On Thursday evening, 5 February, I will spell out my vision for the great city of Belfast at a public meeting at the Wellington Park Hotel (7:30pm) which will effectively get our push for the South Belfast seat in the Westminster election underway. I will focus on the journey which lies ahead of our people between now and 2020 but the overarching theme of my address will be ‘Potential’.
For I am convinced that, despite all the progress made over two decades-plus of the peace process, we are only now getting into our stride and that the best days of our city lie in its future. But, of course, as Martin Luther King said “change does not roll in on the wheels of inevitability” but takes the work of many committed hearts. I look forward to seeing many of those committed hearts join me on Thursday evening as we start writing a new chapter in the rise of Belfast. (Those of you who can’t make it can follow us live online or on Twitter.)
And in a swift run this week through three great Irish cities — Boston, Toronto and New York — to cement links with the Diaspora and invite our many friends back to Belfast for the 2015 Homecoming (rescheduled to 7-10 October so as not to go toe-to-toe with the Pope who will be visiting Philadelphia and New York during the original dates in September), I was reminded again and again of of our enormous potential.
Our potential to increase exponentially the number of visitors coming to Belfast by opening up new transatlantic routes – a topic which formed the basis of meetings with the CEO of Massport, which controls Logan Airport in our sister city of Boston, and with OMERS, the Ontario public workers pension fund which has just bought Belfast International Airport.
Our potential to attract global companies which can provide high-paying, sustainable jobs for our young people — as discussed with investors controlling billions of dollars of investment at a luncheon meeting in Toronto’s financial district.
Our potential to make the diaspora our ally in driving forward regeneration in underserved parts of our city — starting by ensuring that the shocking plans to disinvest from West Belfast by shuttering St Mary’s University College are blocked. I am pleased to say that THE most influential figure in Irish America, Congressman Peter King, who chairs the powerful Friends of Ireland on Capitol Hill and was the guest speaker at the Irish Echo Law & Order Awards in New York, is already on the case.
I also believe that the budget hammered out as part of the Stormont House Agreement and which protects the vulnerable and gives us the potential to grow the economy is the platform on which we can move forward. It’s far from perfect, after all London has blitzed our block grant by removing £1.5bn in funding since 2011, but the alternative Direct Rule budget would truly have been a horror story. You can see my budget address to the Assembly here.