Jobs a priority
I first entered Belfast City Hall in 1987 as a young man, and was promptly thrown out of my first meeting for speaking Irish.
It was indeed a long journey from those dark days, where my City Council dress code included a flak jacket, to today where I hold the high office of Mayor.
But that journey wouldn’t have been possible without the huge force for good which is Irish America. For without the intervention of Our friends in America, people of enormous goodwill who refused to give up on peace, we would still be stuck in the trenches of our divided past.
And today, the need for that solidarity and support is as great as ever. But whereas in the past, Irish America helped the push for peace, the challenge now is to move from peace to prosperity for all.
If the Good Friday Agreement has a faultline it is the failure of that historic deal to ensure that the communities in areas like the Shankill and the Falls which suffered the most during the years of warfare benefited the most from the era of peace.
And the greatest benefit any community can receive is jobs.
That’s why, while pledging to bring the sometimes divided people of Belfast together, I have also made jobs a priority for my mayoral term. And that must mean turning once again to our great friends in Irish America and asking them to put their shoulder to the economic wheel one more time.
My first calls after my appointment were to Kieran McLoughlin of the American Ireland Fund, Jim Clerkin, CEO of Moet-Hennessy USA, Congressman Richie Neal, Co-Chair of the Friends of Ireland, attorney And peacemaker Brian O’Dwyer, Joe Leary of the Irish American Partnership in Boston and fellow-publisher Niall O’Dowd.
My message to them all was, let’s double down on our push for peace by focusing on the economy. Now is the time to press again for a bridgebuilding US Economic Point person who will ensure the hard-won peace is embedded with employment.
The response from those pillars of Irish America was as generous as ever, the task now is to turn that generosity into renewed trade missions, investment decisions and productive business partnerships with Belfast companies.
Next week I travel to New York, one of the two greatest cities on earth, for the New Belfast-New York summit. I will share our message of peace and progress with Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Speaker Christine Quinn. I have no doubt I will leave emboldened for the year ahead by their support and the support of every Irish American for the economic drive we are planning.