Installation Dinner address by Mayor of Belfast

Installation Dinner address by Mayor of Belfast

September 30, 2013 Press Releases 0 Comments

Address by Máirtín Ó Muilleoir, Lord Mayor of Belfast, at Installation Dinner, City Hall, 28 September 2013

A chairde, a chomh-chomhairleoirí, fellow-councillors, MLAs, Minister, Senator, friends,

It’s a great privilege and honour for me to take to the podium tonight as first citizen of Belfast to celebrate the people of this city and raise a glass to a bright future. I want to thank my comrades in Sinn Féin and the party group leader Jim McVeigh for trusting me with this high office and my family, my wife Helen of course but also my children Caoimhe, Tiarnán, Colm and Fiontán for their support.

Comings and goings in City Hall often make the news but this week we had more goings than comings with four longstanding City Fathers standing down. Former Cllrs Tom Hartley, Danny Lavery, Conor Maskey and Gerard O’Neill and their families served this city selflessly over many years. With the father of this house Hughie Smyth also signalling his intention to leave City Hall after four decades of political leadership, we are seeing the end of an era. As all five step down from Council, I ask you to join me in saluting their service and wishing them every good fortune in the time ahead.

Cúis áthais atá ann a bheith anseo anocht le daoine a oibríonn Domhnach is Dálach le leas Bhéal Feirste a dhéanamh; daoine a chreideann i mBéal Feirste, a infheistíonn i mBéal Feirste, a thógann an chathair lena saothar agus lena ndán. Is pobal iontach iad pobal Bhéal Feirste agus onóir atá ann a bheith abálta a bheith mar chéad saoránach ar bhur son.

It is humbling to be surrounded by so many people who have given invaluable service to the city of Belfast over many decades. I note in particular the endeavours of Peter McNaney our Chief Executive on Council, the management team and workers in Belfast City Council but also the tireless commitment of our community, business, cultural and labour leaders gathered here tonight.

The job of Lord Mayor is very much a team effort, not just Sandra and her team in the Mayor’s office but Team Belfast, all of us working together to build a brighter future for our people.

And in that work, we have the great motto of the city of Belfast to guide us: Pro Tanto Quid Retribaumus — For All We Have Received, What Shall We Give Back in Return. That prayer — for it comes from the Psalms — starts from the basis that those of us who live here, despite our trials, have much to be grateful for.

And how could it be otherwise when you consider the sublime setting of this city — between the majestic Black Mountain and the magnificent Lagan — and the  unbridled genius, the boundless generosity and the irrepressible good humour of its people. No wonder I have promised to remain resolutely positive about Belfast in my year of office.

As first citizen, I have pledged to build the greatest gift of all ever bestowed on this city: the gift of peace.

I make that pledge because, like many of you, I have lived through the years of conflict and suffering. In fact, those of us old enough to remember those dark days carry the greatest obligation to ensure we are not dragged back to the horror of the past. Across this room tonight are people who were wounded during our years of trouble, warfare and conflict. Wounded by grief, by bereavement, by physical injury, by mental anguish, by imprisonment, by insult or by injustice. The people of this city now require a peace AND healing process.

It’s our job to bind up the wounds of this city.

And I am buoyed by the words and actions of those who endured the most pain but who have resolved themselves to be exemplars of peacebuilding. They do so in the knowledge that while we cannot hope for a better past, we can build a better and united future.  In that respect, I want to acknowledge my personal debt for the deep impression by one-time neighbour Emma Groves left on me. Blinded by a rubber bullet, she went onto become a peacemaker campaigning against the use of plastic bullets. I have also been deeply touched by the peacemaking and bridgebuilding work of Alan McBride who lost his wife in the Shankill bombing.  His generosity of spirit and commitment to peace has enriched me many times.

We must, together, build up Belfast, provide a peace dividend which stretches from Tiger’s Bay to Turf Lodge and from Sandy Row to Short Strand. A peace dividend which working class communities can see and touch. In that regard, I wish to commend the efforts of former political prisoners across Belfast who are doing sterling work on many fronts to maintain peace. I want to echo in particular the words of Jackie McDonald when he says evidence of the peace in our working class areas is The critical priority at this time.

We must be positive about our city and its people. As my Buddhist chaplain Paul Haller advises, we must “edit out the negativity”.

And of course there is no better way to build confidence and hope than to provide jobs. We must provide our young people with the opportunities to enjoy the dignity and the rewards of work. That means continuing to present a compelling proposition of Belfast as a city on the rise. And we have much to boast about.

The biggest building project ever in Belfast — the new university in our north inner-city — is underway (and I welcome the presence here tonight of Vice-Chancellor Richard Barnett)s, we are home to a burgeoning film making business which counts Game of Thrones among its successes (and I acknowledge the contribution of David Gavaghan CEO of Titanic Quarter who is with us), we are city of choice for bluechip companies NYSE, Cybersource, Chicago Mercantile Exchange, Citigroup, AllState, Liberty Mutual and Concentrix. The new Bombardier C Series aeroplans which enjoyed their first flight this month boast Belfast-made wings designed and manufactured in Belfast using a process invented by local engineers. In short, we need to spread the new Gospel about Belfast as the fastest-growing knowledge economy in these islands. In Titanic Belfast, we have the greatest tourist destination in Ireland. In An Chultúrlann we have the national centre for Irish language and culture, underlining our status as the capital of the Irish language revival. And the director of the Cultúrlann Eimear Ní Mhathúna has joined us this evening.

And as we look ahead, we are committed to investing heavily and wisely in our communities: From Templemore School in the east to St Comgall’s in the west, we are providing our people with buildings and facilities which in their beauty and modernity match our community’s exuberance and ability. The largest-ever investment in sporting stadia is out of the blocks, a light transit system is ready to go and Belfast, is, for the first time in 50 years growing again.

And that growth, fuelled by people coming into our city, is the bedrock of our future prosperity. No city can rise to the challenges of the 21st century if it is not growing and increasingly diverse. Therefore the minorities of Belfast are a great treasure of Belfast and we want to see their numbers and their blessings multiply in the time ahead. To those from outside this city and outside these shores who have made Belfast their home, we say thanks for all you are doing to make Belfast a melting pot of peoples and cultures. Your contribution to our city is deeply appreciated and will be reciprocated. Indeed, Belfast Day tomorrow, is more than anything else a celebration of our diversity and our way of saying thanks to our minorities.

We say as well to our gay brothers and sisters, to the homeless, to the Irish language community which is so dear to my heart, to the Travellers, to our migrants, to the disabled community, and anyone else who may at times feel marginalised from the mainstream that we value and cherish your central place in our city and want to see you blossom in the time ahead.

There is no back of the bus for anyone in Belfast, nationalist or unionist, minority or otherwise. Equality and mutual respect must be our watchwords if we truly believe in creating a shared city. And while we have had setbacks, we have also had progress for there is more uniting us than dividing us. The common ground of mutual interest and unity is much wider than the narrow ground of zero-sum and division. And as we share the city, we accept we are dependent on each other. Downstairs, we have an uplifting portrait of five major cultural figures with the motto, Ar scáth a chéile a mhaireann na daoine/We all live in each other’s shelter. And because we live in each other’s shelter then we must work together for the common good. A house divided cannot stand but a united Belfast will take its place among the great ciites of the world, a beacon of peace and endeavour.

And if we wish the people of Belfast to share the city then those of us who lead from our greatest civic building must also share City Hall. As we know that brings its own challenges but they are not insurmountable if we display imagination and generosity in our relationships with each other. And with our eyes firmly on the prize of lasting peace and enduring reconciliation.

I hope that by appointing eight chaplains for not only the largest Christian groups but also for minority faiths in this city, I have made, on your behalf, a small contribution to acknowledging the need to respect diversity.

But the number of chaplains appointed is not a reflection on the scale of the transgressions committed by this poor sinner but rather an acknowledgement of the power of faith. It may be a cliché but I will say it nonetheless, as I stand before you as mayor tonight one of my greatest regrets is that my father Sammy is not here with us but I am overjoyed at the fact that my mother Bridie is. Their faith was a great boon to them in times of trouble and faith is a mainstay of many of our people as they traverse this veil of tears. But more than that, when I go to where the need is greatest in this city, I often meet those whose faith has brought them to the places where the ill, the poor, the homeless and the imprisoned are. I acknowledge and salute the commitment of all the faiths to serving our city and endorse their continuing efforts to make, as the departed Séamus said, hope and history rhyme.

I want to pay tribute as well to those who make Belfast sing with their works of literature, theatre, art, music and dance. You had an opportunity to enjoy the very best of their talent tonight and you have learned that we not only have a Belfast Poet Laureate to be proud off in the wonderful Sinéad Morrissey but also in the Lyric — represented here by Ciarán McAuley, the Ulster Orchestra — represented here by CEO Rosa Solinas, the Ulster Museum and the Gerard Dillon Gallery — represented by Gearóid O Cairealláin — cultural treasures which are second-to-none.

For you can’t really know Belfast until you’ve:

Shed a tear at Joby Fox’s anthem for yesterday’s ‘Belfast” — “you’re my heaven, you’re my hell”
Been p-checked by a squaddie on the Falls with Gaeilge poet Gearóid Mac Lochlainn
Stood in front of the stunning After Goya Third of May by Robert Ballagh, who joins us here,
Called your Brother Back with Michael McLaverty
Been bewitched by CS Lewis
Knelt before your foe, like the Greek god of Michael Longley’s ‘Ceasefire’, to sue for peace.
Or Been “Caught one more time up on Cyprus Avenue” with Van the Freeman.

I want to acknowledge also tonight the role of our entrepreneurs and business leaders. They are creating wealth, providing jobs, attracting additional investment and providing the tax base on which we can provide services to our entire community. We are enormously proud of their efforts, their ingenuity and their ambition as they build the job-spinning businesses Belfast needs in order to build the peace with jobs. We want Belfast to be a place where business and labour alike can prosper, where employers and trade unions forge partnerships to build world-class companies. In this the centenary of the lockout, we welcome the resolve of our trade union leaders to work with us to ensure workers are treated fairly and with dignity. In the words of Maze-Long Kesh Chairman Terence Brannigan who is with us here, we wish to move our people from peace to prosperity for all.

In those economic and peacebulding efforts, we are fortunate to have oustanding allies in the Diaspora — many of whom have come home in this the year of the Gathering. No matter what name we call this land of ours: the reality is that while we are an island of seven million people, we are a global family of 70 million. And of course, 40 million of that number make up the Irish American and Scots-Irish communities of the USA. So it’s appropriate tonight to acknowledge the more recent efforts of President Obama through Special Envoy Richard Haas and to welcome the US Government representative here tonight Consul General Greg Burton. But I wish also to recognise some other Americans who are with us: Russell Smith from North Carolina who is about to sign on the investment dotted line for our sister city of Derry; Mary Louise Mallick from the office of Governor Cuomo in New York, from Lawrence Massachusetts the indominatable Art McCabe and from the office of Senator Loni Hancock in California Larry Levin.

Ba mhaith liom, sa teanga is ansa liom, tréaslú fosta le pobal na Gaeilge. Tá fás agus forbairt na Gaeilge sa chathair seo le 30 bliain anuas ar cheann de na míorúiltí is suntasaí dá bhfacthas ariamh. Tá an pobal Gaeilge ag athrú dreach cultúrtha na cathrach, ag cur aoibh ar an chathair le teanga atá mar chuid dár stair agus mar chuid dár dtochaí. Is é mo mheas gur i dteis a rachas an Ghaeilge san am atá romhainn agus sin as siocair bhur n-iarrachtaí iontacha. (I wish to, in the language I love, congratulate the Irish language community. The growth of the Irish language in this city over the past 30 years has changed the cultural face of this city and put a smile on the face of Belfast. The Irish language is part of our heritage but it is also part of our future. I believe the Irish language will gain in strength in the time ahead because of the efforts of the Irish language community.)

Peace has given all of us, young and old, an opportunity to renew ourselves; to respect each other in our diversity and difference; to draw from each other’s strengths and to use our talent and skills to advance the cause of moving confidently from peace to prosperity for all. In that regard, I believe our young people are the leaders we have been waiting for. The years 2013-2020 are going to be the most exciting years ever in the history of this great city and it is our young people who will lead and drive Belfast forward in those pivotal years.

But success will not come without challenges. As Martin Luther King said: “Change does not come rolling in on the wheels of inevitability. Change must be worked for by many committed hearts.”

I believe that in this hall, on these streets, in this city, we have many, many, many committed hearts who will bring us to the mountaintop and ensure that together we WILL build the future Belfast.


About the Author

Máirtín Ó Muilleoir

Máirtín Ó Muilleoir is the outgoing Sinn Féin MLA for South Belfast and a civic activist in Belfast.