Boston and Belfast: A new era of partnership at hand
I am penning this note on the train from New York to Boston on day 4 of a week-long bridge-building mission to the US. Already, I have been honoured by the State Senate President of Massachusetts Therese Murray who took time out from her hectic schedule to welcome me to Boston on Wednesday past.
Links between the great cities of Boston and Belfast go back centuries but it’s my belief that our greatest years of co-operation lie ahead of us.
To be truly successful, the modern city must be future-focused and internationally-orientated. During my term in office, with the support of all parties on Council, I have overseen a step-change in our relationship with the US, courtesy of our many great friends in Irish America.
In October past, the first-ever Belfast Tech Mission to Silicon Valley saw 20 Belfast start-ups pitch their emerging businesses on the west coast of the US. In January, Belfast hosted a high-powered delegation from New Brunswick — the health capital of New Jersey — led by Mayor Jim Cahill to explore arts and business synergies. That represented the first time in almost 20 years that a US delegation had visited the city.
We scored another first in February when the American Ireland Fund took the unprecedented step of endorsing a high-powered, 25-strong business delegation to Belfast. That Opportunity Belfast Mission saw some of our most successful ex-pats return to discuss how they could best build the peace with jobs and investment.
But the best is yet to come.
Tomorrow, I will meet the extraordinary Mayor of Boston, Marty Walsh, an exemplary Irish American and longstanding friend of Belfast.
Mayor Walsh represents a city of over 600,000 people — about twice the size of Belfast — but the Greater Boston urban area is home to over four million people. Ranked as one of the 30 most economically powerful cities in the world and regarded as America’s home of innovation in life sciences and healthcare, Boston is a beacon among US cities.
Famed for its educational cluster and as the birthplace of the American Revolution, Boston is rightly regarded as one of the world’s great cities. However, equally importantly, Boston is a ‘minority-majority’ city where diversity and inclusion are the watchwords of Mayor Walsh.
Belfast has much to learn from Boston and much to gain from having a special relationship with the city. But I won’t undersell Belfast. Boston has much to learn from Belfast’s spirit, vitality and enterprise too.
In short a partnership between our cities can only bring gains for both our peoples.
I plan to discuss such a sister city agreement with Mayor Walsh on Monday and how we might put the seal on such a partnership by hosting exchanges of the faith leaders who are transforming both our cities.
Wish me luck.