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The trajectory is up, the momentum is forward

2 Jun 2014

When the whistle blows at 6:30pm today to signal the end of my year in office as Lord Mayor of Belfast, it means only that we move to another field of play not that this great game of peace building comes to a halt.

And this is not a game for spectators, you are all on the pitch too: the champions of the new Belfast at home and abroad.

You are the people who have inspired me to be relentlessly positive about our great city. Your commitment to a Belfast which is inclusive, diverse and prosperous has helped drive the city to ever-greater heights.

Of course there are challenges but the common ground is deeper, more solid and more expansive today than it was 365 days ago when I took up this high office.

The trajectory of Belfast is up, the momentum is forward. And there is much to do. So let’s build, build, build the future Belfast — together.

On Wednesday, I travelled out to New York at the head of the first business delegation from Belfast to the US in a generation. Philip Cassidy of Concentrix, Paul McMorran of Crosslé Cars, David Gavaghan of Titanic Quarter, Jayne Brady of Kernel Capital and Mandy Patrick of the Park Avenue Hotel were among those who stormed the Big Apple with the story of a Belfast transformed by this remarkable peace journey on which we are set.

Shaun Kelly, KPMG Vice-Chair in the US and chief sponsors of the American Ireland Funds New York ball which raised $2.75m last month for Irish causes, joined fellow-expat Jim Clerkin, CEO of Moet-Hennessy USA, and a who’s-who of Irish American leaders to ensure our delegation got access to the key contacts needed to forge business partnerships and cut job-boosting deals. At the New York-New Belfast conference in Fordham University, the very best of Belfast laid out its stall while on the 48th floor of Tower 4 on what was Ground Zero, Belfast artist in exile Marcus Robinson unveiled his uplifting Rebuilding film and art works about the rebirth of the World Trade Centre.

There has been no more special moment in my year of office than bringing the Belfast Community Gospel Choir to New York and hearing them sing Something Inside So Strong in New York. Here they are in Central Park.

Before I left Belfast, I had the great privilege of meeting the Trustees of the Belfast Islamic Centre to thank them for their ceaseless contribution to Belfast. Today, as my last act in office, I will host the Chaplains of Belfast as they launch the Compassionate Belfast Charter, a statement of intent about the city’s commitment to tolerance, diversity and inclusion. The Muslim community will be represented at that momentous occasion and, like all our ethnic minorities, will receive my thanks for helping push Belfast confidently into the 21st Century.

We have come too far to be turned back now.

Anyone who thinks differently should have been with me on Sunday when I went from the UNITED New York-Belfast flight to meet up with 100 super young people who were sleeping rough outside City Hall  to highlight the fight against homelessness.

They are the true face of the city and I have been honoured and privileged to lead them and every other citizen of Belfast for the past year.

Thank you for your support but now I have to go, there is work to be done.

 

With the Trustees of the Belfast Islamic Centre on Tuesday afternoon. Solidarity, Support, Respect our watchwords in Belfast.

Big Apple Here We Come

27 May 2014

Five years ago, a group of positive-minded people, led by the Irish Echo, came together to launch the New York-New Belfast Conference.

The idea was simple: put bright, ambitious, action-orientated people together in the Big Apple to discuss ways in which they could boost Belfast and build Irish America.

Since then, the New York-New Belfast summit has become the single biggest initiative by any Irish city to engage the Irish American diaspora.

It has become a fixed date in the calendar for political, business, cultural and community leaders from both Belfast and New York who enjoy the hospitality of Fordham University and its dynamic President Fr Joseph McShane.

Each year, we bring some phenomenal ambassadors for the New Belfast to our Big Apple audience. But this year, we’re hitting our highest note yet by bringing the sensational Belfast Community Gospel Choir to New York. I am a big fan of Belfast’s biggest choir — in their diversity and joy, they really do represent the new Belfast — and I’m delighted 64 members (half) of the choir will perform at our conference before undertaking a mini-tour which will take them to New Brunswick, courtesy of Mayor James Cahill, and Harlem.

But the focus of the conference will remain on business and I’m delighted as Mayor to be bringing ten business leaders on a parallel trade and investment mission around the summit.

Those leaders will include Peter Fitzgerald, founder of Randox, and Philip Cassidy, VP of Concentrix, and they will rub shoulders at conference with political leaders from New York including State Reps Mike Cusick and Mike Fitzpatrick before joining Irish American business chiefs at dinner in the boardroom of the New York Stock Exchange.

I look forward to meeting many old friends at the New York-New Belfast Conference and am pleased that a strong Belfast delegation, including political representatives of both traditions, will join Justice Minister David Ford at the summit.

I was also delighted today to join Carol Walker and Dr Ian Adamson of the Somme Museum to back their new fundraising appeal. The Somme Museum and Association is one of my adopted charities. 

Finally, congrats to all those who contested elections over the past week. Congrats to those who were returned and commiserations to those who lost out on this occasion. It's a privilege for all of us to be able to be a part of the democratic process. 

Belfast Lord Mayor pictured with Carol Walker and Dr Ian Adamson

Lord Mayor to attend event hosted by Queen

10 Apr 2014

 

We Build Bridges Here

7 Apr 2014

Can there be a more powerful metaphor for the new Belfast than a new bridge?

I don’t think so.

That’s why I was deeply honoured to be asked to jointly open the Sam Thompson bridge across the Connswater into East Belfast this week.

Joined by First Minister Peter Robinson and Sam’s niece and nephew Abigail Dunn and Jackie Maguire, we went, in the words of the scribe’s most famous work, ‘Over the Bridge’.

There is truly something magical about bridges. Think the Golden Gate or the Brooklyn Bridge in the US, the Bridge of Sighs in Venice, the Oresund Bridge linking Sweden and Denmark, the Halfpenny Bridge in Dublin or the Peace Bridge in Derry.

All do much more than simply link A to B over an expanse of water.

So it is with the Sam Thompson Bridge. Physically, it is a bridge between Victoria Park in east Belfast and the Titanic Quarter. But spiritually, it is a bridge of hope into Belfast’s future, a bridge between our communities and a bridge between the too-often divided parts of our city.

We expect no less of the world-class Connswater Greenway project which is bringing life back into a once-neglected river stretching from the Castlereagh Hills to the Lough and making it a jewel in the crown of Belfast. Kudos to Wendy Langham of the £35m Greenway initiative and to the East Belfast Partnership for their remarkable stewardship of this visionary project.

Another week of bold bridge-building lies ahead with the first State Visit by a President of Ireland to Britain. Another welcome bridge over troubled waters.

With First Minister Peter Robinson and Sam Thompson family members Abigail Dunn and Jackie Maguire

Lily is coming up roses for Belfast film firm

31 Mar 2014

For me, the lily is a flower forever associated with spring and remembrance at Eastertide?

But of course the lily is also a symbol of unionism; witness the famous Siege of Derry song, Lillibulerro ‘lile ba léir é, ba linn an lá’ (‘the lily could be seen, victory was ours’).

So if you had to give a name to the bubbly, red-headed schoolgirl fronting a new animated series from Belfast and set to roll out in 25 countries, Lily wouldn’t be a bad choice.

I am sure none of the above enterered into the heads of Colin Williams and his talented team at Sixteeen South when coming up with the concept of Lily’s Driftwood Bay, a delightful cartoon series set to storm the world of children’s programming.

I had the privilege of visiting Sixteen South, nestled right behind City Hall, this week as part of my continuing homage to the businesses building the future Belfast. Colin’s company is a veritable United Nations of talent with 60-plus artists from all arts and parts working on a series with undoubted global appeal.

It’s been a busy week: I inked a sister cities deal in principle with Mayor Marty Walsh of Boston (in the presence of our great friends Andrew O’Brien of Secretary Kerry’s Global Partnerships and Mary Kane, CEO of Sister Cities International), hosted an eastern economic corridor symposium on the go with the Lord Mayor of Dublin Oisín Quinn — who has made north-south relations a touchstone of his administration — and today attended church with the congregation of McCracken Memorial Church.

Those were memorable moments but my personal highlight was hosting the Northern Ireland Hospice Violet Ball in City Hall on Saturday night. The hospice is a place of vitality, life and grace and I’m honoured to continue to repay my personal debt to them by backing their fundraising efforts for a new, state-of-the-art facility. In fact, I’ll don my racing shoes and run the Belfast marathon on Monday 5 May for their worthy campaign: ‘In Our Hour of Need’ (You find out more on my JustGiving page).

Belfast is on the fast-track, sometimes you have to run to keep up.

A visit to world-class animation company Sixteen South before the May launch of Lily's Driftwood Bay. With Colin Williams and Julie Gardner
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