Rolling out the red carpet
It’s been the best part of two decades since Belfast City Council last hosted an inward business mission from the US but I was delighted to see this week that the warmth of our welcome for our friends in Irish America hasn’t dimmed.
And I’m confident that the 15-strong delegation of civic leaders led by Mayor Jim Cahill of New Brunswick, NJ, have sown the seeds for friendships and partnerships between New Brunswick and Belfast which will blossom in the time ahead.
Among the mission participants from the city known as the healthcare capital of New Jersey were: Dick Edwards, Chancellor at Rutgers University (with 65,000 students, the third-largest uni in the US),
Councillor Kevin Egan, whose father is a state representative and well-known Irish American leader (though this was Cllr Egan’s first-ever visit to Ireland)
Chris Paladino who heads up the DevCo for the New Brunswick region and had much to share with the University of Ulster when they met to discuss plans in both cities for new multi-million dollar campuses.
During their stay, our American friends were both inspired and surprised by the story of transformation they witnesses — whether in Skainos in East Belfast, in Titanic Quarter in city centre or in An Chultúrlann in the heart of the Falls.
Already conversations are afoot to see if we can bring the remarkable Belfast Community Gospel Choir to New Brunswick in May, to explore co-operation between Rutgers and Queen’s (both colleges specialise in life sciences), and to involve Belfast in the celebration of the memory of Col. John Neilson, who read the Declaration of Independence in New Brunswick in 1776 — just the third time it had been read. The good colonel’s father was a Belfast man.
Kudos go the hardworking executives of the Belfast City Council Development Department who made the visit a success, to Titanic Quarter Ltd, who sponsored a civic reception, and to the people of Belfast who rolled out the red carpet for our visitors.
Next up: the visit of the first-ever American Ireland Fund-endorsed business mission to Belfast from 27 February. We have the kettle on.
Our visitors were welcomed by politicians from all parties at a reception in City Hall addressed by both Cllr Deirdre Hargey of Sinn Féin and Cllr Guy Spence of the DUP.