This morning I ventured over to a business breakfast in West Belfast hosted by local entrepreneur, Gerry Carlile.The event which had nearly 100 people in attendance was kicked off by the local MP, Paul Maskey who preached the need for more investment in West Belfast and cited success stories like the Kennedy Centre which operates at full capacity. The Sinn Fein MP also spoke of his relief that the Executive decided to retain the funding for St. Mary’s which he views as critical to the local economy.
His party colleague, Máirtín Ó Muilleoir followed up by praising the First Minister and Enterprise Minister, Arlene Foster. The South Belfast MLA spoke of his admiration for Ministers performance in lowering unemployment and attracting investment. Ó Muilleoir said that we owe a debt to Unionism and in particular the First Minister who had the sense to see the value in saving the funding going to St Marys and Stranmillis college. In praising the business environment, Mairtin said that we already have many examples to look to with local business leaders who show that Belfast is a good place to do business.
When Arlene rose to speak she candidly told the audience that as she left the house this morning she never thought she would say to her husband that she was off to have breakfast in the Kennedy Centre. The other thing that she still thinks she will never get to say is that Sinn Fein’s Phil Flanagan is a “very level headed man.” But in the spirit of the occasion she spoke of how far Northern Ireland has come and that whilst it may not be apparent on a day to day basis, we have come along way in such a short period of time. Quoting CS Lewis she caught the mood of the event;
Isn’t it funny how day by day nothing changes, but when you look back, everything is different…’
Foster was followed by the First Minister, Peter Robinson who spoke of his desire to make it the norm that ministers from his side of the fence visit West Belfast. He spoke favourably of his relationship with Martin McGuinness saying that while they’re often characterised as the odd couple they have provided a functioning Executive that has secured investment and jobs into Northern Ireland. He admitted there had been road blocks but the Stormont House Agreement is being implemented and the devolution of Corporation Tax will help increase FDI. In perhaps a snub to Alex Attwood, Robinson highlighted how despite being an East Belfast MLA he would welcome jobs into every part of Belfast.
At the end of the event, Tony Rice (Citybeat), Julian O’Neill (BBC) and myself had the chance to pose a few questions to Peter Robinson and Arlene Foster. We talked about the formation of the Executive (Robinson told us OFM/DFM will be renamed and DEL/DETI will be merged), the DEL budget, jobs in North and West Belfast.
(Audio courtesy of Tony Rice)
David McCann holds a PhD in North-South relations from University of Ulster. You can follow him on twitter @dmcbfs