FCT 2014 speech by Lord Mayor of Belfast, Councillor Nichola Mallon
Forum for Cities in Transition 5th annual gathering, Belfast, Northern Ireland
28 October 2014
Distinguished guests, elected members, ladies and gentlemen,
On behalf of Belfast City Council, I would like to warmly welcome you to our great City Hall for your Fifth Forum for Cities in Transition conference. For those of you who have never been in this building, you are particularly welcome and I hope that you have an opportunity to have a look around at all of its history.
You will have by now, greeted old friends and made some new ones. Conferences like this are very much about connecting and reconnecting with people as they are about the subject and content. So for the Belfast delegates who have visited those countries on previous conferences, I know how much pride they have in hosting you here in Belfast over the course of this week.
As a mark of the Council’s support of the work of the Forum, the Council has financially supported this Gathering and we are delighted to be doing so.
I’m sure that you have now seen a lot of our City. You will now know that our city has 88 physical barriers that separate neighbourhoods and keep many of our communities apart.
Despite the successes of the Peace Process, community division still exist in many parts of the City. You will get opportunities during these four days to see how these divisions are manifested in local working class neighbourhoods. Disputes around flags, parades, protests and cultural expression have entrenched already acute division. Some sections of our community feel alienated from civic society, some feel their cultural identity is being diluted and as a result some communities are suspicious of initiatives seeking to ‘bring people together’. Despite these divisions however, Belfast is committed to continue building peace in our city and in our country.
Enshrined in legislation under the Good Friday Agreement of 1998, the Council and all statutory agencies are required to build better relationships between people from different political, racial and religious backgrounds. This Good Relations work is about tackling sectarianism & racism and promoting cultural diversity.
This means that we need to redouble our efforts to create the environment in which citizens can have the same opportunities regardless of their economic circumstances or their cultural background.
Over the past number of years, as a result of the Peace Process, Belfast has become a much more diverse place with people arriving from all parts of the world to make Belfast a place where they wish to live, work, study, socialise and raise a family. This provides us with great opportunities as a city.
Indeed the most successful cities in the world are those that are the most diverse. Therefore, we need to build the type of society that was envisioned within the Good Friday Agreement.
The theme of your Gathering this year is ‘Promoting Reconciliation through Resilience’. Belfast is keen to learn, share and participate in reconciling communities where relationships have been fractured as a result of our conflict.
Our City Council has a leading role in providing strong leadership, advocating reconciliation and building trust amongst our citizens. Creating this good relations environment, in many ways, is the prerequisite to facilitating progress in all the areas of life. Improving the quality of life and health & wellbeing for ordinary residents in our poorest areas can support the Peace Process and consolidate the positive political moves over the last 16 years as we seek to make a difference to the lives of ordinary people who live in Belfast. The equality and Good Relations agenda is about creating the conditions in which everyone can have the same life chances and quality of life, regardless of their circumstances and regardless of their cultural background.
Good Relations principles and outcomes need to be embedded in all areas of our work, in order to create the trust, confidence and relationships that will enable people develop improved opportunities for participation in the civic and social life of the City.
As we continue with work to resolve current difficulties, we are given confidence by the support we have received from local, national and international friends who continue to encourage us as we move towards a city reconciled.
I want to take this opportunity to wish you well for the remaining time you have in Belfast and the important ongoing work as you monitor the progress of the bilateral project initiatives pledged in previous years and commit to new pledges for your ongoing work.
I wish you well with the remaining two days and I look forward to seeing you back in City Hall on Thursday for the final session of the Gathering.