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5 September 2016 Edition

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Feelgood fantastic Féile

‘Féile an Phobail plays a leadership role in the transfer of ideas across culture and time – at the heart of modern Belfast’

“FÉILE AN PHOBAIL plays a leadership role in the transfer of ideas across culture and time. We are at the heart of modern Belfast where our communities are increasingly multicultural” – the words of Féile Director Kevin Gamble as he introduced Féile 2016 at its launch in Conway Mill on 28 June.

This is what Féile is about, moving away from the war on our streets and drawing on the forward political thinking of the republican and nationalist community, building social and cultural capital that benefits the community.

And Féile lived up to that promise with its many debates, discussions, exhibitions and, of course, entertainment that satisfied the music and comedy palate of the many thousands who passed through the Falls Park marquee and venues.

Féile embraced the old rockers who turned out for Deacon Blue and the rebels who fought tooth and nail for tickets to see the ever-popular Wolfe Tones.

And apparently, among those clambering for Wolfe Tones tickets were diehard People Before Profit acolytes who set aside their “We're neither Orange nor Green” mantra to get down and rebellious with ‘the Boys and Girls of the Old Brigade’.

The feelgood factor of Féile trumped the negativity surrounding what Kevin Gamble described as a “veiled threat” in a letter distributed by the Irish Republican Prisoners’ Welfare Association (IRPWA). 

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The letter, put through doors in the Beechmount area of Belfast on Monday 25 July, claimed that Féile were “promoting the PSNI” through events during the festival.

In response to the threat, more than 120 community groups, elected and community representatives, accused those behind the IRPWA letter and others pursuing an “anti-community agenda” to cease.

Féile has the unique ability and confidence to open its metaphorical doors to all and sundry and this is found in the West Belfast Talks Back Q&A, where unionist politicians have always received a warm welcome despite some of their representatives throwing that welcome back in Féile’s collective face.

DUP ‘firebrand’ Gregory Campbell (who has been on the panel on a number of occasions) was appearing this year alongside Sinn Féin MEP Martina Anderson, Alliance Party deputy leader Naomi Long MLA, and GAA pundit Joe Brolly. Campbell and Brolly provided the more robust exchanges as Campbell took the opportunity to defend and regurgitate his anti-Irish language stance, to the ire of many in the audience.

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• The Talks Back panel: Joe Brolly, Gregory Campbell MP, Naomi Long MLA, Martina Anderson MEP and chair Tara Mills

Given the centenary year that is in it, numerous discussions focused on the Easter Rising and the Battle of the Somme. 

On Monday 8 August, a number of events were held in St Mary's College with Dr Richard Grayson analysing the Battle of the Somme while actor Dan Gordon brought his acclaimed More Than a Flag project to St Mary’s. Gordon gathered together young Protestant bandsmen together for a “unique theatre project” to explore questions of culture, identity and history based around the experiences of young men from east Belfast who fought in the First World War.

Historian Fearghal Mac Bhlaoscaidh, who teaches history at Belfast's Irish-language Coláiste Feirste, examined the role and impact of Tom Clarke and “Mid-Ulster Fenianism” on republicanism in the lead-up to the 1916 Rising.

In a fascinating talk, Mac Bhlaoscaidh challenged the commonly-held revisionist view that the 1916 leaders were driven by a blood sacrifice, favouring instead the position that republicans such as Clarke made the decisions they made based on “civic virtue”.

The question ‘Can the Left Solve Ireland’s Problems?’ was addressed in a panel discussion, with Sinn Féin's Eoin Ó Broin TD and People Before Profit MLA Gerry Carroll the main protagonists.

The general view was that the potential for a positive outcome is undermined by the ‘Left sectarianism’ of PBP/Socialist Workers’ Party people who attack Sinn Féin incessantly, refusing to accept the party’s left-wing credentials.

• Vigil for victims of rubber and plastic bullets

Relatives for Justice sponsored a number of events, including the annual United Campaign Against Plastic Bullets white-line picket and the debate “Massacre at Amritsar” on the 1984 attack when British SAS-trained Indian military personnel killed over 250 Sikhs who occupied the Golden Temple in the Punjabi city.

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•  French photo-journalist Anne Paq talks with Clara Reilly of Relatives for Justice and Sinn Féin MLA Pat Sheehan. Paq gave a talk entitled 'Obliterated Families' in which she described her experiences during the Zionist war on Gaza in 2014

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The human rights NGO also sponsored “Obliterated Families”, a photographic exhibition and talk by French photo-journalist Anne Paq, who witnessed and photographed the Zionist assault on Gaza, Operation Protective Edge, in 2014. In a moving talk she described how she witnessed, families suffering multiple deaths in the slaughter and highlighted the fact that those who suffered the bombardments were not just statistics but were real people whose suffering is still very real.

The only pity of Féile is that you can’t be everywhere at once.

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