Time to remove barriers to peace, Ekin says at opener

Attendees gather from far and wide at opening

By Francesca Ryan

THE third annual One City Conference took place last week with delegates from as far as the US and the Basque Country flying in to Belfast to participate.

The first leg of the conference was held at the newly revamped Cultúrlann last Thursday evening where Alderman Tom Ekin and US Congressman Eugene O’Flaherty did the honours.

In his opening address, Alderman Ekin referred to a lack of leadership in the city over the past 50 years, but, he said, things are changing.  The development of the MAC, Belfast City Hall and Titanic Belfast were all name-checked as he focused on positive developments in Belfast, but there is one area that remains untouched, he added. “The peace walls are barriers,” he said, “and it’s very important we remove these barriers in Belfast.  These barriers, barriers in the minds, murals, and anything else that is preventing us from achieving what we want, should be moved. I believe the next phase for Belfast is changing people’s minds and removing barriers.”

Representative O’Flaherty took to the stage next and he described Belfast as “rich in history, vibrant and ready to move into the 21st century”, before talking about the similarities between  Belfast and Boston.

“There has been an amazing transformation in Boston and Massachusetts,” he said.  “It has gone from a mainly manufacturing based economy to a knowledge-based economy.  I see a lot of similarities to that right here in Belfast and the North of Ireland.”

Representative O’Flaherty urged Belfast to sell itself to entrepreneurs to move further into the knowledge based industries.

“This is a two-way street,” he added.  “We have a lot to learn from you and we can impart good lessons too.”

Geraldine McAteer, CEO of the West Belfast Partnership Board, Paul McErlean of the Cathedral Quarter, Eimear Ní Mhathúna of the Gaeltacht Quarter and Mike Smith of the Titanic Quarter took part in a discussion on the progress and condition of the various quarters of the city. Mark Hackett from the Forum for Alternative Belfast spoke on how a city must be drawn together for the benefit of all. Roisin McDonough, Arts Council CEO, artists Wolfgang Buttress and Conrad Atkinson and Steve Orr of Generation Innovation considered the importance of a new narrative for Belfast. The architect Ciarán Mackel, Fergus Ó hÍr of Raidió Fáilte, Simon Rea of Belfast Pride and Angila Chada of Springboard considered the future of the city. See page 3 for reports on these.

The first day ended with an evening of music and food in Caifé Feirste.

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