No man is an island onto itself
If any city in the world knows the importance of global connections, it’s Belfast.
Looking outwards, welcoming freinds in, accepting the assistance of others, opening our hearts to new ideas and building bridges across divides have all been beneficial to Belfast.
That’s why I’m convinced the majority of people in this city will vote positively to stay in the EU when the referendum rolls around on 23 June.
The EU, built on the rubble of the Second World War, has been good for our peace process, good for our economy and good for communities. In short, staying with the EU is good for the peace and good for the pocket.
In particular, of course, our role as a city and a region as a gateway to the EU — the world’s most powerful market — is a cornerstone of our economic policy. That’s especially true as we embark on a strategy to create tens of thousands of jobs by equalising corporation tax levels on the island of Ireland. There’s no doubt that combining tax and talent is a compelling proposition for foreign direct investment in North America but the second part of that offering is access to the EU. Cut that off and you sabotage they key element of your jobs strategy.
Yesterday, I had the great privilege of being welcomed into the home of the Alnajjar family who hail from the embattled Syrian city of Homs. The family moved to Belfast just before Christmas from the refugee camps of Lebanon along with 50 other families as part of the Vulnerable Persons Relocation scheme. Sadly, their father, who was imprisoned and tortured by the Assad regime, died of his injuries after escaping to Lebanon. It’s my hope that Mum Susan and her sons Abdulmomen and Loaui and daughter Ascha receive the same type of hospitality we have always wished for Irish migrants seeking to make their way in distant lands. Kudos to the schools who have already welcomed the Syrian refugees into their classrooms and full marks to the many groups — including faith-based organisations who have reached out to help our guests settle in Belfast.
As you might expect, the family are a little at sea at the moment and finding their feet in Belfast in what I would describe as very basic accommodations. There are some material things they need to help them settle in (a TV set, a computer, wifi, an ample supply of heating oil) but equally importantly they need to be embraced by the community and given opportunities to meet their peers, not least so they can swiftly learn English to enhance their educational and job prospects. My pals at Fitzroy Presbyterian and the Islamic Cultural Centre are working with me on this one. If you want to help, raise your hand. Meanwhile you can welcome Loaui via his Facebook page.
Finally, I was on the famed Nolan Show, stomping ground of our renowned broadcaster Stephen Nolan, on Wednesday night talking about the hammerblow to Bombardier aerospace which this week announced 1,000 job losses. It’s all hands to the wheel as we ensure Bombardier maintains and builds on its presence in Belfast despite this jobs bombshell. I’ll be doing my part later this week in New York when I hope to meet with the Comptroller of New York City Scott Stringer who has traditionally held stock worth millions of dollars in the company. My message is simple: jobs are the concrete foundation of the peace and those who have been our greatest allies in Irish America should stand firm with Bombardier and our business sector at this time! We are all connected in this global world.