Families are the bedrock of successful communities.
But for families to prosper, they need homes.
And if you want to provide homes, you need to make the provision of housing a priority.
Sadly, that hasn’t been the case in South Belfast where hotel rooms have taken precedence over homes for the local community.
Since 2005, Belfast City Council has been promising to deliver homes on the Gasworks site to complement office and hotel developments.
12 years on, we have the office blocks and the global hotel chain. But no homes.
In fact, now the Council is planning to agree to an expansion of the Gasworks Radisson hotel before even one house is built.
That’s not acceptable to me, as I recently informed Federico Gonzalez CEO of Radisson parent company Carlson Rezidor.
To give Mr Gonzalez his due. He promptly responded to my concerns and replied in person from his Minnesota headquarters.
But, sadly, we still don’t have progress needed for the community to give its support to an expansion of the Radisson and a new office block in their back yard.
That’s why billboards have gone up around the Gasworks site appealing to the powers-that-be to put homes before hotels.
Belfast is a city on the rise. But everyone needs to share in this success. The Gasworks site, therefore, is the perfect test ground for those who wish to prove their bona fides to citizens of this great city who feel they are being left behind in Belfast’s forward march. There needs to be a place at the Top Table (more on that below) for all.
It’s a test which Belfast City Council in particular should not fail.
And Carlson Rezidor should note that they won’t be allowed to wash their hands off this situation either. After all, you can’t raise a family in a hotel room.
There is a strong democratic theme to talk show supremo Stephen Nolan’s new TV series Top Table which brings young people face to face with top pols — at the Top Table.
I was delighted to be involved in the show’s baptism of fire this week and proud of the contribution of our young people.
Like most viewers, I was particularly taken by the contribution of young Irish speaker Katy Rose Mead (above) who took a lively and unabashed approach to demanding an Irish Language Act. It was a refreshing reminder of the fact that this new generation of Gaeilgeoirí, many born after the Good Friday Agreement of 1998, aren’t content to wait around for their rights. All of which will come sharply into view next Saturday in Belfast at An Lá Dearg, a mammoth demonstration in Belfast city centre to demand an Irish Language Act which will ensure respect for Irish speakers.
The hashtag for An Lá Dearg (The Red Day) is #BeidhMéAnn which translates as I Will Be There.
In my case, unfortunately, I won’t be there as I have an engagement that day at the graduation ceremony in Quinnipiac University, Connecticut, USA, home to the Museum of Ireland’s Great Hunger. But be there for me and for everyone who believes in a shared and prosperous future in which the treasure of the Irish language is enjoyed by all our people.
This week I lodged my nomination papers for the Westminster election on 8 June. Joining me was my election agent and Carryduff councillor in waiting, Ryan Carlin. In it to win is our motto as we take our message to the doorsteps of South Belfast.