Coalition for Change
First Minister Peter Robinson spoke to the improved atmosphere in Stormont when he addressed a breakfast for business leaders in the heart of West Belfast on Friday, telling his audience that he was “just as enthusiastic” about bringing jobs to west Belfast as to east Belfast.
HIs comments came after the Economy Minister Arlene Foster — also a DUP representative — told the same business gathering that she was keen to ensure all constituencies benefit from foreign direct investment.
This was the first major speech by Ministers Foster and Robinson in nationalist west Belfast but the warmth of the welcome they received suggests this visit will not be the last.
The challenge for every Executive minister, as broadcaster Eamonn Mallie has pointed out, is to be seen as “our” ministers rather than leaders for only one part of our community.
In coming to West Belfast, I believe both the First Minister and Economy Minister have embraced that concept.
I was pleased to be given an opportunity to address that same breakfast to pay tribute to some of our greatest entrepreneurs who were in the room including Hugh Kennedy, who left school at 14 but went on to found the Curley’s supermarket — subsequently sold to Sainsbury’s — and the fully-let Kennedy Centre retail complex; and Alderman Tom Ekin, an Alliance Party stalwart whose Weaver Court Business Park is home to some of our greatest tech companies.
I trust the revitalised Executive will gather strength in the time ahead because that is clearly the wish of positive people I meet from different backgrounds, faith and political philosophies, who are helping create the future Belfast. On Thursday in the North Belfast Duncairn Arts Centre, I was privileged to be joined by faith leaders who have preached the Gospel (and the Quran) without using words by reaching out to refugees and asylum-seekers. We were gathered to continue to push forward our proposal to bring stricken Syrian refugees to Belfast.
Earlier in the week, I was in the marvellous Skainos centre in East Belfast to meet with the Rev Margaret Ferguson who is championing community transformation in some of the hardest-pressed areas of our city through the East Belfast Mission. And on Friday, I met with the intrepid volunteers of Start360, an organisation tackling addiction in young people and providing hope of a fresh beginning to those leaving prison — after I had breakfast with the Rev Steve Stockman who is building peace not to forget the past but to build the future. Between times, I got to speak on an Assembly debate around our budget priorities and quizzed Minister Mervyn Storey about the ambitious plans to revitalise Sandy Row and the Market in inner-city Belfast with major capital investments. (Footnote, Duncairn Arts Centre founder and exemplary peacemaker Rev Bill Shaw is in Texas, Chicago and Toronto promoting his work this week as a guest of the Ireland Funds — support him!)
We are building a Coalition of Change in Belfast, youthful and optimistic in its outlook, which celebrates diversity, is grounded in mutual respect and rejects the odious racism and sectarianism which can hold our city back. (Indeed, it’s because I am for change that I am adamantly opposed to the so-called Conscience Clause being advanced at Stormont. If we have learned anything in this part of the world, surely it is that discrimination, legal or not, is the road to nowhere.) I’m honoured to be part of that Coalition of Change and even more thrilled to have so many ambassadors for the new Belfast at my shoulder.
Guala ar ghualainn agus lámh ar láimh!