Professor Peter Gregson, the vice-chancellor of Queen's University, has written an apology to Professor Geoffrey Alderman, the lead columnist in the Jewish Chronicle, who was invited to join a panel discussion in the Belfast Festival, only to have the invitation withdrawn. In his letter he stated that he endorsed the 'full and unreserved apology' already offered by the festival director. I have already blogged about the background to this matter and do not intend to cover that ground again but I do welcoem the apologies.
This is the premier arts festival in Northern Ireland and it should be inclusive and fair, in keeping with the vision of a 'shared and better future'. It certainly accommodates a wide range of events, provides a platform for a wide range of perspectives and caters for a wide range of tastes. However if we look back over a number of year there are some views and some types of event that appear to have been ignored.
The programmes may well have reflected a consensus within the cultural establishment but if there are views and interests that are not reflected or represented within that establishment, then the festival organisers should engage with those who hold those views and have those interests. That is the first step on the road to addressing the problem of exclusion.
Recently I talked to Professor Gregson about my commitment to a 'shared and better future', a future that is built on equity, diversity and interdependence, and I was encouraged by his response. If the festival organisers pursue that vision they will undoubtedly enhance the festival and increase their audience. There are significant opportunities to reach new audiences who may never have attended festival in the past and surely that is good for everyone.