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6 August 1998 Edition

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The fun isn't over

Nothing shows the growing confidence within the nationalist community in the Six Counties better than the summer festivals, particularly in Belfast and Derry.

This week in North and West Belfast the communities have presented an unbelievable wealth of talent, allied with a sense of fun and a clear picture of the type of future they want to see. It presents to the world a vibrant, forward-looking community.

All this comes at a time when the Unionist political leadership are chasing shadows, engaging in silly-season word games. Their demand that Sinn Féin say the war is over is an irrelevancy at this time

In reply, Gerry Adams said that a lasting settlement ``requires more than words or word games about whether the war is over. It demands action, consistent and continuous until we have a democratic peace settlement. Sinn Féin is working for an end to war on this island. Our peace strategy is the cornerstone of our party policy. The process of conflict resolution has been difficult and frustrating for everyone. In particular I am very conscious of the difficulties which unionists face in participating in a process of change and engaging with those which it sees as its enemies. But they should stop making excuses. They should start talking. Now.''

 

Making a difference



Féile an Phobail - revolution through celebration



by Laura Friel

It isn't so very long ago that the annual Anniversary of Internment was marked every August in West and North Belfast by `traditional' bonfires. It began as an act of defiance, but it increasingly collapsed into a bizarre re-enactment of Orange bonfires of the Eleventh night. In a kind of them and us scenario, they had July, we had August, they burnt the Tricolour, we burnt the Union Jack, everyone drank too much.

Unwittingly it fed the British media with the sort of images which added credence to their ``two tribes'' dismissal of the conflict in Ireland. In the weeks before 9 August, nationalist estates became engulfed with litter as local kids collected wood, tyres and junk to build the bonfire. Residents lived in fear of fires built too close to their homes, parents lived in fear of their children getting hurt. Everyone feared that the RUC, on the prowl and looking for trouble, would provoke a reaction from the young crowds attracted to the bonfires and someone would be seriously injured or killed.

In 1989 our worst fears were realised when the RUC killed with a plastic bullet a 15-year-old boy in the New Lodge, Seamus Duffy.

The images were negative; shadowy figures revelling against a burning backdrop. For many people within the nationalist community the experience was negative as well.

Feile an Phobail transformed the Anniversary of Internment into a positive celebration. A celebration, not simply of the tenacity of northern nationalists to resist and survive, but also their ability to make a difference, securing change and developing a wealth of untapped talent. The defensive, even hostile ethos of the bonfires was exchanged for the inclusive hospitality of a festival which attacks increasing numbers of national and international contributors and visitors every year.

Unfortunately the willingness of Northern nationalists to move forward, has not been matched by the British media whose agenda remains firmly planted in the past. Nationalists who were outraged at the BBC's folksy coverage of ``The Twelfth'' as distinct from the orgy of sectarian violence which accompanied Drumcree and culminated in the Quinn murders, have been appalled by the media's total lack of interest in one of the largest street festivals in Europe. Making a difference for the BBC continues to be the pursuit of a pro unionist ethos which marginalises the nationalist community by refusing to engage with nationalists outside a narrow political agenda which identifies them as ``the enemy''.

Speaking at the inaugural Damien Walsh Memorial Lecture, Robin Livingstone, editor of the Andersonstown News, recalled spending a joyous St Patrick's Day with his daughter in Belfast City centre earlier this year only to read an account of the carnival by Malachi O Doherty in the Scotsman the next day. In what can only be labelled as racist, O Doherty described `Belfast's' reaction to this ``rag tag parade of the poor'' who were, according to O Doherty physically different, paler, skinnier and spoke in coarser tones. Of course the BBC wouldn't be caught out in such a blatantly sectarian display but the fact that 40,000 people attended this week's opening festival parade in West Belfast was totally ignored is equally insidious.

 

Art attack




Sean O'Tuama runs his eye over some of the exhibitions at Féile an Phobail

St Mary's College on the Falls Road, in West Belfast, was the venue for a number of exhibitions during Feile an Phobal.

Kevin Noble, a member of the Culture and Conflict group in New York, had an exhibition of black and white photographs. Most of these were of prominent Irish Americans who have supported the struggle in Ireland over the years. With it being the 200th anniversary of the 1798 revolution it was good to see a photograph of a comemoration at United Irishman Samuel Neilson's grave in Poughkeepsie, New York.

Also included were Easter commemoration marches in the USA.

All in all, a fine exhibition giving a flavour of the support that Irish Republicans have `across the pond.'

`In my humble opinion' was an exhibition of political cartoons by John Kennedy. These highly detailed cartoons from the period of the 1994 ceasefire onwards included caricatures of politicians involved in the conflict in the Six Counties. Although most of them portrayed the intransigence and backwardness of Unionism, no politician or political philosophy was portrayed accurately. This, coupled with the neo-'South Park' style of the drawings, served to trivialise the conflict.

The resulting impression of Kennedy is that of an infant on Prozac throwing a pointless tantrum.

The most vibrant exhibition was that of paintings by Hugh Doherty, a Republican prisoner who has spent the last 23 years in an English jail. His exhibition fell into two categories: an evocative and wistful set of landscape paintings which included a portrait of three volunteers on a misty mountain top. And a series of abstract pieces which may have appealed to a connoisseur of high culture but which left this artistically challenged reviewer bewildered.

The An Phoblacht photographic exhibition was (of course) excellent. It included many scenes from the conflict in the north in recent years. Three images which stick in the mind are a tearful little girl holding a placard which reads, Restore All Prisoners Rights Now: a darkly sinister line of riot gear clad RUC men on the Garvaghy Road one July night in Portadown in 1997; and, from the same period and place, a woman holding a plastic bullet on which had been carved the words ``Fenian Bastards.'' Mal McCann was the photographer responsible for the pictures which ably prove that we only use the best people here at An Phoblacht!

 

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An Phoblacht
44 Parnell Sq.
Dublin 1
Ireland
 

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