FCT 2014 speech by Chair of FCT Belfast, Councillor Tim Attwood
5th annual gathering of the Forum for Cities in Transition
27 October 2014
On behalf of The Belfast Forum for Cities in Transition, I wish to give you a big Cead Mille Failte to Belfast. (a hundred thousand welcome) Belfast FCT is delighted to be hosting the 5th conference of the Forum for Cities in Transition. The FCT Group and the secretariat have been working tirelessly since the FCT conference in Kaduna Nigeria, last year, to ensure the success of this conference.
The organisation of such a prestigious conference has taken a lot of hard work and effort from a lot of people to ensure that it is a success and meets the objectives of the organisers, participants and funders. Can I thank the members of the Belfast FCT and the FCT secretariat for their help in organising this conference. Can I also thank our funders who have made this conference possible the Department of Foreign Affairs, Belfast City Council, the International Fund for Ireland, The Ireland Funds, The Community Relations Council and the Northern Ireland Housing Executive.
We are very proud of the programme that has been developed for the conference. You will get to see each quarter of Belfast, meet local people, listen to victims and others who work on the peace lines trying to reconcile divided communities from the bottom up.
We hope it will provide you with a meaningful insight into the complex challenges facing Belfast today and provide you with positive examples of how you can build reconciliation and peace in a divided City.
This morning we are located in the wonderful E3 building in West Belfast. In many ways this area of the Springfield Road, straddling the Falls and Shankill Roads, highlights the complex problems facing Belfast. The electoral wards in this area are Falls, Highfield and Whiterock are three of the most deprived wards in Northern Ireland, health inequalities are real with men dying 10 years younger than other parts of |Belfast and educational underachievement is catastrophic. Then you have the Peace Walls, you only have to cross the road to see one of the 90 peace walls /barriers which separate Protestant and Catholic neighbourhoods in Northern Ireland, most of them in Belfast. This is also a parade flashpoint every June. This area is a microcosm of all the problems facing Belfast today.
At the same time you have symbols of hope this very building E3 an £18m investment in a major new education building which will enhance the employability skills of its students and stimulate enterprise through business incubation. Across the road Belfast City Council is building an £9m advance factory space with support from European funds.
There is no doubt Belfast and Northern Ireland has come a long way but we must never forget that for 40 long years the troubles took a terrible toll, too many people died, too many families grieved, every family was denied the quiet blessings of a normal life and the constant fear that a simple trip to the store could be devastated by bombs and bullets, you had the daily disruptions of road security check points and presence of armed soldiers always on patrol in neighbourhoods.
16 years ago with the Good Friday Agreement we were given the opportunity to break free from the past and write our own history.
As John Hume said when he received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1998: “The Good Friday Agreement now opens a new future for all the people of Ireland. A future built on respect for diversity and political difference. A future where all can rejoice in cherished aspirations and beliefs and where this can be a badge of honour, not a source of fear or division. No one is asked to yield cherished convictions or beliefs. All of us are asked to respect the views and rights of others as equal of our own and, together, to forge a covenant of shared ideals based on commitment to the rights of all allied to a new generosity of purpose.”
There have been many achievements over the last quarter of a century – the establishment of democratic institutions in the Assembly, the North South Ministerial council, the united stand against violence and terror and the new beginning to policing are all confirmation of how far we have all travelled.
The multiple disputes over flags, emblems and parades, the paralysis in government across a number of policies, the unaddressed legacy of the past and inadequate proposals on a common future are the symptoms of a much deeper problem.
We do have a relative peace but it is time to recreate the ambitions and hopes of Good Friday Agreement in 1998. It is time to deepen the values and comprehensively advance the unfinished work of the Good Friday Agreement. It is time to further transform our politics and the lives of our people.
I will end with the words from a poem by the late Maya Angelou, speaking at Presidents Bill Clinton inauguration an 20th January 1993: “Lift up your faces, you have a piercing need for this bright morning dawning for you. History, despite its wrenching pain, cannot be unlived, but if faced with courage, need not be lived again.”
Many people in Belfast and in your cities have faced that ‘wrenching pain’ especially the victims who have suffered most, but if you are ready to face history with courage tomorrow can be another country.