TEDxStormont: Visions of Northern Ireland's future
In a local version of a global phenomenon, a diverse range of voices talked passionately at Stormont of their hopes and aspirations for a better society. Chris Kilpatrick listened in
Imagination, ideas and creativity flowed throughout the corridors of Stormont at this year's TEDx conference in Belfast as a host of speakers laid out their visions of hope for the future of Northern Ireland.
Discussion on the aspirations of the people of Northern Ireland and beyond took place in the Great Hall at the seat of political power, with everything from cultural identity, conflict resolution, science, economics and music covered.
From its beginnings in California in 1984, TED has grown into a platform for world changers and visionaries.
Throughout Thursday at Stormont, speakers from a range of backgrounds gave their take on this year's theme – Imagine – 15 years after the signing of the Good Friday Agreement.
They included high-profile figures from business, arts, politics and education.
Among those to take to the stage yesterday were Snow Patrol frontman Gary Lightbody and Kate Carroll, the widow of police constable Stephen Carroll who was murdered by dissident republican terrorists in 2009.
First Minister Peter Robinson was first to take to the stage, followed by Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness.
Mr Robinson used his speech to call for an end to what he described as "educational apartheid".
"We have so much hope to be fulfilled," he said.
Mr McGuinness spoke of his respect for those with a British allegiance and his expectation that others would respect his own "allegiance to Ireland and to the peaceful and democratic reunification of this country".
Lightbody selected a group of up-and-coming musicians from across the country to perform a song he wrote for the event entitled, This Is All That I Ask of You.
He said he had named the group Gary Lightbody and the Assembly as a nod to the surroundings of their debut public performance.
Prior to taking to the stage, the singer-songwriter said: "I'm in a cast of quite awe-inspiring individuals and truly looking forward to it. I'm honoured to be asked to speak at TEDxStormont.
"TEDx is a globally-respected concept and fosters great innovation through the people it provides a platform to."
Kate Carroll spoke of the creation of a foundation in her husband's name which she hopes will help create a lasting legacy of peace – a legacy her husband endorsed throughout his lifetime, she told the audience.
A total of 20 speakers were involved, including Apprentice star Jim Eastwood, actor and comedian Tim McGarry, war correspondent Christina Lamb and John D'Arcy, founding chairman of the Oh Yeah Music Centre.
‘We separate our kids yet are surprised by division’
Tim McGarry on integrated education
“I want to say to TED people watching across the world, come to Northern Ireland, it’s a great place. If Peter Robinson and Martin McGuinness went to the same school do you think Northern Ireland would be the same? I know it doesn’t happen in this country, but why not?
“We take our four-year-olds and we say: ‘Are you enjoying playgroup with Billy there? Well, say goodbye to him because you’re not going to see him for another 14 years.’
“Fourteen years we separate our kids then somehow we are surprised we are a segregated society. We need to integrate our schools. We bus children to same-denomination schools. Years ago in America they bussed people in to de-segregate schools. Here in Northern Ireland we bus them away to maintain segregation.”
‘I respect Britishness. All I ask is respect in return’
Martin McGuinness on culture identity
“I know a young man in Derry city, he’s a friend of my wife. He lives in the Creggan estate. He’s a Rangers supporter. He goes to the local pub when the matches are on and he sits among the Celtic fans with his Rangers jersey on and nobody blinks an eyelid. That’s where we need to get to in regard of all of our identities.
“I absolutely respect the rights of unionists, absolutely respect the rights of those who wish to regard themselves as British. All I ask in return is they respect my Irishness.
“I am an optimist. I am involved in this peace process because I believe change can happen. We have transformed the political situation here in the North. We need to continue with that work. But most important of all, we absolutely need to believe in ourselves.”
‘Imagine more lucky ones with a chance for new life’
Jo-Anne Dobson on organ donation
“As a mother I fought for my son and as a politician I want to fight for everyone. I believe everyone should fight, everyone should have that right to stay alive and it’s up to those of us in positions of responsibility to take on that fight. That’s why I have tabled a Private Members’ Bill at Stormont to bring simple change in the law.
“Just think for a moment. There are 200 people in the audience here today and less than one third of you have signed the organ donor register. Almost every single one of you would accept a donated organ if it was to save your life.
“And if you look around the room that same number of people here today are currently enduring kidney dialysis across Northern Ireland.
“Remember, 15 people die waiting on a transplant. My son, Mark, is one of the lucky ones, but imagine there were more lucky ones, that everyone had that chance for a new life.”
‘I promised I would ensure Steve didn’t die in vain’
Kate Carroll on building peace
“Steve is dead: they were words I dreaded hearing for many, many years.
“Steve Carroll was a wonderful man. On the day he was buried, as I looked into the grave in disbelief at the nameplate, I made Steve a promise.
“I promised him I would never become bitter or vengeful. I also promised him I would find a way to ensure that he did not die in vain.
“His belief was peace would come through the young people of today. They would be the driving force for peace here in Northern Ireland. So, in his job as a policeman and in his free-time he took together young children, Catholics and Protestants, and he did sports with them, team-building and he tried to teach these children that we are all the same. We can all live at peace in Northern Ireland.
“Imagine if Steve’s dream came true.”
‘The talent we have at the moment is extraordinary’
Gary Lightbody on the music scene
“I thought the best thing for me to do was to stand up here and speak from my heart about something that’s very dear to me — the Northern Irish music scene. In the 15 years or so of peace it has flourished and one of the things that has helped has been the infrastructure that has been set up in Northern Ireland.
“There are so many gigs now. When I started going to gigs in Northern Ireland there weren’t that many gigs, especially international acts.
“But now every international act comes to Belfast and they come here as an essential part of their European tour. Sometimes they’ll have Northern Irish guests which elevates Northern Irish music to be shown in the spotlight.
“Now everybody comes to Belfast, that’s an extraordinary thing for us. The talent we have at the moment is just extraordinary.”
‘We have to end the system of educational apartheid’
Peter Robinson on changing Northern Ireland
“In a small community like this there have been few who have not been touched by the hand of violence and by the murders and atrocities that have taken place. But this generation imagined it could be different. This generation was prepared to dedicate itself to attempting to make it different.
“I believe we now have one of the most successful peace processes in the world today. Of course there are difficulties, of course there are obstacles, of course it isn’t easy or straightforward. What is important is that over a period of time you can see the length we have moved.
“We have to end educational apartheid in Northern Ireland. You cannot expect, if you sort out your children on the basis of religion, sending them to one school or the other, that they will think anything other than division and difference as they grow up in life. Where there is a will you will find a way, but first you must imagine.”
TEDx was created in the spirit of TED's mission, "ideas worth spreading." The program is designed to give communities, organizations and individuals the opportunity to stimulate dialogue through TED-like experiences at the local level. Read more