Irish American Partners for peace and prosperity
I had the great good fortune this week to roll out the red carpet for the board of the Irish American Partnership who were in Belfast to meet with inspiring individuals and institutions building the peace from the bottom up.
At the Springvale Centre for Learning — opened almost two decades ago by that remarkable American Commerce Secretary Ron Brown, then the most senior-ever African American in government — they met with chief executive Aidan Sloane who is rightly proud of the work the centre does to train our youth for the world of work.
There can be no more powerful agent for change than employment — a job remains the best social programme, as John Cullinane of Boston likes to say — and at Springvale they are ensuring those young people who don’t chose the path of academia can secure meaningful and rewarding careers.
Springvale speaks to ambition and excellence at every turn — not least in its coder school — and its refurbished premises symbolise its belief that only the best will do.
Among the Irish American Partnership mission were returning friends Joe Leary, founder of the Boston-headquartered group which raises funds to promote educational projects in Ireland, and executive director Mary McAleer. I have known Joe since 1994 when he travelled to Belfast to present grants from the Partnership to myself and my pal Sammy Douglas. Most Irish American groups steered clear of Belfast back in those troubled times, but not Joe. He walked the walk, and some walk it has been with millions of dollars going to further the education of children across Ireland. Also with the mission was Joe McCullough, a son of Belfast who left the city in the sixties to seek his fortune and now resides in Atlanta. When he was introduced to Lord Mayor Nichola Mallon, herself an Ardoyne native, he observed that they were brought up just 400 yards and 40 years apart.
So I was honoured to agree with the board of the Irish American Partnership, led by Chair John Murray, a new link-up with the Irish Echo whereby we will promote the organisation as our Charitable Partner and encourage our many friends and networks to contribute to their efforts. Watch this space for more detail but in the meantime, you can find out more about the Irish American Parntership or contribute to their efforts in Ireland via their website.
But the need for jobs and community regeneration struck home forcibly this week at a City Council meeting to consider a new economic development plan for Belfast city centre which, sadly, had no proposals to rejuvenate the most dilapidated part of our city core around King Street/Castle Street — which has been in decline for 20 years. Of course, these streets are also the gateway to the area of greatest unemployment in the city: West Belfast. That doesn’t compute so thanks to councillors from several parties who united with me to send the authors back to ruminate for a month and return with a plan which includes the west of the city centre. Let’s not repeat the sins of the past by turning our back on communities which deserve to see a dividend from the peace which was born with the declaration of the IRA ceasefire 20 years ago yesterday.
The greatest sporting story from Belfast is the rise and rise of our unstoppable Belfast Giants ice hockey champs. On Saturday night, they surprised me with the presentation of a personalised jersey before their game against the Cardiff Devils. I previously gifted a personalised jersey to a series of dignitaries including Mayors Boris and Bloomberg so was a nice touch to get the same treatment. Have a wonderful season, guys. Go Giants! Left: Showing off my Ó Muilleoir jersey with Finn McCool