Of Public Meetings and engaging with the powers that be.

Tonight I totally forgot that Flowerfield Arts Center pottery class was deferred by a week because of the launch of the NW200 2013 events program. However I noticed while hovering around reception that there was a public meeting being held in Portstewart Town Hall. Now I am not one for Public Meetings I have been to a few and they are inclined towards excessive amounts of “What-about-ery”, acrimony and finger pointing. This one caught my attention because it was a study into “Cultural and Heritage Activities of local community groups” being done by the local Borough council in association with the Peace III initiative, which has as one of it’s aims:

“Building Positive Relations at Local Level aims to challenge attitudes towards sectarianism and racism and to support conflict resolution and mediation at the local level.”

I approve of the idea that of a collection of social policies might , just might, promote the healing that this wee province badly needs and at that broad level such an aim is admirable and needs both our interest and support. – [SFX of a sharp intake of breath] I have to say at this point that experience has left me with little faith in the ability of elected officials to see beyond the double locked manacles of their party’s policies and the mandate they were elected on, this is in a nutshell the tyranny of democracy 🙁 We want those we elect to represent us yet we choose them on the basis of their policies some of which we are diametrically opposed to. We also expect them to be as fired up and enthusiastic about the things we are fired up and enthusiastic about and for a lot of the time that is just not the case. Politics and politicians are perhaps a necessary evil we all have to endure so we can continue to have the levels of freedom we currently enjoy. However as I get older I realise that this “grinning and bearing” the vagaries of Ulster politics both local and provincial has left me apathetic. I shout at the TV and rant and rave about the high percentage of plonkers that are supposedly running things, but do I do anything about it?  I can hear myself answering that now “… well I have a busy life and I don’t have the time to be bothered with all that childish posturing !” and that is not really an answer. If I want the people that are representing me to represent me I have to let them know what I think, what I want and how best they can do what they were elected to do.

Having convinced myself that this was something after 30+ years of not being involved I would dip my toes in the water again and see what would happen. This particular meeting was a part of a wider program that wanted to find out what people define as cultural activities in the public spaces of the Borough and how to asses how these contribute to the social fabric and economy of the local area.

I was first to arrive and for a moment had the awful sensation that there was just going to be me. It seems that my own apathy is shared by many others, while I was not alone there were only 10-15 people in attendance.

Much was discussed and we all danced the “careful waltz” around those traditional activities that divide us. I am not sure what the meeting accomplished and I have been asked to present answers to a questionnaire that I will have to consider carefully and get back to them.

However one thing did strike me as we talked, culture and heritage are not those dusty things of the past that try to define us (and sometimes in Northern Ireland succeed) they are part of the heartbeat of a community. Culture is just the out working of the community being the community it reflects who we are both good and bad. Heritage is just the echo of the culture of the past.

What we see as “bad” in our culture is never our fault we are very quick to point the finger and blame who ever it is we feel is dragging us down conversely we are very proud of the good as it reflects well on us.

What we and through us, our elected representatives have to do is find a plan where the largest number of people get that proud, good positive vibe out of how our community expresses ourselves and minimize those things that the community feels are negative.

This will take a lot of time and effort.

Overall I left the meeting encouraged, I think although we were a small group and somewhat chronological gifted , we gave the organisers ample things to think on. Perhaps it is time I looked to becoming more engaged in local politics. Councillor McDonagh has a certain ring to it 😉

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