October 11, 2008

Votes Strictly a Must for Local Stars

The Belfast Telegraph has a message for its readers today - an old saying adapted for a new era. It's "Vote Early, Vote Often".

You'll be relieved to know this has nothing to do with elections but instead refers to tonight's editions of X Factor and Strictly Come Dancing.

Co Down's Christine Bleakley is an early favourite on the BBC1 dance show, while Dungiven teenager Eoghan Quigg is bidding for X Factor glory on ITV.

But they won't stand a chance of success without strong support from home.

Other regions - most notably Scotland - have famously rallied behind their local acts, including some that the rest of us didn't rate much.

So we make no apology for throwing our weight behind Eoghan and Christine, and urging everyone to get dialling. They would both be worthy winners.

A recent article in this newspaper highlighted the proud contribution Northern Ireland stars have been making to Saturday night telly.

As well as Christine and Eoghan, there's Colin Morgan from Co Armagh, who has been winning acclaim in the lead role of BBC's new fantasy series Merlin.

And let's not forget Belfast-born Derek Thompson, who is still playing long-suffering Charlie Fairhead in the medical series Casualty.

It's hard to believe that Derek's now 60, although many of us will remember him from the 1980s Troubles drama Harry's Game.

Northern Ireland has moved on beyond belief since those days, and that's undoubtedly reflected on the entertainment front.

It's not just a case of us presenting a more positive face to the outside world.

We're now firmly established as a major venue for big name music acts.

A quick glance at some of the concerts heading our way before Christmas bears this out.

The list includes Oasis, Coldplay, McFly, Duffy, Paul Weller and the Kings of Leon.

Also making a welcome return to home soil will be our very own Snow Patrol, soon to release their long-awaited new album.

All this goes to illustrate just how much things have changed since the bad old days, when Northern Ireland was routinely snubbed by the top acts, and nightlife was often virtually non-existent.

Things are still far from perfect here. So-called peace walls still stand, and the divisions they reflect still run deep. The threat of dissident republican violence remains very real, and properly functioning politics has yet to break out at the Assembly.

But it's worth reminding ourselves every once in a while of the progress that has been made.

Some of our current teenagers were not even born when the paramilitary ceasefires of the 1990s were announced.

There's a strong desire in this community to keep moving forward and that is something that our stalling Executive at Stormont should understand.

If the Assembly doesn't prove its relevance soon, it will be increasingly dismissed as totally irrelevant.

People are certainly much more concerned about the credit crunch and rising prices than the current problems at Stormont.

Indeed, the Executive is probably further down the public priority list than the results of this weekend's X Factor and Strictly Come Dancing shows.

At least, our votes there can really make a difference.

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