Herald of Hope
I thoroughly enjoyed the visit by OECD Deputy General Secretary (and former Finnish PM) Mari Kiviniemi to Belfast this week where she launched a bold report at Stormont on how best to reform our government to better build a strong society.
Two themes which shone out in the report by the Paris-headquartered OECD were the need for single leadership government and for an Executive which is guided by a common purpose.
With 35 member states and an annual budget of €350m, the Organisation for Economic Co-Operation and Development is highly regarded for advising governments on how best to improve the economic and social wellbeing of countries and regions.
The Executive is committed to implementing the recommendations in the OECD report but when it comes to single leadership and common purpose, we can also learn from two community-based groups which epitomise those traits: An Chultúrlann and the East Belfast Partnership Board.
During her whirlwind, 24-hour visit Ms Kiviniemi and colleague Adam Ostry were feted first in the West Belfast Cultúrlann, Ireland’s leading Irish language hub, where they met activists who have transformed the city of Belfast and especially West Belfast by leveraging the power of the Irish language as a tool of economic development and peacemaking. The following morning, they were the first ’tourists’ at the new EastSide Visitors’ Centre. The complex is so new, the furniture had only arrived the day before. Here again, our visitors met champions of community who have shown decisive leadership around shared goals to really make a difference.
So while the OECD has given the Executive a welcome roadmap, we would do well to learn from those at grassroots who have always been ahead of the politicians in building a shared and prosperous future.
Those at the coalface of change also understand the scale of the challenge ahead — a point driven home to our visitors as we took a journey home after dinner in An Chultúrlann to view the peace walls which still scar our city.
That the bridge-builders of East and West Belfast have achieved so much against the odds fills me with confidence for the future. They are our herald of hope.
You can read more about my minsterial goings-on in my weekly ezine.