Chocolate diplomacy on house on the hill
ABOVE: Justice campaigner Jim Clinton set an impressive record yesterday at the Waterworks in North Belfast when he became the first person in Ireland to complete 250 Park Runs. A global phenomenon, the park runs take place just once a week — so that’s a record five years in the making. First Citizen Arder Carson was among those who turned out to wish Park Run Jim well. Comhghairdeas, Jim.
Perhaps it’s spring in the air but there’s a spirit of liberation in Stormont these days as the dark clouds of division give way to cooperation and delivery.
I keep my office door in Stormont open and as I’m beside the lift on the third floor, every MLA gets a chance to duke in and see me playing Candy Crush, sorry, working diligently for my constituents.
Of late, the DUP MLAs have taken to popping in to chew the cud — indeed one of my unionist colleagues came in clutching a Cadbury’s egg AND an Aero bar leading me to believe (falsely as it turned out) that I was about to be the beneficiary.
But while the relationship may not be that sweet just yet, it’s clear that in making common cause the DUP and Sinn Féin can position Stormont as a bulwark against London austerity and as a force for positive change.
That’s why I was on my feet in the budget debate to give the thumbs-up to the £4.8bn we have set aside for health services, alongside £2bn for education and a significant £170m for job creation. And that’s while maintaining the cap on student fees, resisting water charges on working families and defending free travel for senior citizens.
There really is much to do but I am confident that we are set on the right path – as long as, in the words of First Minister Alene Foster, we place “a greater premium on consensus than on conflict”.
I was delighted to see Kevin Lowe (right) of Irish American start-up Newswhip among the first twenty confirmed recipients of the ninth annual Irish 40 under 40 listing. The 40 represent the very cream of Irish America and range from teachers to techies and from musicians to marketeers, all of whom will be honored at a gala celebration in Rosie O’Grady’s, New York, on Friday 26 February with guest speaker New York State Assemblyman Rep Ed Braunstien. [www.newswhip.com]Newswhip, a start-up pioneered by Irish entrepreneur Shane Naughton (himself a 40 under 40 alumnus), represents the new reality of the Ireland-US relationship. When I visited the offices of Newswhip in New York last year, the company boasted two employees. Today it has at least 15 team members (based in Dublin and New York) profiled on its website. There is, correctly, much talk about the number of jobs created by US firms in Ireland but Newswhip reminds us that this is a two-way economic street.
It’s that time of the year again when thoughts turn to St Patrick and for me in Belfast that means the SPAR Craic 10K, a citywide, cross-community celebration of the National Saint’s Day. Partnering charity in this year’s run which will start at City Hall, head west, double back through the Cathedral Quarter and end on the Titanic Slipway in East Belfast, is DeterMND, charity of Captain Courageous Anto Finnegan. I plan to be on the starting line, hair dyed Kelly green, at 9am on St Patrick’s Day with the intention of raising some funds for the DeterMND coffers. I’d love to see you there in your running shorts or with a volunteer’s bib on.
Finally, singer-songwriter Susan McKeown was in Belfast this week promoting Cuala 2016, her cultural celebration of the heroism and legacy of the 1916 Rising. She has ambitious plans to stage a series of events in the Big Apple this year which will not only mark that epic event but also inspire Americans to come visit the real Ireland. A Dub who lived in New York for 23 years, Susan is one of just two Irish women who can boast a Grammy Award (also take a bow, Enya). We look forward to seeing the full programme for Cuala 2016 but here’s a taster: Susan singing her self-penned ‘River’. She tells me the song, which starts with the words, “Bathe me in the waters of the Lagan, of the Boyne”, was inspired by the story of Cúchulainn. “When Cúchulainn was tricked into killing his foster brother Ferdia, his friends took him up and carried him from river to river, bathing him in each and naming them, as they all held different qualities of healing to heal him in his distress. And him fighting for the men of the north who could not defend themselves.” Bainigí sult as.