peter O’Neill, Festival

We’ll be in touch.