Keynote Address to the Sinn Féin Ard Mheara, Deirdre Hargey
As Mayor of Belfast, I am delighted to welcome you all to Belfast and to one of the city’s iconic buildings, the Waterfront for this year’s Sinn Féin Ard Fheis.
Belfast is a diverse city with a history of division and conflict.
The conflict is over but the divisions remain amidst a growing diversity of people and cultures.
As mayor I am mindful that I represent all the people of this city at official engagements.
And this is an official engagement.
But let me also take this opportunity to reassure the unionist people, in particular. That I am a mayor for them as well and I will endeavour to represent their interests, as I am tonight, representing the interests of those gathered here for Sinn Féin’s Ard Fheis.
My office in the City Hall is open to the unionist people and their representatives.
It is open to the many ethnic communities who now live in this city.
It is open to the Travelling community and to the LGBT community as well.
It is open to people who disagree with the Council or me on for example LGBT rights or a woman’s right to choose.
I make no distinction in terms of helping people to those who say YES or those who say NO.
You are all welcome in the mayor’s office.
A chairde, you are here at a time of great change across Ireland and great change in this city.
Belfast City Council, which elected me as Sinn Fein’s first female Mayor, now has a majority of Councillors who are progressive, inclusive and look to the future, mindful of our past but not paralysed by it.
And let me say at the outset of my speech that we are mindful of all the relatives of those who lost loved ones in the conflict or were injured.
As mayor I support the many relatives-led campaigns for truth and for justice and for the implementation of the Stormont House Agreement to end the heart-break and uncertainty that the conflict and its legacy has caused, for all those affected irrespective of the circumstances.
I am very proud to say that I represent a council that is at the cutting edge of progressive thinking and inclusion of all citizens.
Belfast City Council is for marriage equality just as the rest of the people of this island.
I would like to commend those who voted for marriage equality in the south’s referendum a few years ago.
And I would like to reassure the LGBT community in the north, despite the opposition from unionist parties and the British government, you too will live in a society which does not fear who you love or wish to marry.
Belfast City Council is also opposed to Brexit. The Council stands with the overwhelming majority of people across this island who are also opposed to Brexit.
The north voted to Remain inside the EU and the people’s wish should be respected by the British government and the DUP.
Brexit is bad news for the people of Ireland for the people of Belfast and for the people of Europe.
And it is particularly bad for business and for business people who have been to the fore in this city in generating employment and wealth which the Council has been able to use in its investment programmes across Belfast.
I would also like to take this opportunity to say thanks to all those who voted Yes in the ‘Repeal the Eight’ referendum.
It was a result, beyond people’s expectations.
And I know how difficult an issue this was for all involved: for those who voted YES and NO.
I would like to pay a special tribute to Sinn Fein President, Marylou McDonald, for the outstanding leadership she displayed throughout the campaign.
Mary Lou, you were a champion for the women of Ireland, for Irish society and for Sinn Féin.
The referendum result was a compassionate response to a very difficult situation.
People voted out of respect for women and a desire to place women’s needs and health at the centre of a just society.
And it is that same desire of respect and trust that is motivating the women of the north and their supporters in their campaign to remove the restrictive abortion laws.
As Mayor of Belfast you have my support and I am confident that you too will live in a society that supports the right of women to choose.
In my year in office I have chosen to sponsor a ‘Rights Charter’ for the people of this city.
I am keen for those various and varied communities to find a platform in the Mayor’s office.
The doors to the Mayor’s office are open; the doors of the City Hall are open.
The City Hall is a warm and welcoming home for all its citizens.
And on their behalf let me wish all the delegates here a successful weekend of debate.
And while you are here enjoy all that Belfast has to offer in terms of its hospitality and warmth.
Fáilte romhaibh uilig.