FCT 2014 speech by Junior Minister of Northern Ireland, Jennifer McCann MLA
5th annual gathering of the Forum for Cities in Transition
27 October 2014
Good morning ladies and gentlemen.
I’d like to first of all welcome you all to Belfast.
It is very encouraging to see so many representatives here from cities across the world that have experienced some form of conflict.
Although every conflict is different, there are always ways in which we can help each other out.
I am sure this forum will offer plenty of opportunities to share and learn from each other’s experiences.
I am delighted the Forum for Cities in Transition has chosen Belfast as the venue for the fifth annual gathering.
Belfast is a particularly appropriate venue, given your theme of ‘Promoting Reconciliation through Resilience’.
Areas like where you are today and North Belfast in particular have suffered tragically in human cost in the recent conflict, which has left many families deeply impacted.
In the north of Ireland we are fortunately emerging from the tragedy of the conflict.
Over the past number of years we have witnessed some significant changes, as we have moved away from conflict to building a united, shared and reconciled society.
Belfast is the city where I was born and raised. I have witnessed it in conflict. I have witnessed it in peace. And I know at firsthand the resilience and strength of the city and its people who live here.
There is great hope and expectation for our future. I and we must not fail – but we still have a long way to go in terms of our making progress. But I’m confident if we all work together, we will achieve it.
The fact that this forum is being held here in Belfast is an endorsement of our work, and an indication that we are heading in the right direction.
There will always be obstacles and bumps in the road, and we will continue to face many challenges – both in terms of the political process and as a society.
In general, building peace is a journey, not a destination.
It takes a lot of hard work and a willingness to listen to a different point of view and find the middle ground. Dialogue and compromise are key components of any peace building process.
A major challenge has been the creation and development of the devolved, power-sharing administration that we now have – it’s not easy where people from differing backgrounds who once were in opposition are now making decisions and determining the future for all the people here.
As I said there are many challenges, and I’ve no doubt over the next few days you will hear of those challenges.
A challenge for all of us here today is learning to heal the divisions and sectarianism of the past, and to go forward with a shared vision of what we want the future to look like.
We have witnessed changes that many, if not most of us, would have had difficulty imagining possible not so long ago. There are many reasons to be proud of what has been achieved to date, as well as optimistic about the future.
Peace is now firmly established – now we must begin to build the political consensus needed to build reconciliation.
Stability allows us the space to shape the society that we all want to see, one which ensures out past is never repeated, and one which lays the foundation for peace and prosperity for future generations.
Breaking down the physical barriers of segregation and division can sometimes be easier than breaking down the mindset of intolerance and sectarianism in people’s minds.
I understand that later in the week you will visit a number of interface areas in Belfast, where you will see the good work being carried out on the ground by individuals and groups to build a more shared society in these areas. Local community buy-in is essential in this process.
If we work together, I believe we can bring forward a society with equality and partnership at its core, and create a more united and confident community. Our society has come a long way in recent years, and has been transformed in many respects.
For well over a decade, we have been on a journey from conflict and division to peace and reconciliation.
We have seen the North become somewhere investors consider a viable business base; where tourists want to visit; where significant inward immigration has led to the creation of a diverse, multicultural society.
Our young people can grow up in a stable and peaceful environment and enjoy the benefits that brings.
For most of us who grew up during the dark days of conflict, we want to see a peaceful, together future for children and young people.
I wish you well with the forum. I am sure you will take away some new ideas and inspiration for your own cities. I also hope that you find some free time to explore our beautiful city, which has been transformed from a city of conflict to a city of peace and prosperity – while we still have many problems to overcome.