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Mary Lou McDonald’s Keynote Speech to Mayor of Belfast's Installation Dinner

22 September, 2018 - by Mary Lou McDonald TD

Full text of Sinn Féin President Mary Lou McDonald's keynote speech to the Mayor of Belfast Deirdre Hargey's Installation Dinner.

Dia dhaoibh go léir a chairde,

Ar dtús, ba mhaith liom a rá go bhfuil mé thar a bheith sásta bheith libh anocht ag dinnéar an Ard-Mhéara i mbliana.

Buíochas mór as an chuireadh.

It is a real honour to be afforded the opportunity to speak at the Mayor’s inauguration dinner this evening.

I want to begin by congratulating Deirdre on becoming Belfast’s first citizen.

It is a massive honour.

It is a massive privilege.

And above all else, it is a massive duty. 

This is an opportunity to celebrate all that is good in this great city and a time to celebrate Deirdre’s leadership, her vision and her priorities for the city.

I love coming to Belfast. 

There is a pride, an honesty and a humour to the city and its great people.

I have a secret to share with you all, a secret that is known to the rest of Ireland. 

Do you know to guess if someone is from Belfast? 

You don’t. They tell you. 

And then of course they tell you what part of Belfast they are from. 

That bit is very important!

It is your civic and community pride that unites this great city - a self-deprecating pride and sense of place.

Belfast has changed irrevocably, continues to change every day and will continue to change for the better. 

Nothing stands still; change happens. 

That is the nature of our lives and of this city.

Leaders have to acknowledge change, and plan and manage it in the interests of all sections of our community.

Change is difficult and often challenging.

Belfast City Hall has seen its fair share of challenges.

This building we celebrate in tonight has witnessed much of our history.

It was built at a time when Ireland was united - when the Ulster and Irish identities were as one. 

The chain that Deirdre wears, the chain worn by all Mayors, carries the legend “Erin go Bragh”

Yet Belfast has far too often not lived the sentiment of this much loved declaration.

The people of this city borne a huge cost in the First World War. 

I have visited the graves of those who died and there is no difference between an Irish or Ulster volunteer. 

The scale of loss is overwhelming.  

That cannot and must not be forgotten.

The first meeting of the north’s parliament was in this building.

The protestant parliament for a protestant people has been replaced by a home for all the citizens of Belfast, and we are all better for that. 

The conflict is over and we should acknowledge the hurt and loss of all; and I commend those who continue to struggle for truth and justice. 

Here today, we welcome the sixth Sinn Féin Mayor of Belfast. 

We are proud of our collective achievements. 

This is a Council with power-sharing and co-operation at its heart - one that looks outward with a desire to improve the lot of all the city’s citizens. 

Transformational change can only be delivered through partnership and shared goals. 

Our love for this city can be best expressed through decisions made here in the interests of the people.

The old certainties are going; modernity beckons. 

The largest political demonstration in this city is Pride. 

That this demonstration is expressed with such colour and positivity should serve as reassurance to us all that we have nothing to fear when extending common rights to all. 

Equality and inclusiveness can unite this city. 

A new generation is no longer defined solely by orange and green. 

We are a rainbow of identities and aspirations - united in our diversity and difference.

I am glad that this Council supports Pride and marriage equality, and be in no doubt - we will win marriage equality for all the citizens. 

Tá obair maith deantá ag an Comhairle freisin ó thaobh cursaí Gaeilge.

Tá borradh faoin Ghaeilge sa Tuaisceart agus i mBéal Feirste go háirithe.

Ach níl Gaeilgeoirí na cathrach seo sásta glacadh le cúrsaí mar ata siad. 

Tá siad ag iarraidh a gcuid cearta agus sin sin.

Mar sin, tá dualgas ar na polaiteoirí chinntiú go bhfuil sé de cheart ag daoine saol trí Ghaeilge a bheith acu más mian leo.

Níl an Ghaeilge éiginteach do dhuine ar bith - tá sí ann dóibh siúd ar mhaith leo a labhairt, ach is le gach éine í.

Caithfimid na ceartaí sin a chosaint.

The progress taken for granted in this city today would have been dismissed thirty years ago. 

But we do have further to go - further to go together  

To build reconciliation based on respect and equality. 

To heal the past and to end the segregation and division.  

To unite the communities of this city under the banner of Belfast. 

This is difficult and testing work and it will require patience and generosity.

But it can be done, and it must be done. 

If the past tells us anything it is that we have within us all the possibility to deliver positive change.

Belfast is not alone in looking to the future. 

Significant and progressive change is emerging across the four corners of our island.

Let me say to our Unionist’s brothers and sisters - the promise of a Republic of equal citizens was betrayed. 

You were right. 

Home Rule became Rome Rule, and its outworking’s sadly affected all our people. 

Generations paid the price in mother baby homes, in the Magdalene Laundries, and the industrial schools. 

They were cruel times that hurt our vulnerable women and children most, Catholic and Protestant alike. 

But that dark period in our history has closed. 

It is over, for good. 

A joyous revolution has taken place - a new generation has ensured marriage equality has been delivered and the Eighth Amendment repealed. 

We now live in a more modern and inclusive society that punches above its weight on the global stage.  

It is far from perfect, but it is changing. 

I am an Irish Republican leader, and it should come as no surprise that I want to see Ireland reunited. 

That doesn’t mean bolting the north onto the south. 

It is an opportunity to define a New Ireland - an Ireland that is inclusive and equal. 

An Ireland that shares prosperity and offers equal opportunity. 

It’s is about taking the best of all parts of our island, north, south, east and west, to create a sum greater than its parts. 

We can develop a shared economy that is productive and delivers public services that will include a truly national health service that delivers for all.

And most importantly a place that we all can call home - a place where you can be British or Irish, or both, or neither. 

There are those who oppose unity, who value the union. 

I respect that view, and what’s more I want to hear about it. 

I want to discuss the future and what’s best for all our people.

So let’s have the conversation. 

Let’s be open to ideas and discussions and let us plan for the future together. 

The immediate challenge we face together is Brexit. 

The events of the past week around the European summit on Brexit haves demonstrated once again that Theresa May’s sole interest is in clinging to power. 

While the European leaders have been seeking solutions to the Brexit problem the British government has moved to ultimatums and stand offs.

The backstop, as agreed in December, was to secure the interests of our economy, our people and our agreements. It is a common-sense solution to the British Brexit. It would deliver for all our people north and south.

The position of the British government or the DUP does not represent the views of the majority of people nor the interests of the economy.

Both the Tory party and the DUP should respect the vote of the majority in the north to remain with the European Union with all that entails. 

Let me finish by paying tribute to the women of Belfast - the most unmanageable of all revolutionaries, the women who would not take no for an answer. 

Margaret Byers - passionate about the education of women, who in 1859 founded a school in Belfast, today we know that school as Victoria College. 

Isabella Todd - a Unionist who established the first suffrage society in Ireland.

Ana Johnston and Alice Milligan - joint editors of the Shan Van Vocht.

The women flax spinners of York Street Mill who led twenty five thousand workers in a strike.

The republican women of this city who in October 1914 formed the first branch of Cumann na mBan.

Winnefred Carney, feminist, socialist, suffragette, trade unionist member of the Irish Citizen Army and 

Cumann na mBan.

Mary Galway, Betty Sinclair, Inez McCormack, 

trade unionists.

Máire Drumm and the women who broke the Falls Curfew.

Mary Ellen - Sinn Féin’s Deputy Mayor of Belfast - who in 2012, proposed a motion to Belfast City Council which resulted in this Council being the first public institution in Ireland to support marriage equality.

Women who dreamed big and built this city. 

And I sure to that list we will in time add the name of 

Deirdre Hargey.

Go raibh míle maith agaibh.

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