Vision for Belfast unveiled by Lord Mayor Máirtín Ó Muilleoir who promises to “remain relentlessly positive” about the city this year

When Máirtín Ó Muilleoir returned to Belfast City Council after an absence of fourteen years he must have hoped that it would be a changed place.

Dome of DelightHis book – Belfast’s Dome of Delight – documents his journey as the “novice ambassador from the independent republic of Anderstown” to the council chamber as the nationalist (and in particular Sinn Fein) presence on the council grew.

Sinn Fein’s offices in the council were bombed by the UVF in May 1994. The election of a Sinn Fein councillor to the position of Deputy Lord Mayor for the first time in June 1998 was followed by Cllr Marie Moore’s being barred from Lord Mayor Bob Stoker’s inaugural dinner. The exchanges inside and outside the council chamber were heated and at times violent.

Time had moved on. 2011 would surely be different. A new mature politics was …………… cracked by cadet-gate and nearly completely shattered following the flags debacle the next December. At times the relationships and emotional intelligence of the council seem to have gone backwards.

mairtin o'muilleoir lord mayorWhen I met Máirtín Ó Muilleoir a few months ago he came across as a man impatient for a better city. His twitter username @newbelfast seems apt. People working in the social economy sector in East Belfast speak appreciatively of Máirtín’s willingness over the years to share expertise allowing the east of the city to tap into funding that the west had learnt to access.

Like a game of snakes and ladders, every Sinn Fein Lord Mayor has rolled the dice a few more times, dealt with a few more taboos, and on balance moved forward up the board towards normality.

Máirtín’s term of office seems to be pushing hard to move further and faster than his three Sinn Fein predecessors. But then he’s nearly a post-Sinn Fein mayor, a republican but also an entrepreneur, the pointy-headed boss managing director of Belfast Media Group [he’s stepped aside from his business interests this year] whose contact book must be as full of New York and Boston phone numbers as those in Belfast or Dublin.

Back in June, the new Lord Mayor said:

I will make respect my watchword during the year. I will stretch myself.

This morning in the City Hall, Máirtín launched his Vision for Belfast [download as PDF] summed up as

Building the future Belfast – together.

Introducing the document, he said:

In all of my work, I pledge to remain relentlessly positive about Belfast, its people and its future … Today I am revealing my vision of how I can use the office of Mayor to build a better Belfast. I ask for your help in making my vision a reality. First and foremost, that means building the peace and working hard to bring our people together.

It also means striving to create jobs. And of course in all our work we have to ensure that our working class communities enjoy a greater share of the peace dividend.

A Vision for BelfastThe vision document includes plans to

  • lead a technology trade mission from Belfast to Silicon Valley USA later this year;
  • host a business mission to Belfast from New York early next year;
  • introduce ‘Future Belfast Fridays’ when his engagements will focus on building confidence in our economy;
  • invite all Mayors of towns and cities along the eastern economic corridor to join him in promoting cross border economic development.

In terms of peace-building and bring people together Máirtín is also committing to

  • work with the Somme Association and the Royal British Legion to explore ways to pay respect to the unionist and nationalist dead of the First World War;
  • partner with the Ulster Museum to borrow and display two major works celebrating the traditions of unionism and republicanism in Belfast;
  • host a Civic Forum on the crucial issue of tackling poverty;
  • promote the Irish language as “a shared treasure of all”.

He also plans to

  • host a Belfast Day on Sunday, 29 September 2013 to celebrate the diversity of Belfast. Local cuisine, literature, minorities, music, youth and all that makes Belfast special will be showcased for all to enjoy;
  • appoint a Poet Laureate for Belfast, Sinéad Morrissey (example poem!) – in conjunction with the Arts Council and Arts & Business – to work with residents and celebrate poetry in our great city;
  • launch a Lord Mayor’s Commendation Award for those doing outstanding work to build the future Belfast;
  • promote the Belfast Ambassadors awards, the first of which has already been presented to Liam Neeson.

You can hear the first three minutes of the Lord Mayor’s interview on Good Morning Ulster. In a rare slip-up, Máirtín answered the wide open first question by talking about the Poet Laureate rather than focussing on jobs and the economy, meaning he ended up wasting interview time defending the (admittedly) laudable idea.

Can remaining “relentlessly positive” make a difference? Will the endorsements from friendly business and cultural leaders (like Terence Brannigan, Howard Hastings, Ian Adamson Mary Trainor-Nagele) extend to politicians from other parties on the council and beyond? Can unionists voice acceptance and respect without immediately rubbishing the whole venture and finding fault with isolated proposals? (Launching on the 31 July may be opportune since some unionist councillors – particularly those active in the Orange Order – may finally have been able to go on holiday.)

While long-term visions and strategies can become dusty and forgotten (or overtaken by events), a set of proposals with only ten months to complete might have a greater chance to achieve something.

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  • Droch_Bhuachaill

    Seems like a man with an honest pride of place and love for where he is from, unlike our other county and city mayors who seem to see the chain of office as only a means for a spin to some foreign land around the 17th March to walk at the front of a parade…

  • Submariner

    But Mairtin what about “Are flag”

  • Ulster Press Centre

    Worth remembering that, during The Troubles, this man was the IRA’s answer to Joseph Goebbels.

    While he might not pulled a trigger himself, how many people died because of the rabble-rousing, sectarianism and pro-terrorism message printed in his ‘newspapers’?

    Hard to take his ‘I’m a nice guy’ image seriously when you remember some of things he ‘spun’ back in the day.

  • Mc Slaggart

    Ulster Press Centre

    “IRA’s answer to Joseph Goebbels”

    I did not know that Joeseph was in the British security forces?

  • Droch_Bhuachaill

    Ah UPC, I meant to ask you on another thread but here will do, as you are Ulster’s press centre if I sent you a piece on the prospects of the various Ulster counties in the upcoming All-Ireland gaelic football quarter finals, would you be able to share it?

  • Morpheus

    “Ah UPC, I meant to ask you on another thread but here will do, as you are Ulster’s press centre if I sent you a piece on the prospects of the various Ulster counties in the upcoming All-Ireland gaelic football quarter finals, would you be able to share it?”

    We have been campaigning for a name change for a while now. He is not the Ulster Press Center, he is the “press centre” for a small and decreasing percentage of the 41% of 66% of the 9 Ulster counties. That’s a mouthful I know but more apt.

  • Droch_Bhuachaill

    “Worth remembering that, during The Troubles, this man was the IRA’s answer to Joseph Goebbels.”

    Adams, only had one ball,
    McGuinness, had two but very small,
    All Shinners, had something similar,
    But Ó Muilleoir had no liathróid at all.”

    You like UPC?

  • georgebest


  • SDLP supporter

    Máirtín Ó Muilleoir (MOM) is an able person and certainly more savvy and articulate than the general run of Belfast Lord Mayors. He does have a number of problems in implementing his plans, however:

    1.In his first stint as councillor he “unambiguously supported”, as he was obliged to do by reason of a Sinn Féin Ard Fheis decision, the Provo IRA ‘economic war’ when the Provos repeatedly bombed the heart out of Belfast and when Adams went on the record to say that “there will be no economic normality”. If his opponents cast that up to him he can hardly complain and it’s kind of hard to explain it away to potential investors.
    2.MOM is genuinely and sincerely devoted to the Irish language and he’ll be reminded of the statement (can’t remember who said it!) that ‘Every word of Irish spoken is like another bullet being fired in the struggle for Irish freedom.’
    3.MOM has no military background and, as such, he’ll always be outranked by the people in his own party, some even councillors, who have done time for the cause.
    4.Arlene Foster and the DUP aren’t stupid. If they see he is making any headway they’ll try to stymie him and in reality Belfast City Council can’t do much for potential inward investors, certainly nothing like Investment NI which can give grants, provide sites and build factories. In fact, I would go so far as to say that the £4 million or so the Council spends annually on ‘economic development’ is poor value for money.
    5.There have been endless conferences and missions about investment in Belfast over the years which have yielded little or no product and I do sense a lot of cynicism about the effectiveness of all the trans-Atlantic to-ing and fro-ing.

    MOM would have been better advised to call himself something like the ‘Education Lord Mayor’ and present Belfast as a ‘great European City’ or such-like because so many of our primary and secondary schools in Belfast are not fit for purpose in regard to outcomes and McGuinness/Ruane did away with performance tables anyway. In business, as in life, what gets measured gets done and what I would love to see MOM doing is pledging to work towards a target that 95% of school-leavers will have GCSE maths and English, maybe a hard science (Physics/Chemistry) and, by all means, Irish or any other second language for if you have a second language it’s easier to learn a third and so on.

  • Barnshee

    “He does have a number of problems in implementing his plans, however”:

    Oh dear that`s the arse rather effectively torn out of Mr Miller`

  • John Ó Néill

    Why would Máirtín take on the Dept of Educations work? Have the SDLP forgot what the various political offices do (hint is that Mayor is a city council post).

    Your objections make no sense?

    1. That people who closed the city over a flag last year will use what happened 20 years ago as an issue (hint, investors will look at last year for the business environment, not 20 years ago)?
    2. So Máirtín speaks Irish. So why is that a problem exactly?
    3. If Máirtín was never an IRA volunteer, how does any of that make sense (you need a rank, to be outranked).
    4. So, it will not work because the DUP wouldn’t buy into a SF plan and so would obstruct any success (suggesting a mayor with an actual business and enterprise background might achieve something for this to be relevant). This also assumes business will not then ignore the DUP as it would prefer failure to a SF blueprint that works?
    5. Maybe the reason why it hasn’t worked lies in the answer to 4 above. Who was the last mayor with his skillset and experience?

  • I always worry when a politician says he has a Vision.
    And while there are things of substance in the Mayors plans, the Poet Laureate thing is a headline grabber and frankly seems a bit pretentious.
    Im as fond of Culture as the next long as it doesnt involve opera, ballet, orchestras, statues, paintings and poetry. But this kinda nonsense invites ridicule in the form of one liners and possibly rhyming couplets.
    “SDLP Supporter” makes too much of the new Mayors credibility.
    “John O’Neill” makes too little of it.

  • SDLP supporter

    John O’Neill
    As a fluent Irish speaker who loves the language I don’t understand what you are saying. I was making the point that the crassly stupid ‘Irish as bullets’ remark could be used against him. Also, ‘culture follows economics’, not the other way around.

    In relation to a military background, Sinn Fein-as David McKittrick has pointed out-is “a profoundly militaristic organisation” and obvious preference and influence is given to people who have ‘done time’.

    You rhetorically ask who was the last Lord Mayor with the skillset and (business) experience of MOM. Um, Tom Ekin of Alliance who was Lord Mayor in 2005 and who had a very successful business career abroad and came back to set up a thriving industrial estate in Inner South Belfast?

    I don’t know, but if the figures were available I would bet that Ekin’s company is at least as profitable as Belfast Media Group. Also, MOM took over the ‘Andersonstown News’ from the original founders and the new venture with which he is most associated, Daily Ireland, actually failed-though there is no shame in business failure.

    You really are being a bit of a prat about the education thing. My daughter lives in a city in the US which is far, far wealthier than Belfast. Responsibility for education is divided between the federal government (Obama administration), the state and the school board (basically, the council area). The most thriving cities in the region are competing with each other to constantly upgrade their educational systems (charter schools and the like) in order to attract inward investment and Belfast needs to do the same. We are told time and again that we do not have enough IT skills and that education for this needs to start at primary level.

    Let’s put it this way: an incoming IT company is hardly likely to locate in Fermanagh, it’ll choose somewhere like Belfast where there are greater catchment numbers and two good universities, though they are not producing enough relevant IT graduates.

    If MOM wants to make an impact he could be the ‘Education Mayor’: believe me, the middle classes in South Belfast are already sending their kids to computer dojos and the like. I just wish it was the same in North, West and East Belfast and the Council could do something about it.
    As for FJH’s intervention, I’m fully aware of our esteemed Mayor’s snide and nasty side but I’m taking my cue from him today and trying to be “relentlessly positive”, with a touch of realism!

  • John Ó Néill

    If this is you being relentlessly positive, I’d hate to see you being pessimistic.
    You quote a US model but that is not in operation here so it’s not exactly a workable criticism. The single year mayoral model makes any individual’s task of achieving anything in the role difficult to say the least. Ekin is probably the last with Empey the last before that, suggesting about one with an entrepreneurial background in a decade or so. There is nothing to stop any local rep pushing an education agenda all the time anyway. I suspect that if he had become the Education Mayor, there would be some sniffing about his lack of education credentials to know what he is talking about.
    That still doesn’t make education the councils remit, though, and any effective plan would have to agreed and operated across more than a year (CoderDoJos are a good example of something each councillor could push in their electoral area).
    As to the Irish language complaint, what would you suggest? Do nothing? If you are an Irish language activist you will know fine well that most language bodies stayed at a good distance from Sinn Féin (despite the propaganda to the contrary). The only one that didn’t (Glór) got slaughtered for it. If SF didn’t promote the language the same people would be pontificating about that too.

  • BluesJazz

    @sdlp supporter

    “Let’s put it this way: an incoming IT company is hardly likely to locate in Fermanagh, it’ll choose somewhere like Belfast where there are greater catchment numbers and two good universities, though they are not producing enough relevant IT graduates.”

    Belfast has 1 mediocre university (QUB) and the pathetic ‘University’ of Ulster at Jordanstown -cue Private Eye- formerly North Circular polytechnic.

    Russia and India are producing highly competent IT graduates who will work for buttons. We get a few thousand jobs because Invest NI (courtesy of the English taxpayer) throws them big grants to stay here for a few years. Then they relocate. Of course the massive civil service (courtesy of the English taxpayer) can absorb the others, but really it’s a race to the bottom.
    Would you even employ a UU graduate to mow your lawn?

  • Mick Fealty

    I disagree with FJH on politicians and vision. It’s refreshing to hear/see a Belfast Mayor act up the office for all it’s worth (and then some). We’ve had a real dose of people in Belfast acting down to less than the sum of the city’s active parts.

    And this has been the funnest thread on Slugger I’ve read in a long time. There’s some good natured criticisms (I hope one of Mairtin’s successor takes up SDLP Supporter’s suggestion about focusing on short term realisable objectives in education.

    John’s point that we don’t have an American style Mayor is worth saying of course. The truth is that the only real power the mayor has is his capacity to strike deals in the chamber (or at least trust that his colleagues will not cause a ruckus in the run up to the Christmas shopping period), and use the symbolic power of the office.

    For my part, I’ll be taking him up on his invocation to be relentlessly positive and will be inviting him to contribute to one of a short series of private round tables on the future of Belfast in the Autumn.

  • Mick Fealty


    I’m sure that’s funny round your way, but it’s: one, off topic; and two, drivel.

  • Dixie Elliott

    O’ Millionaire was never a Republican. Thats why he’s become a leading member of SF.

  • He has been a bit lucky with his “timing”
    The Police Games and An Feile give ample photo opportunities and theres been a lot of positivity from the MetroTextuals and community activists from all sides…and of course the Arts Community….its all very cosy.
    Even the Andytown News is praising ….An Feile.
    I find it all a bit uncomfortable.