Belfast Telegraph

Wednesday 20 August 2014

DebateNI home of Northern Ireland politics

Peacemakers have inspired me to make Windsor visit

Mairtin O Muilleoir is Lord Mayor of Belfast
Unsung: Rev 'Elvis' Andy Kelso

At every turn in my journey as Belfast Lord Mayor, I am emboldened by the actions of our city's peacemakers and bridge-builders.

They are the people of all backgrounds who put the future first. Citizens who have decided that they would rather take their stand on the expansive common ground of civic unity than on the narrow quicksands of division.

They come from all backgrounds and are of all faiths and none. But they share a confidence and hope in the new Belfast. Chief among these peacemakers, of course, have been my nine chaplains, all of them exemplary advocates of St Francis Asissi's dictum that we should "preach the gospel and, if necessary, use words".

It is as a mark of respect to the peacemakers of Belfast, therefore, that I have decided to cross a personal and political Rubicon by accepting an invite with Lord Mayor of Dublin, Oisin Quinn, to tonight's reception at Windsor Castle hosted by Queen Elizabeth and the Duke of Edinburgh.

In doing so, I know I may cause distress to some among my own voting base who have suffered at the hands of the British state. That is not my intention.

Rather, my resolve is to use this moment to heal, rather than to hurt, while keeping my eye firmly on the prize of a lasting peace and true reconciliation.

On my appointment to this high office last June, I vowed to show respect to the unionist community of Belfast and pledged not to repeat the mistakes of those who had, in the past, made City Hall a cold house for a section of our people.

Living up to that pledge has been evidenced in ways which I hope give encouragement to those who believe we can build a better Belfast: I left in place three portraits of the Royal Family in the mayoral parlour, made the Somme Association one of my official charities (the first mayor to do so), hosted a reception for the Royal British Legion, attended the Armistice Day ceremony to remember all the dead of the Great War and welcomed all representatives, unionist and nationalist, into a parlour from which I had once been banned.

There have been other gestures, some small, some significant, in my own modest efforts to create a shared future.

But they have been as nothing compared to the peacemaking heroics by ordinary people which I have witnessed.

Last week alone, I had the privilege of meeting many unsung architects of the future Belfast: the young people from Ardoyne and the Shankill who travelled together to South Africa to build a play-park; the GRACE women's group in north Belfast which is planning to build a new centre traversing the peaceline; the Belfast Community Gospel Choir, with its uplifting message of love, peace and understanding; the Welcome Organisation, with its promise of unconditional support to the homeless from every corner of Belfast; the GAA stalwarts hosting a schools tournament, where Victoria Prep camogs line out against their counterparts from Catholic primary schools; the Ulster rugby fans, who care not a jot where you worship as long as you can roar at Ravenhill; the congregation at Townsend Presbyterian Church, who rocked across the peaceline with the Rev 'Elvis' Andy Kelso.

It's my hope that, just as these everyday bridge-builders of Belfast inspire me, my attendance at Windsor Castle will give the people of this great city, which I have the privilege to serve as First Citizen, the confidence to go ever further in their peacemaking endeavours.

Councillor Mairtin O Muilleoir is Lord Mayor of Belfast

COMMENT RULES: Comments that are judged to be defamatory, abusive or in bad taste are not acceptable and contributors who consistently fall below certain criteria will be permanently blacklisted. The moderator will not enter into debate with individual contributors and the moderator’s decision is final. It is Belfast Telegraph policy to close comments on court cases, tribunals and active legal investigations. We may also close comments on articles which are being targeted for abuse. Problems with commenting? customercare@belfasttelegraph.co.uk