A rainbow of diversity
Great cities are usually diverse cities and often they are multilingual cities too. Helsinki, Barcolona, Bilbao (in that order) are my three favourite European cities (after a certain city on the Lagan) and all have strong bilingual propositions.
And, increasingly, standout cities are places where difference is not just tolerated but respected and celebrated.
So I was delighted this morning to roll out the City Hall red carpet for the pioneering Irish language group Pobal for the launch of its October ‘Cearta agus Ceiliúradh’ shindig which raises a glass to An Ghaeilge while also highlighting the need for legislative protection for Irish speakers — An Irish language Act.
Thóg amhráin Ghráinne Holland agus ceol na ndáltaí as na Gaelscoileanna mó chroí gur thug siad dóchas dom go mbeidh meas agus cothrom na féinne ag an Ghaeilge amach anseo i mBéal Feirste.
I was heartened by the singing of pupils from Bunscoil Phobal Feirste and Scoil Mhic Reachtain and pleased to see Belfast Chamber of Commerce throw its weight behind the 6 October event which brings many thousands of visitors into our city centre.
The Irish language is a wonderful shared treasure of the people of Belfast and increasingly it is being embraced by people of all backgrounds. I have no doubt that that the can-do attitude of our Irish language community and the vitality of our irish arts and education groups will ensure further progress towards the dream of making the Irish language as much a part of Belfast’s official landscape as Basque is in Bilbao, Catalan in Barcelona or Swedish in Helsinki.
Later today, I had my first chance to welcome representatives of the LGBT community into the parlour. The community did me an honour by inviting me to be the first Lord Mayor of Belfast to write an introduction for the annual Pride brochure. There has been no greater change in my lifetime in Belfast than the dramatic shift in society’s attitude towards our gay sisters and brothers; a seachange which will be reflected on City Hall itself on Belfast Pride Day 6 July when we illuminate our most prestigious building in the colours of the rainbow. Those are important milestones and I’ve no doubt the pace of change will intensify in the time ahead because our citizens know that a diverse, shared and inclusive Belfast is a better Belfast.
It’s only fair to say that there are still political differences in these matters across the Council but the debate on these sensitive issues is being carried out in an atmosphere of mutual respect.
Therefore, as we afford respect to those who in the past have been written out of the story of Belfast let’s, in the spirit of Harvey Milk, make Belfast a city where love blooms and equality for all is our bedrock.