NI’s first Democracy Day: can we do better?

By March 27, 2017Creative Industries, Newsroom

The snap election, fake news, Brexit, populism, the election of Donald Trump and RHI – we are living in turbulent and uncertain times so there was no better time for Northern Ireland’s first Democracy Day.

The Building Change Trust (BCT) in association with the Imagine Festival of ideas and politics held a special Democracy Day, which explored all aspects of our democratic institutions and looked at how we can arrive at more accountability and participation in decision-making.

The event at the MAC on March 24 included the launch of a major report on the health of our democracy ‘Beyond Voting: Deliberative Democracy in Northern Ireland’ commissioned by the Building Change Trust and researched and written by leading policy analyst Robin Wilson and respected independent researcher Paul Nolan.

It also featured a talk organised by the Northern Ireland Foundation on ‘Are we living in a post-truth democracy?’ by leading US academic Bill Adair, creator of Pulitzer Prize winning US fact-checking platform PolitiFact and the Knight Professor of Journalism and Public Policy at the Sanford School for Public Policy at Duke University in Durham, North Carolina.

Paul Braithwaite from the Building Change Trust said the purpose of Democracy Day was to examine the state of democracy in Northern Ireland, showcase examples of grassroots democracy in action and begin building a movement for more accountability and participation in the decision-making process.

He said: “In many parts of the world citizens are losing faith in the electoral system that had been considered the consensus vehicle of human progress over much of the last century. Northern Ireland is no exception to this trend. Whilst populist demagogues would have us believe ‘strong’ leadership and a return to authoritarianism is the answer, proponents of deliberative democracy believe quite the reverse – that a key part of the solution to this malaise is a deeper involvement of citizens in decision-making.

“Our Democracy Day explored the health of democracy in Northern Ireland and beyond through a deliberative lens – showcasing some groundbreaking experiments both locally and internationally and initiating a dialogue about what some of the solutions may be.”

Democracy Day exploresdrecent developments in global democracy with a series of  events including art performances, films, keynote speakers and hands-on democracy experiments.

This includes: Fake News: What You Can Do about It, a Quiz-style training session on fact-checking techniques from the team at FactCheckNI and Democracy on Trial: a court case that puts Democracy on trial to determine whether it’s guilty of failing people in the UK, the US and across Europe and determine whether any longer it can be considered fit for purpose.

The 3rd annual Imagine! Belfast Festival of Ideas & Politics featured a packed programme of 86 events in 35 venues across the city and is supported by 30 partner organisations.

The seven day festival took place during 20-26 March with its biggest ever programme to encourage the public to discuss and debate the big issues of our times. In this year of Assembly elections and commemorations, the strictly non-partisan festival offered up an eclectic week of discussions, talks, workshops, theatre, comedy, music, exhibitions, film and tours to prepare us for a new tomorrow.  There was even a poetry competition for people to pen a verse or two on a political theme.