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Watching the barriers come down across this city I love

What an amazing experience the last 12 months has been for me - definitely a year to remember! When the Lord Mayor's chain was handed to me in June last year I could never have believed how much would happen in the year ahead.

And now, as my term as Belfast's First Citizen comes to an end, I can look back on an incredible experience - one that I will never forget.

It has been both a real privilege and a pleasure to serve the people of this wonderful city and to have the opportunity to celebrate and share in the very positive changes happening in Belfast.

I adopted 'Belfast without barriers' as my theme throughout the last year. I want to see a city in which everyone is respected and celebrated and there are no barriers placed in people's way as they go about making their contribution to shaping this city for the future.

But I also want to see Belfast as a city which has no limits to the aspirations and dreams it has for its future and its people. As I have gone around the city I have been overwhelmed by the projects and initiatives - and, most of all, the people - that proved beyond doubt that our city is developing as a welcoming, open and shared space to be enjoyed by all.

I never cease to be amazed at the generosity of spirit and the huge contribution being made by individuals from every background to create a better Belfast.

From my base in City Hall I was able to feel very much a part of city life and it was a real joy to see this historic building filled with locals and tourists alike. The fact that this iconic building was reopened during my time as Lord Mayor was so special and I will always remember 2009 as the year when we celebrated a 'City Hall for All'.

To mark the reopening we had a number of VIP visits - including US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and, more recently, Prince Charles.

The buzz of excitement during both of those visits was infectious. I also had the privilege, at the invitation of the President of Ireland, to meet with the Lord Mayors of Dublin and Cork at Aras an Uachtarain.

Another of the many highlights was the Tall Ships extravaganza last August when about three quarters of a million people converged on Belfast. The four-day festival put Belfast in the global spotlight - generating millions of pounds for the local economy.

Over recent months, I hosted a series of breakfast meetings with the business sector in Belfast. Using my theme of Belfast without Barriers, I engaged with those who are best placed to promote an integrated economic vision for the city. A variety of guest speakers - including US economic envoy Declan Kelly - helped motivate all of us to achieve our goals for this city.

Of the many projects I was happy to support, those involving our youth gave me every reason to feel optimistic about the future.

Schemes such as the Belfast Community Safety Partnership Young People's Awards recognise the contribution young people are making to improving life in Belfast.

But the truth is that, young or old, this city is bursting with individuals all doing their bit to be good neighbours and to make Belfast a great place to live and to visit.

Now, as I prepare to hand over my chain of office to the next Lord Mayor tonight, I want to take this opportunity to say a heartfelt 'thank you' to all of you who helped make the last year so memorable.

I look forward to continuing to serve the people of East Belfast - and beyond - at Westminster in my new role as MP.