Reinvigorating the Task Forces - Building a New Future
This morning a crucial conference was held in St. Mary’s University on the Falls Road – Moving Forward Together: West Belfast Task Force: Ten years on – a community response.
The goal of the conference is to examine the ten years of work by the West Belfast and Greater Shankill Task Forces.
Former west Belfast MP and Sinn Féin President Gerry Adams TD who was central to the development of the Task Force addressed the conference and called for the Task Forces to be reinvigorated.
Mr. Adams said:
“Ten years ago, and after many years of lobbying and planning and hard work, the West Belfast and Greater Shankill Task Forces were established. Their goal was to bring forward recommendations aimed at reducing unemployment and poverty based on the economic, social and cultural needs of the area.
Last autumn a number of us met to review our work and to plan for the future. Out of that conversation we set a number of objectives. These are:
to have the West Belfast and greater Shankill Task Forces reinvigorated as a special area-based strategy;
to have the Task Forces realigned within the Executive, with a champion in government;
to have resources set aside to sustain the existing apparatus and outworking of the Task Force;
to establish an appropriate and effective delivery mechanism or mechanisms;
to safeguard major public investment projects which could help catalyse new economic development;
to bring forward fresh thinking from within the community about what a new phase of the Task Force should entail.
Considerable progress has been made in progressing these but we need to consolidate that work in the next few weeks.
Regrettably the political system, the institutions of the state, have been slow to respond to the changes brought about by the peace process. There are some within the various agencies of government who prefer the old ways and who don’t like the notion of equality.
One of the great challenges facing us in the time ahead is confronting this old guard and forcing through greater change.
In this new phase of peace building, the correct investment strategies and infrastructural planning, are tools for change, tools for peace. We must guarantee that no area, no community and no-one gets left behind.
A report submitted by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development to Belfast City Council concludes that patterns of investment and employment over the next ten years will favour south Belfast most, and west Belfast least.
Our focus, our strategy, for the future must be on correcting this. With local people elected to take charge of local institutions now is the time to reinvigorate and realign the Task Forces.
The Casement Park investment is a part of this. Casement Park will be more than a sports stadium. It will be a community hub and bring with it social and cultural benefits and jobs.
We already have a strong festival and cultural tradition in west Belfast. We are home to the biggest urban gaeltacht in Ireland. Investment in gaelic games is also entirely in keeping with the mission of An Ceathrú Gaeltachta - the Gaeltacht Quarter.
The Task Force has also brought substantial funding into west Belfast through a range of projects including: £21m of public money for flagship projects throughout west Belfast including Conway Mill; the Whiterock Childrens Centre; the Colin Gateway Project; the Shankill peacewall art project; and over £4 million of investment in arterial routes, as well as funding for the Employment Services Board and Health Employers Initiative.
The West Belfast and Greater Shankill Task Forces have created jobs and optimism for the future. They represent the best hope of devising a pathway out of the failures of the past toward a more prosperous and equal society.
The West Belfast and Greater Shankill Task Forces is helping to spearhead pioneering work on the ground in every community, bringing together statutory agencies and community representatives and empowering local neighbourhoods.
And more importantly we are actively tackling sectarianism by working with citizens from every religious and political background and none. There is no more important work than the empowerment of citizens and the buiilding of anti-sectarian class consciousness.
I believe that all of us working together through the West Belfast and Greater Shankill Task Forces and with it as an integral part of the Executive’s programme we can succeed in improving the quality of lives of those who live here and create new opportunities, especially for our young people, in the future.