I went looking for inspiration ahead of a visit to Boston and New York this week and got it (my mother would be pleased) at church.
Not at a service though but at Lowe Memorial Presbyterian Church’s Fun Day in South Belfast yesterday. At this vibrant cross-community event, I was struck with how good people haven’t ceased working for the commonweal regardless of the broader political stalemate.
For me, the lesson of the day at Lowe was that it remains Game On! when it comes to tackling poverty and uniting the community.
Of course, people of goodwill wish to see the political institutions back up and running — I second that emotion — but in the meantime, the work must go on.
In that regard, two reports by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation remind us that the way out of poverty is to create jobs and improve educational attainment. Jobs and Education — just as it ever was.
“The biggest driver of future poverty is the educational attainment of chlidren when they leave full-time education,” says the JRF briefing. “This has a major impact on their chances of being employed and of earning enough to avoid poverty as adults. For those who have already left full-time education, skill levels are an important predictor of employment, earnings and poverty.”
The North has a higher proportion of adults than England, Scotland or Wales with no qualifications (16 per cent) and the lowest proportion of adults with degree or higher-level qualification (31 per cent). The figures for Scotland respectively are 9 per cent and 45 per cent.
The good news is that we know how to create jobs (InvestNI made a timely and much-appreciated announcement of 400 new jobs for Belfast this week) and how to improve educational attainment. 20 years ago, just 17 per cent of the population here had a degree-level qualification while the percentage with no qualifications on leaving school was 31 per cent.
The message, therefore, that I will bring to Boston and New York this week when I address meetings of friends of Belfast is that we are going in the right direction but our global family can help increase the pace of change.
On Thursday morning in Boston, I will address a breakfast gathering of champions for Belfast in the law offices of Jones Day, courtesy of that tireless advocate for Béal Feirste in our sister city, Maureen Bennett. Then on Friday morning I’ll be at the Rockefeller Plaza offices of Squire Patton Boggs where our host will be firm Partner and Belfast International Homecoming Honorary Chair John J. Reilly.
My message at both meetings will be that it really is Game On! in Belfast. Nowhere will that be more evident than during the Belfast International Homecoming and Belfast Basketball Classic from 28-30 November when we will showcase they very best of Belfast. (You can see the 2018 Homecoming brochure online.)
Of course we can’t do it all on our own which is why we will roll out the Homecoming red carpet for our global Irish (and Scots-Irish) family. We know that jobs and education are the key to unlocking our full potential but equally we understand that with our diaspora at our side there’s no challenge we can’t overcome. Let’s be honest: if the University at Buffalo basketball team — due in Belfast for the classic in November — can master Irish dance, it really is Game On!