As I’ve been doing for the last ten years approximately, I went to West Belfast Talks Back at the Feile An Phobail last Wednesday. I was a little late getting there and all of the audience was in place. At the door of the hall the chairman – William Crawley of BBC fame – stood, with the panel members. William as is his way wrung my hand warmly, said he hadn’t seen me in some time, where had I been, missed you…That sort of thing. I think part of it was his normal nervous energy and the rest of it was the extra nervous energy he was feeling, getting ready to march into the hall and do his thing. It’s funny how you can broadcast to tens of thousands of people, but when you have to face ’em live it can put pressure on even the most seasoned.
The debate itself was…let’s be honest…mediocre. I can’t remember a milder discussion. No one from the audience spoke with passion, with the exception of a woman with an English accent who acted as spokesperson for about half-a-dozen people wearing campaigning t-shirts who were giving panel member Bishop Donal McKeown a hard time because they’d had babies years ago and they’d been buried God knows where. NO doubt to do with the prevalent doctrine of LImbo and all that then. The DUP man on the panel was Simon Hamilton, the proverbial young rising star in the DUP. He was educated, polite, almost non-controvrsial. Admirable human qualities I’m sure, but not good ingredients if you want to spark debate and lively comment. I was asked – as usual again – to go to the green room afterwards – asked by three people separately – but I couldn’t summon up the will and besides I was knackered and due to set out for Rosbeg first thing in the morning. I went home feeling tired and…morose. It’s a bit like coming out of a class that you thought would go a lot better than it did.