The man sitting in front of me was more interesting than anything said by the panel. He was quietly and with amazing skill constructing a cartoon of the panel even as they spoke. His name’s Brian John Spencer and if you google him you’ll find out more about him and his talents. Speed and accuracy: there’s not much of it about.
The chairperson of ‘West Belfast Talks Back’ was Noel Thompson, who used carrot and stick to jolly things along, and the panellists were Danny Kennedy (UUP), Father Tim Bartlett, Rev Lesley Carroll and John O’Dowd MLA. How was it? I’ve been at worse and I’ve been at better.
The first topic – predictably – was Gaza. Danny Kennedy emphasised the terrible suffering of the Jews in the Holocaust and that Israel is surrounded by enemies; Tim Bartlett said he’d been in Palestine many, many times, that the suffering was awful and the two sides needed to sit down and negotiate a two-nation settlement. Lesley Carroll said more or less the same. John O’Dowd said he made no apologies for being four-square behind the Palestinians.
All, in a sense, were right. But with the first three – Kennedy, Bartlett and Carroll – I kept thinking of finding a man with a broken leg and a beaten-up face lying in the gutter, and instead of preventing further violence on him and tending his wounds, you were to deliver a lecture on the need for former enemies to negotiate towards harmonious relations. There is a time for keeping bullies and savages at bay and a time for converting the bullies and savages to a better approach. The present situation in Gaza calls for the former and anyone who doesn’t see that and muddies the waters with talk of the Holocaust (see https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ROMpheGOGLc&feature=share ) and talk of the need for jaw-jaw not war-war and faults on both sides (all those Hamas rockets that are 95% ineffectual) needs to check their moral code closely.
From there we went to attitudes to gays, lesbians and trans-genders. Tim Bartlett talked about how although objectively he saw their sexual conduct as sinful, he was happy to go for a Big Mac with a group of them and he had friends who are gay. Danny Kennedy said the same only in vaguer language. Lesley Carroll said something similar; John O’Dowd said he was for protecting all lesbians, gays, bi-sexuals and was supportive of a programme in schools for educating young people in the area of sexual identity. Weirdly, I found myself nostalgic for Ian Paisley standing up and booming that the time was now to SAVE ULSTER FROM SODOMY.
There’s a hard truth applies to the ‘West Belfast Talks Back ‘discussion. The further we get from the days of conflict, the less urgent and riveting are the panel exchanges and the audience contributions. In the old days, questions from the floor burned with indignation and outrage; panel discussion was firm and even tough-knuckled. I suppose it’s a problem all the media have – how to deal with (relative) peace and still be interesting. Last night, too many people were too anxious to be seen as liberal in their views for the discussion to ignite.