25th June 2002
A CITY OF EQUALS
CATHAIR NA COMHUARRAIME
Newly elected Mayor of Belfast Alex Maskey speaking in Belfast this morning said that the principles which will guide him are equality, inclusivity and respect. He said that he want to use his year in office as Mayor to represent all the people of this city.
Poblachtaí de chuid Béal Feirste mé. Fear déanta síochána. Tá áthas orm a rá nach i m'aonar atá mé sa dóigh seo. Tá neart daoine ann a bhfuil cúlrá polaitiúil agus creidimh éagsúil acu a chuidigh leis an phróiseas síochána. Ba mhaith liomsa mo bhliain mar Ardmhéara a úsáid ar son mhuintir uilig na cathrach scoilte seo. Sin an chiall atá le Poblachtachas. Sin an chiall atá le déanamh síochána.
I am deeply honoured and proud to stand before you as the first member of Sinn Fein to hold the office of Mayor of Belfast. This is the first time ever that a republican has held this post. It is another important and historic development.
I am an Irish republican. I am a peacemaker. I'm glad to say that I am not alone in this respect. Many people from different political and religious backgrounds from Belfast contributed to the peace process in conjunction with others throughout the island and abroad. I want to commend them all and to express my appreciation on behalf of all of the citizens of Belfast.
I want to use my year in office as Mayor to represent all the people of this city. That is what Irish republicanism stands for. That is what making peace is all about.
Irish Republicanism is a democratic and inclusive philosophy. The City of Belfast was its cradle in the 18th century. Its principal advocates and supporters were from Presbyterian and Church of Ireland backgrounds.
In those days Belfast was a beacon of light for positive, progressive thinking. It was no accident that it was called the Athens of the north; no accident that Belfast was the first city in these islands to ban ships from its harbour which were involved in the slave trade.
My hope is to contribute to the recreation of that period of enlightenment in the precincts of the City Hall through the use of my term of office.
I was born in this City. I grew up in it. I've spent all my life here. I've invested a lot in trying to make it a better city to live in for my children and my grandchild and of course other people. I am proud to say I am a Belfeirstean.
But I also grew up in a divided city. This City Hall was a cold house for the community I come from and represent. This is changing. This is good for all the citizens of Belfast.
In furtherance of that, the guiding principles in my term in office will be:
- fair play,
I want to ensure that this office is utilised for the benefit of all the citizens of Belfast and that Belfast is a warm and welcoming place for visitors to our city. It is my firm intention to achieve as much as I can in this respect. I want a new rulebook for the Mayor of this city. I want all the citizens of this city to contribute to the writing of that rule book
Belfast as everyone knows is a diverse but also a divided city. There are competing political allegiances: principally unionists and nationalists and indeed those who see themselves as neither of these. But of course that is not the complete human picture. Other ethnic communities enrich Belfast. They are welcome. They should be made to feel welcome.
I want to use my year in office to advance the work already done and being done to bring all of these sections of our community closer together. This city has many wells of positive energy. I want to pool that energy; from the people who work at a community level to those who work in the financial and commercial sector and everyone in between; not least the Councillors and the staff of the City Council.
I want to deal with the challenges of today. We have a multi-party Council and a multi-cultural City. This demands as of right and necessity that we build a `City of Equals' for all of its inhabitants.
I want to build many bridges from street level upwards; bridges across which people can walk comfortably towards each other.
I will open the doors of my office and the doors of the City Hall to the people of this City, north, south, east and west. I want the people of Taughmonagh and Ballymurphy, of Ardoyne, the Shankill and Malone, the Short Strand and the Newtownards Road to personally explore with this office what we can do together for their neighbourhoods and for the citizens of Belfast as a whole.
Inside the City Hall I want to contribute to the creation of the same openness. I want to institutionalise political cooperation between the parties.
I am proposing to hold a monthly meeting of the leaders of all the political parties on the Council to promote understanding and devise plans for the mutual benefit of all the people we represent.
I will give over the Mayor's parlour and associated facilities to all the parties on agreed dates throughout the year for their civic use so that these facilities will be available to all sections of the electorate.
I want to see the Council at the centre of tackling interface problems and will promote this by appointing dedicated Community Liaison Officers and by developing a strategy in conjunction with community relations agencies. I will make this a key issue in my engagement with the other parties and party leaders on Belfast City Council.
I will appoint a Civic Advisory Panel reflecting civic society. I am concerned to give those on the margins who have no voice or no platform both. This Panel could be made up of people representing ethnic minorities, the churches, business people, victims organisations, Trades Council, community activists, conservationists and ex-prisoners from loyalist and republican backgrounds.
I am also proposing to convene formal meetings of all committee chairpersons and heads of council departments for purposes of integrating strategies, and achieving best effect and best value for money for the ratepayers and the citizens as a whole.
These are difficult times in Belfast. The political leaders of all the parties, including my own party, Sinn Fein, have a responsibility to lead their communities by example through working together. Political leaders working together can usher in a much-needed period of political stability, harmony and co-existence for everyone.
We are in a new era as a result of the Good Friday Agreement. We are in a new era in this City where for the first time a Sinn Fein member is now the Mayor.
We have new all-embracing institutions where unionists, nationalists, republicans and loyalists are sharing political power and planning the future for all the people of this island.
There are two Sinn Fein Ministers in the Executive working along with David Trimble, his colleagues and SDLP Ministers. I hope that in time the DUP Ministers will take the final step into this collective forum which is responsible for so much of the things which effect our everyday lives. All the parties are working together and co-operating with each other on the Assembly Committees That is right and proper. That is what the electorate voted for.
However despite the fact that all the political institutions are popular the political process remains fragile. Sinn Fein does not take the process for granted. It needs to be worked at continuously. Sometime the only thing at the end of a tunnel is another tunnel. This is a collective responsibility. We will work diligently to hold up our end of the responsibility. We will encourage everyone to do likewise.
The electorate in this city have also spoken their mind. That is why I am currently the Mayor. My peers democratically chose me.
But there is an important part of the City Hall's jigsaw missing. The post of Deputy Lord Mayor has not yet been filled. In the interests of all the people of this City I am asking unionists to follow their colleagues on the Executive and on the Committees in the new Assembly.
I am asking them to share power with me by taking up this post.
I am asking them to follow the example of their unionist colleagues in areas like Magherafelt where the DUPs Willie McCrea is Chair of the Council and his Deputy is a Sinn Fein member. In Limavady there is a UUP Chairperson and a Sinn FÈin Deputy Chair.
Let us jointly give the people of this City the civic leadership that they are entitled to.
As I have said many times before I was elected Mayor my watchword is equality:
- in all its dimensions
- within the institutions of the City
- in the treatment of all citizens by the City Council.
I intend that equality will be the pivot on which my term of office rotates. No one from any of this City's traditions should fear equality. Everyone is a winner as far as equality is concerned.
Implementing equality will of course be difficult, and in some instances it will also be painful. It presents political and personal challenges. And especially for nationalists and unionists. This is a two way street with a joint and co-equal responsibility for ensuring the flow of traffic. But it is an indispensable element of the new political circumstances arising out of the Good Friday Agreement.
That means that as a result of these changing times nationalists and republicans also face difficult choices. We have to come to terms with the cultural identity of the unionist and protestant people and the manner in which they express this identity. Equality is indivisible.
This is what we all need to take on board when considering and making decisions about symbols, emblems, memorials and commemorations. And that does not mean having to subsume one's own political allegiance in anothers. It means identifying the common ground and being willing to share it. I am glad to say that the City Council is making progress on this front with the setting up of a `Good Relations Committee' to examine symbols, emblems and memorials and commemorations.
The principles which will guide me are equality, inclusivity and respect; to seek to reach as much agreement as possible and where this is not possible then peaceful co-existence in disagreement.
My commitment to equality extends to the many ethnic minorities and groups who contribute to the life of this City on a daily basis. This includes the Arab and Islamic community, the Chinese community, the Indian community, the African community, the Pakistani community, the Jewish community and the Latin-American community to name but the larger ethnic groups who have come to share our city with us as citizens of Belfast. It includes also the Disadvantaged, Travellers, Women, Gays and Lesbians, Conservationists, Disabled, Special Needs Children and of course the Churches.
The Irish language and Gaelic culture plays an important role in making Belfast a vibrant and pluralist society. Indeed Irish has been a living language in Belfast since the founding of the City. During my time as Mayor I am looking forward to having the Irish language spoken, seen and heard as much as possible and I will encourage all the citizens of Belfast to take an interest in and enjoy the dynamic and vital Gaelic culture around us.
In recent years we have witnessed the growth in interest in Ulster Scots. This development is also a part of making `Balfawst Citie o Jonick'- a City of Equals.
Within hours of being elected I said I wanted to reach out as a republican specifically to the unionist and Protestant people of this City.
I asked unionists to judge me by what I say and by what I do as well as what I am.
I am very aware that we are close to a very important anniversary for unionists and protestants. I have to confess I haven't always given this anniversary the depth of thought it warrants. July 1st is the 86th anniversary of the Battle of the Somme when thousands of men from this island perished in a war in which, overall, 50,000 people from this island died.
These men came from different backgrounds, nationalist and unionist. They fought and died for different reasons. Some fought for `God and Ulster', some `For the Freedom of Small Nations' while others from the republican tradition of `Serving neither King nor Kaiser' stayed in Ireland and fought here; against the British army and not with it. After the war, indeed, some who fought with the British army in Flanders and elsewhere returned to Ireland to fight against it. This complex situation presents challenges to all of us.
The time has come to engage in a comprehensive debate around how we commemorate these events so as to find the formula we can all live with. Different political allegiances mark what is commemorated and how it is commemorated. This is a reality we have to acknowledge and live with.
Later in the week I will outline what I propose with respect to this important anniversary.
Belfast is a divided city. It doesn't always have to be like that. I hope when I leave office in a year's time I will be leaving behind a more united city.
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