A NEW festival launched in Belfast this week aims to broaden the horizons of political and cultural debate in the city. Perhaps fittingly, the launch comes at a time when yet another row threatens to derail the political institutions.

Endorsed by Stephen Fry, the Belfast ‘Festival of Ideas and Politics’ is a week-long series of events including talks, films, workshops, theatre, and quizzes.

The festival intends to provide a platform for important conversations on the major issues of the day including education, public services, the recession, sectarianism and the legacy of conflict.

The organisers hope to encourage participation by people who aren’t normally involved in politics and they seek to “stimulate a discussion on new cultural and political ideas”.

Speakers will include experts from Queen’s and the University of Ulster, as well as local politicians, but the focus is very much on engaging new voices.

Events include a discussion on migration this evening (March 9) with Professor Peter Shirlow at Queen’s University, a discussion on the role of the arts in peace building tomorrow (Wednesday) at the Ulster Museum, and an event on Friday at the Carnegie Library on the Donegall Road discussing the potential fallout from the May general election.

Festival Director Peter O’Neill aims to facilitate a space where “important conversations can be held” without party-political loyalties intervening. He adds the festival aims to encourage people to get active in politics in order to bring about positive change.

“Our mission is to excite people’s minds and passions by organising an inspiring programme of performance, discussion and debate,” said Peter. “The festival is designed to encourage young people and we are linking our events to voter registration sessions.”

Organisers are also soliciting ‘Alternative Manifestos’ from participants, intended to outline policies and promises that citizens would like to see politicians take up as we approach the Westminster poll.

“Our goal is to present politics in an accessible way, to involve those who are perhaps alienated or disengaged from the current establishment,” said Peter. “Hopefully our alternative manifesto project will prove successful as politics is too important to be left only to the politicians.”

Find out more or submit your alternative manifesto at http://imaginebelfast.com