Building those Golden Peace Bridges
Community Relations Week starts tomorrow, giving all of us in Belfast an opportunity to build bridges, mend fences and learn about our neighbours. With hundreds of events bringing together not just the orange and green but also the under-pressure ethnic minorities, Community Relations Week gives us a chance to affirm our support for a shared and equal future.
Launching the week, Peter Osborne, Community Relations Council CEO, quoted Muhammad Ali’s shortest-ever poem, recited to an audience of white college kids: “Me, We” (or was it, “Me? Whee!”). It’s that recognition of our common humanity which underpins Community Relations Week.
And I was deeply honoured to be joined by the great Derry visionary from the DUP Willie Hay, to receive a special award from the Community Relations Council for civic leadership. Now Stormont Assembly Speaker, Willie Hay saw the possibility of resolving the vexed issue of parading in Derry back in 1994 when most of us couldn’t see through the gun smoke. The fact that Derry has resolved the parading issue is a testament to him and to business leaders like Garvan O’Doherty. Once again, Derry has stolen a march on Belfast. Congratulations Willie.
Following in his footsteps are peace builders like the Mayor of Donostia-San Sebastian, Juan Carlos Izagirre who was in Belfast and Derry this week meeting with groups of victims and survivors so that he can take lessons back to the Basque Country. The end of the ETA campaign in Euskadi opens a moment of peace which should be seized upon by the Spanish Government with a generous and open heart so that the people of those wonderful lands can enjoy the spoils of peace. Among those Mayor Izagirre met was the Rev Harold Good, without whom we would have no Irish peace process. The Rev Good was in top form when we met in City Hall and I know you will all join me in wishing him well in his battle back to full health.
I take a break for the next three weeks which will be good news to all of you who despair of these ezines cluttering your inbox. But before I set off, I’m glad to say that, with my colleague Connla McCann of Aisling Events, we have set out an exciting roster of speakers and inspiring agenda for the Belfast One City Summit on 18-19 September (which will start in the Duncairn Cultural Centre in the former presbyterian church, North Belfast) and for the Golden Bridges Conference in Boston on 8-9 October (at the Seaport Hotel) where I’m hopeful three mayors will line out representing Boston, Donegal and Derry. You can see the emerging details and sign up on the Aisling Events website. I’m particularly pleased to have sciences superstar Frank Reynolds of PixarBio join us at the head of a ‘dragons den’ session for start-ups from Northwest Ireland. He will be joined by biotech entrepreneur Susan Whoriskey and many others. Frank’s people hail from Leitrim, Susan’s from Donegal.
Having spent an hour with the new Lord Mayor Nichola Mallon on Thursday to go through her plans for the year, I am confident Belfast is in safe hands. She has my full support. I signed off on the signing off from office by appearing on the BBC radio show of our greatest broadcaster Stephen Nolan. Here’s that final word.
Go dté sibh slán.