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West Belfast man banned from his biggest day

Film award joy turns to sorrow

By Francesca Ryan

Joy has turned to sorrow for a West Belfast man after his short film was included in a top Irish film festival – but he was told he can’t cross the border to attend the event.

Sean Virtue is originally from Jamaica but has been living in Clonard for seven years. Just last week he learned his film, This Mad Man Screams, would be shown as part of the Naas Short Film Festival in Co Kildare. The excited 31-year-old quickly contacted the Irish Embassy in London in a bid to be granted permission to travel across the border, as his visa only permits travel “within the UK”. But he was met with a stern rejection and was unable to attend the festival. Insult was added to injury when the movie scooped an award.

“I found out early last week that my short film had been accepted by the Naas Short Film Festival in Co Kildare,” explained Sean. “I was so happy with that, then I heard one of the actors in my film was up for best actor award.

“I immediately phoned the Irish Embassy in London and explained the situation, they told me a visa application to allow me across the border would not be processed within the time that I had to spare and could take up to ten weeks. I asked was there anything at all I could do and was told no.”

And so Sean was left with no choice but to sit at home in Clonard while his film was hailed at the festival on Sunday.

“It would have been great to have been there last weekend to see my film screened and also to see the actor pick up the award he won,” he said. “I was a bit disappointed I could not get to go, but a relative went on my behalf and picked up the certificate.”

That relative, Kildare man Sean Andrews, has written to the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade, Eamon Gilmore, to ask that the visa regulations be re-examined to facilitate short one-off visits by people who would otherwise have to go through the time-consuming process.

“One wonders would Usain Bolt  have had the same difficulty if he had wanted to pay a brief visit here to pick up a prize,” said Mr Andrews.

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