Northern Ireland’s been a den of online political conversation, debate and bad-tempered argument for a long time. It’s out of that foundation of dial-up message boards that Slugger was born all those years ago. It’s produced a space where people already engaged by political goings-on at a local or national level can voice their opinions against the melee of other informed individuals - including those with vastly different views.
Getting the politically informed to talk to each other is a good first step in Northern Ireland, a land were you’re taught from an early age not to talk to strangers about politics or religion. Sometimes feels that as a consequence of that human advice, God blesses us with unusually notable weather to give us something to chat about!
But Slugger’s become an online watering hole where the less informed and less engaged can hazard an opinion too. A place where you’ll not get cut down too quickly, and where it’s possible to have an opinion without having to swear allegiance to a particular party. With a range of contributors, there’s a spectrum of commentary, and plenty of the post authors pitch in below the line in the stream of
consciousness comments too.
Tonight’s awards were presented in the echoey atrium of W5 in the Odyssey. Belfast really lacks a diversity of non-political, non-hotel spaces in which to host a few hundred people. (But if W5 want to host too many more big evening events, they’d need to invest in some wall cladding!) Generous sponsors provided food, drink, big framed awards, and Tim McGarry humorous asides as he kept the night on the road.
While a lot of the awards featured politicians, there was a good mix within the categories. Local councils and councillors as well as MLAs, Stormont Committee Chairs, and politicians providing representation outside NI in Westminster and Europe too.
Local newspapers reporting life in their communities as well as more prominent journalists. And a political blogger (left) with a real focus on north coast issues.
- Up-and-coming Politician of the Year - Daithi McKay (Sinn Fein)
- Local Newspaper of the Year - Impartial Reporter
- Local Council of the year - Belfast City Council
- Local Councillor of the Year - Deirdre Nelson (DUP)
- Jobsworth of the Year - Assembly Commission (and it was collected in good humour by the newly appointed director general Trevor Reaney - pictured to the right with his award)
- Journalism Award - David Gordon (Belfast Telegraph)
- Stormont Committee Chair of the Year - Danny Kennedy (UUP)
- Political Blogger of the Year - Nevin Taggart behind the North Antrim Local Interest List (NALIL)
EternalRepresentative (MPs, MEPs and others) - Peter Robinson (DUP MP)
- MLA of the Year - Naomi Long (Alliance)
Living in East Belfast, it was good to see two of our MLAs present - Dawn Purvis and Naomi Long (below). Good also to hear politicians praising good traits and hard work in their peers in other parties. So clips of unionists on screen naming nationalists and vice versa. Less generous for Iris Robinson to heap praise on her own party colleagues but no wider.
Unfortunately no space awards, though perhaps next year the Armagh Observatory might want to sponsor a category.
Sometimes you’d think that politicians would prefer if only their party won votes and seats to the exclusion of everyone else. Yet without a variety of opinion, politics would become totalitarian and democracy would be lost! But tonight guards seemed to be down, and I hope the politicians, their minders and their supporters caught a glimpse of the benefits or a wider engagement and a more collaborative approach.
So a splendid effort by Mick Fealty and his team to get such a range of sponsors to make the event possible and free. And perhaps a further encouragement for political structures, big and small, to seek recognition and appreciation from beyond their natural constituency over the next 12 months.
PS: Did I get the feeling that Channel 4 - one of the sponsors - are trying really hard to get a foothold in Northern Ireland as they set up the local outpost of their 4iP digital media initiative and build links with the local digital and media community. Stuart Cosgrove and Ewan McIntosh both in attendance to hand out awards!
Update: Davy Sims' Digital Circle podcast catching the atmosphere and some of the attendees and winners appeared a couple of hours after the awards finished.