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DUP Holding May To Ransom

Via The Transcripts Adrian Flannelly speaks to Sinn Féin MLA Máirtín Ó Muilleoir via telephone from Belfast about various topics related to Ireland and Northern Ireland in the run-up to his Belfast Media Group ninth annual New York New Belfast Conference held in New York City.

Máirtín Ó Muilleoir The Adrian Flannelly Show 2 June 2018

The Adrian Flannelly Show
Irish Radio Network USA

Adrian: We’re about to link up, take our microphones to Belfast and to our guest, Máirtín Ó Muilleoir. And Máirtín is chairman of the Belfast Media Group, he’s the publisher of the Irish Echo and Irish Central dot com in New York. He’s an Irish speaker – yes, an Irish speaker – and he believes strongly in the promotion of culture as the bedrock of success in a diverse community. He has served as Lord Mayor of Belfast, friends, and he will tell us about the ninth annual New York New Belfast Conference coming up next Thursday and Friday here in New York City at the American Irish Historical Society and at Pier A. We go live to City Hall in Belfast as we welcome our friend, Máirtín Ó Muilleoir – and Máirtín, you’re very welcome.

Máirtín: Adrian, thank you. I’m not only coming from Belfast I’m coming from Belfast City Hall and I’ve just come in from a rally outside, a march and rally, for marriage equality. This is the only part of these islands, Britain or Ireland, where marriage equality isn’t the law and the fact that there’s a huge crowd outside I think is evidence of the change we’re seeing in the nine years since the New York New Belfast Conference started and I think that most of that change has been, I think, thank God, most of it has been very positive.

Adrian: You are among, among your awards, of course, are the Community Relations Council Award for Civic Leadership, the Pride Festival Award for Best Political Contribution to the LGBT Community and you hold a very significant honour from the Ancient Order of Hibernians in America, the JFK Medal, their highest honour. Let me just ask you, before we get into the conference itself: Many would, perhaps, wonder about the status of the Assembly in Northern Ireland, which seems to be log-jammed, and how that is going to affect a major, major change coming up this coming year – Brexit, the British exit from the European Union. Can you just fill us in, at least briefly, on the current situation in Northern Ireland with respect to the Northern Ireland Assembly?

Máirtín: Yes, Adrian. I think it’s for all those who love Ireland and who supported the peace process and watched the progress – and maybe we don’t make global headlines anymore but that may be a good thing – but for those who have been positive about trying to encourage justice, reconciliation, peace building I think it’s distressing that now we’re into, well into, the second year of no Assembly at Stormont, no Executive at Stormont – a political vacuum. And you know and I know who benefits from political vacuums are people of ill will and people on the extremes and therefore it remains, I think, for me and for Sinn Féin, it remains a political priority but also a peace priority to find a way to reconstitute, reestablish, the Assembly – only ninety members now, Adrian, one of the great changes in the last election. In 2017 when the Unionist lost their majority after almost a hundred years – a big, strong Nationalist cohort in the Assembly, which has never actually met – and then of course I was a member of the Executive, I was Finance Minister when it really collapsed in January ’17 – so what do we need to get back? Because many of my friends say: Look, just get back in. I’m sure you will find the resolution to these issues of human rights and of equal respect and what John Hume called ‘parity of esteem’. But the reality is that we almost got the DUP (Democratic Unionist Party) across the line in February on a political agreement, which I think was fair (there certainly wasn’t everything I wanted in it), and then when Arlene Foster, who had agreed to that in the room with her top lieutenants, as it were, when she went back to the DUP to say: Okay. We’ve had a year of political stasis, here’s a compromise, an agreement, to get back in, she couldn’t get the backing of her own party. Now, was that because she didn’t sell it hard enough or because the extremists won the day? But whatever, it means that we haven’t made any progress and Martin McGuinness, his vow was that we would not return to the status quo, the late Martin McGuinness, and I suppose the option’s on the table for Sinn Féin and for the Nationalist electorate is: Do you go back in having made no changes at all in the toxic way in which the Executive was operating in terms of disrespect and arrogance towards minorities – not just towards Nationalists but towards minorities? – so the news on that front isn’t positive.

On the other hand I think that the news which will give people heart is that the community is very robust, strong, confident – we are facing the perils of Brexit, the existential threat of Brexit, to our well-being, to our economy, to our jobs, to the peace process in terms of the support we get from Europe and people are buoyed up so it’s almost a contradiction, Adrian. Even though we don’t have a government people still feel very, very buoyed up but I think the challenge for all of us – how do you get the element of magic to get back into Stormont when the DUP are holding Mrs. May to ransom in Westminster – she needs their votes to stay in power – and now the DUP are saying: We’re not going to change and we want to return to what was there, not only in 2016 but, in many ways, also almost in 1969.

Adrian: Yeah. If I can play devil’s advocate for the moment: Could there not be an interpretation that’s even without its sitting Assembly in Northern Ireland that Northern Ireland seems to do very well anyway and that the benefits of the Good Friday Agreement, that most of them have kicked in, and that Northern Ireland, in fact, from a cultural aspect and from inward investment which we’ll talk about in a minute – that all of that is smoothly rolling along and that what we, on our side here, would assume is that with or without a devolved government and an Assembly in Northern Ireland Northern Ireland is, in fact, up and running and in better financial condition than it had been so you can’t write off the intent and the benefits of the Good Friday Agreement.

Máirtín: Well, I think that’s very perceptive. And it’s accurate. And you’re absolutely right to attribute those successes and the progress to the Good Friday Agreement. And whatever about the Assembly and Executive, the Good Friday Agreement endures, must be protected, has been vindicated and validated by the progress made. And you’re also right in that in many, many ways people are ahead of the politicians and evidence of that is – this beautiful, sunny day in Belfast and people marching to the streets to demand marriage equality and same sex marriage so – and the gains also, you know- it gives me great heart that yesterday another hotel opened in Belfast, the Maldron Hotel– a very large hotel. On the 20th of June, Howard Hastings of the Europa Hotel, a local hotel, he will open, and his company, will open, the biggest hotel in the city, the Grand Central Hotel, as we help them (inaudible) to hand them (inaudible) by help them opening and so on and so forth. And these are jobs-spinning projects. Unemployment is at an all-time low and I do believe the reconciliation process is embedding and that many young people who don’t have the hang-ups or the baggage that those of here who are older have – that they’re getting on with it. But we can’t, I think, accept that on key areas will be no progress and those key areas for me are: The lack of parity of esteem – I mean, the Good Friday Agreement was all about an historic compromise between green and orange and trying to encourage the way of peace in- between them but parity of esteem has to mean that both traditions have to be embraced, encouraged, promoted and yet the reality is, as we know, the DUP are standing firm against, against that parity of esteem and that applies to other minorities, that applies also to the terrible, difficult past we have of dealing with the past. So you’re right to say there’s progress made. I think that all of us who, and this includes yourself, all of us who have been boosters for Belfast, boosters for peace, I think when we look around we should say we played a small part in that because the transformation – I’m not sure, it’s maybe three or four years since you’ve been here – about three years, Adrian…

Adrian: …Yes…

Máirtín: …but the transformation is breath-taking. And I was out last night with some of our American friends from California and from Boston and the city at nine o’clock last night was, you know, was many tourists as you could see on 42nd Street on a Friday night and that has added to the sense of well-being, the sense of progress. So what I would say about the progress is not, don’t to write it off but to say: Well why should we settle for some people still riding on the back of the bus – why can’t we take the progress that the Good Friday Agreement has delivered and build on that to deliver the entire promise and potential of the Good Friday Agreement? And that, I suppose, that we’re on the horns of that particular dilemma at the minute because we’re not in government – and of course, the reason to be in government is to deliver more positive change for people.
Adrian: You served as Lord Mayor of Belfast and you know, Áine and I were indeed delighted to visit you at that time and were struck by the reality that the City Hall in Belfast, where you’re standing right now, became – unlike what many might perceive, it was City Hall of the community – for both sides of the divide. And again if we were to indeed, I think a lot of listeners and people in general, if they were to see the level of cooperation and the lack of the bitterness that most people here might associate with Catholics versus Protestants and Unionists versus Nationalists and that this was a holy war that was taking place – that has gone out the window and I think it’s good to point out – would you agree with that?
The Belfast Telegraph
Máirtín: Well please God, I mean I don’t think – we still battle with sectarianism – and that can come from different sources so as Mary McAleese famously said, you know, peace isn’t a destination – it is a journey. But I do, we do have a saying among ourselves: We bring our friends to Belfast – let’s surprise, astonish and inspire them – and that has been the challenge of Lord Mayors of Belfast and First Citizens of Belfast and it’s a challenge also for everyone who loves in the city and lives the city and some things I think that would surprise those who do visit here is that while we have no where near the diversity of a New York or a Queens this is increasingly a diverse city and the the diversity in itself has been a good antidote to orange and green antagonisms and animus and I’m very pleased that this, the New York New Belfast Conference on Thursday and Friday, can add to that a man called Rajesh Rana, his father was one of the first Indian immigrants into Belfast, built a number of hotels and the Ranas have a new hotel opening, two new hotels, opening this summer. I’m delighted that one of the speakers will be Rajesh from Belfast and I love that idea. It wouldn’t be surprising at all if you saw a spokesperson for the city of Toronto or Philadelphia or California or whatever, or sorry, for San Francisco – but we don’t do enough of that in Belfast so it would be cheering for me to bring a man of Indian heritage, like our Taoiseach, of course, to talk about the work that he has done and his family’s done to change Belfast. So when you talk about the lessening, hopefully, or the pushing into the background the big constitutional issue of the orange and green – that still remains a major challenge and burden and hurdle but the things I think will cheer, a number of things that will cheer, are the increasing diversity of Belfast. I mean, I have the most diverse constituency and yesterday I was with the Romania Roma people, who are traveller people, the gypsy people – there’s two and a half thousand Roma in my South Belfast constituency – almost full employment because they do the jobs that we Irish are now too – think ourselves too good to do. And then I have a strong Bangladeshi community as well, Muslim community, who enjoy full employment because they run all the Indian restaurants and of course we have a strong Filipino, another very strong, caring community working in care services – and that’s before I mention the EU communities who live here led by the Polish so those are changes which you don’t really see in the newspapers but I think you do experience them when you come here and they are positives, Adrian, in everything we’re trying to do.

Adrian: Well, there’s nothing – I’m biting my tongue because listening to your laying out for us the advantages of the immigrant story and the diversity of not only Northern Ireland but throughout Ireland as being a positive. You know, too bad that our leaders, at the moment anyway in this current administration, can’t recognise that– and of course, you never know what you have until it’s gone – but anyway that will have to be a story for another day but yes, diversity, you know, works – and whether that’s in the US or whether it’s in Ireland or any other place we have to recognise: Yes, the immigrant influence is and always has been a very positive one. I would like to talk about the Belfast/New York – the New York New Belfast Conference – which some nine years ago I distinctly remember your mantra, your theme, was for shaping the future and the future of Belfast but also the future of Northern Ireland. That first conference where many would have said: Well, why are you bringing a delegation here? Why? Who’s going to – is this going to be a stop-off in Washington where the delegation meets a Congressman or whatever – you’ve made that into totally rolling out business that would be good not only for Belfast but also for New York. And you know, you picked New York and, as you alluded to there, whereas the New York New Belfast Conference is held in New York you have people from all over the United States and beyond coming to the conference. Explain what your goal was on Day One.

Máirtín: Well I mean, I think the first principles are very important, Adrian, because it reflects well on the attitude Irish-America. I’m of advanced age now so I remember the ’70’s and ’80’s in Belfast – a time of great sorrow and division and violence – and a very bleak time and really, when the peace process started the big lesson for me was: Any involvement from Irish-America will be a positive. It will by and large, as we found, especially when it comes from government, it will be very partisan, it will be even handed but the little bit of sunlight that America brought in – and of course President Clinton is an exemplar of this, and George Mitchell, but even every Irish-American group from the Hibernians, to the Brehons, to the Irish American Unity Conference, to state delegations, to Billy Bulger and Governor Weld coming from Massachusetts back in the mid-’90’s – Irish-American involvement has always taken advantage of those three pillars which are important to progress here which is: peace building, reconciliation and justice. So what I wanted to do was try and find a way to – almost as a conduit for Irish-America – to continue to be engaged in the progress that we were making. I think that’s the first thing. The second lesson is: Put good people together in a room, let them talk about the things they love and then let them work out how they can build these bridges, transatlantic bridges, of mutual benefit – hopefully bring as much gain to both sides and, you know….

Adrian: …Right…

Máirtín: …And as I’m not an Irish-American, of course we don’t understand, mentally, emotionally, can’t understand, the great reward and satisfaction Irish-Americans get in a ‘homecoming’ – what the Detroit undertaker/poet, Thomas Lynch, I think, called ‘the passage’ – talks about making the journey of discovery when Irish-Americans do come back to Ireland and what we have done we’ve added a layer to that – we’ve said: Yeah, come back and discover Ireland and reconnect but – what if you could reconnect in a really, a deeper basis where if you’re interested in sport, you build up a sporting rink – that has happened, really – that’s been delivered on a huge level now in Belfast. Are you interested in arts? Professor Scanlan from Harvard was here last year with The Beckett Monologue plays which he brought to Belfast. Are you interested in politics? The American-Irish legislators from Albany now have been here several times as have the California state delegations. Our particular interest is in business because business creates jobs and jobs change lives and give people opportunity. So that’s why we do the New York New Belfast Conference. It has to deliver benefits for all those who take part but it has a very serious purpose and that purpose is to make sure that this road we’re on that we continue to make progress. And just to say again, because this is miraculous I think, the American companies, the Blue Chip companies in Belfast – and Belfast is a city of three hundred and thirty thousand souls, I don’t know any city of a third of a million people who has as many US Blue Chip companies as we have. Like we have the New York Stock Exchange and the Chicago Mercantile Exchange and Citigroup and Liberty IT and Allstate and Tyco Johnson Controls so the list goes on and that isn’t just because those companies have an Irish-American connection but you can be sure in many of them they made a real difference when the decision is being made about where to locate their business and those businesses, in my view, have transformed our proposition and created great opportunity so there’s a purpose behind it all and I think it’s working, Adrian.

Adrian: Yes. It definitely is working and sometimes there’s a misconception that inward investment into Northern Ireland, into Belfast, that that’s some grá mo chroí kind of semi-sentimental attachment that drives some money into Northern Ireland and we don’t even stop to think that: Well wait a minute, if American companies are investing in Northern Ireland, primarily in Belfast, that’s not a charitable or a sentimental attachment. Nobody invests unless they expect a return. And in fact, Belfast and the New York New Belfast Conference has gone a long way over nine years to actually showcase that – it’s not just okay, so to take one aspect of it: Southern Ireland does very well with inward investment because of their low tax structure and so forth so who would go to Northern Ireland where there isn’t as favourable a tax advantage unless there was something about Northern Ireland, Belfast, that actually brought a return – why wouldn’t they all go down to the South and stay there and take advantage of the, you know, what is the disparity, in terms of the tax advantages?

Máirtín: Yes and Adrian, I’ve great respect for the IDA, Enterprise Ireland, the Irish government when they get serious about bringing in investment or forming partnerships or get serious about innovation hubs they’re absolutely brilliant – I mean I do think they’re among the best in the world – not only making a proposition for investment and then delivering on it and it’s no surprise that ten out of ten of the top internet companies are now based in the Republic of Ireland. Our proposition, I am pleased as well, has been built on talent and it’s been vindicated. I mean it cheered me when I heard Tom Hall, who’s one of the most senior people in the world at Allstate, saying that his operation in Belfast, Doire and Strabane was a world leader – and by the way, it wasn’t just an ‘add-on’ – it was a global centre of innovation and of excellence. Our friends in Liberty IT, which is a Boston company of course, again – out of Belfast – about twenty percent of its global IT people are providing security from Belfast. So again, the best in the world again.

One that cheered me recently was a gentlemen called Giancarlo Di Vece, who’s connection, he links Guadalajara, Portland, Oregon and Belfast because that’s the three bases at a conference recently in Belfast saying that nothing compares to the quality, the commitment and the excellence of the young people we’re recruiting in Belfast. So it has to work. And you know that also applies to so many other areas of cooperation because sympathy and interest will get you so far but unless you can really deliver then you can’t build on that. And one of the things that has really cheered me recently: We do now have – we’re the only professional ice hockey in Ireland is Belfast. We now have each year four US college teams coming over here playing for points. But now they’ve started a basketball classic. Last year we had four universities, college teams, this year we’ll have eight teams and we will hold our Belfast International Homecoming and Business Conference during that. But the wonderful thing about that is that the basketball team enjoy the tournament. The alumni who travel are people who really support the basketball team but now there’s an opportunity, if they’re Irish-Americans particularly, to find out more so that’s a win-win and the more relationships and partnerships which will win-win – the better for us all.

Adrian: Could we get out of the way the perception that, particularly in terms of investment in Ireland, that Northern Ireland is forever at loggerheads with the Republic in terms of grabbing whatever is coming inward. What is the level of cooperation with southern Ireland, particularly in the area of economic advantage and let’s say the stability and the competition?

Máirtín: Well I think it was a great disappointment – I think it was two years ago where Arlene Foster, the leader of the DUP (Democratic Unionist Party), accused the IDA or Enterprise Ireland of stealing jobs from Invest NI – I think that sort of talk was nonsensical. I think the people who exemplify the belief that if one part of the island does well it all does well and if North of the border does well it all does well – the people who exemplify that for me are the Consul Generals of Ireland in New York. Barbara Jones – most recently I remember sitting with some of the IDA people in her offices in the Consulate in New York, Ciarán Madden, of course – and they have been generous to a point above and beyond in terms of opening doors – and it’s true that you’ve got the New York New Belfast Conference as well – because if you’re narrow minded about this you’d say: Why should the Irish government waste resources and time in trying to promote the city of Belfast? But my experience has been that every agency that represents the Irish government has opened doors, will cooperate, will go above and beyond and really I think what has held that back has been some of the ministers north of the border, some people in the Northern Ireland Executive, they have refused, for political reasons, to cooperate and really have, you know, both sides of the island ramping up their proposition. And if you remember, Adrian, back when the Good Friday Agreement was signed there was a discussion about whether we should have one body responsible for foreign direct investment into the island – and it’s always been a matter of regret we didn’t get that. We did get Tourism Ireland…

Adrian: …You sure did, yeah…

Máirtín: …and no one, no one, no one could dispute that Tourism Ireland has delivered again and again and again and again. And you know, there’s the benefits of working, setting the politics, leaving the politics, at the door and working as one unit to promote tourism onto the island so I look forward to the day when we have increased cooperation, maybe when we get the Executive back, please God that we will, that we might have an Economy Minister – and this has never happened – an Economy Minister would be much more open to building together, in concert with Enterprise Ireland – we do have InterTradeIreland, which is an all-Ireland body – but I don’t see anyone in the Irish government who would be set against that cooperation. In fact, my experience has been over the last year that the Irish government has been absolutely resolute in defending the people and the citizens of Northern Ireland from all sides and, in fact, no one’s done a stronger case to oppose Brexit and the perils, economic perils, of Brexit than the Irish government.

Adrian: Let’s just talk about Brexit and how that will affect say the island of Ireland and in particular say, Northern Ireland. The island of Ireland, of course, many would feel, that Brexit is going to have very little impact on southern Ireland – I think that’s more wishful thinking than practical – I think it is. But for Northern Ireland: Is that another political football that we can witness now over the next few months?

Máirtín: Yes. And as you say we’re reaching the crunch time and Michel Barnier, the lead negotiator for the EU, said recently he said: This is lose-lose. He said the UK is going to lose and the EU27 are going to lose. The only people who believe that there are going to be advantages for Britain or for The North of Ireland are ideological for Brexiteers. There’s no evidence that this will be of any benefit – certainly it won’t be of economic benefit for the UK – and I’m, you know, you can be despondent about this in some ways in that we’re a little bit of a right backwater here at the minute in that the state of Northern Ireland is the only place where rights which are now enshrined, that will be enshrined, in law south of the border and in Britain aren’t available here. Brexit’s going to make matters worse. It’s actually the ideology of empire splendid isolation of Britain as a great trading nation and it’s counterproductive. They’ve already lost the economic funds in G7 terms – the UK has dropped to the bottom of that league – but for us it definitely will not be beneficial. I mean as you know, I spent a lot of time in the US saying to companies: You don’t need to go to Dublin. Dublin’s magnificent but what if you came to Belfast and benefited (or Doire) and benefit from the (inaudible) universities and by way you, you’d still have access to every European (inaudible) – but I can’t say that anymore and for me that’s a great disadvantage.

But set jobs to the side, set economic damage to the side for the minute – it’s the cultural damage which is the most perturbing to me because you know, two generations who, especially of the young people, who sees themselves as Europeans and part of being seen as Europeans is being proud of the peace that we have fought for and defended and the European Union regards the Northern Irish peace process as its crowning achievement. And it accrued an equilibrium here where young people who are, say, Irish citizens living in Belfast or Doire or Magherafelt or Newry – if they needed to cross the border, they could access services south of the border as needed and indeed in any other European state. And there’s a nice balance in that that helped the peace to grow and to prosper and give people confidence that we were fighting our way through these problems. For me to tell people, even though the majority here voted to stay, to remain in the European Union by sixty-six percent that – and of course the Principle of Consent is written into the Good Friday Agreement, that is there will be no change to the constitutional position without the majority voting for it – but this isn’t what was thought about in terms of the constitutional position. This is really a huge threat to, an existential threat, to our well being. So I don’t think I could stress enough how much young people see themselves to be European. We’re very proud of the fact, even this goes back a long time but in in 590, 590AD, Saint Columbanus set off from Bangor Monastery to Europe where he set up the Saint Gallen Monastery. Saint Gallen, now people would suggest he’d said: I’ll finish this later at Bobbio – and died in 614. So we had people going to Europe, they’re going in the age of bringing Christianity back to Europe, and they’ve been so proud to be Europeans in recent years and it’s not only the economic advantages but the world war put us and where it put our values I think that have been very important to us and this undermines that, this wrenches us away from it by only one party here supported, only one party supported Brexit – that’s the DUP. So we’re now going to be hostages to this, handcuffed to the DUP in this episode of self-harm and it’s an ideological issue with the DUP. The DUP (inaudible). They want to see more division between North and South and they’re denying that but that’s why they voted for Brexit.

Adrian: And who knew that, you know, that their votes, the Unionists’ votes in Northern Ireland, would, in fact, become an integral part of the success – again going back to Theresa May and whatever – that seems to be somewhat diluted in the sense that Britain is having, I wouldn’t say second thoughts, but they’re too far in, the ideal hope that there would be some back-pedaling and maybe there’ll be another referendum and so forth – that’s not going to happen at this stage – would you say?

Máirtín: Well that – I agree, I agree with you. This is being driven by a small cadre of Brexiteers within the Tory Party, within the Conservative Party. It is Brexit at any cost. At any cost. And you’ll be sure that what happens to it, those of us who live on this island is of little or no interest to them. I do think it’s magnificent that the EU27, that the EU negotiators at the Irish government, stayed firm. I hope they continue to stand very firm on the fact that there needs to be a spoked-solution for the North of Ireland – we need to stay in the Customs Union. We need to stay in the Single Market as much as possible – certainly in terms of all-Ireland activity and in terms of an all-Ireland economy. We need to have the protections of the Good Friday Agreement especially against discrimination. So I agree with you – these Brexiteers – it doesn’t matter what calamity befalls the British people they are committed to it and we need to make sure that as they acted that we have a special solution to mitigate against the damage of that.

Adrian: Can we, and maybe you can bring us the general sense of the citizens of Northern Ireland, is there a sense that: Ach! The return of the border – that’s not going to happen, you know, and if we have – there’d be a niche cut out for Northern Ireland regardless of what happens in Britain. Is that somewhat naive?

Máirtín: Well I don’t think people are, as it were, having a laissez-faire attitude to it or nonchalant about it. I do believe that many people fear there will be a return of a border. The recent polling, where people were asked if they want to stay in the European Union, the percentages went up to almost seventy percent and more – it was fifty-six percent (inaudible) so people are fearful not only because of the peace process set back, political process set back but also people don’t want this isolationism…

Adrian: …Absolutely…

Máirtín: …People do believe in trying to get on well with our neighbours – our neighbours in Europe, our neighbours on both sides of the border, our neighbours on both sides of the peace walls in Belfast and hand on heart I couldn’t say to you today that: Yeah, we will muddle through this, there won’t be a ‘hard exit’, or a ‘hard Brexit’ or a ‘hard border’ – no one knows. The Irish government said again recently the EU had asked that significant progress be made by June and Simon Coveney, the Tánaiste, and Mr. Barnier stated this week that there has been no progress made so for me it doesn’t look good. You know, you always hope it’ll be alright on the night but this dilemma – the DUP are saying they want (and of course, they are Brexiteers – they’ve been against the European experiment for forty years) and the British can’t square this circle. If they want to deliver for the DUP (they’re keeping the Tories in power) then they can’t deliver a solution for the EU because the EU, and fair play to them, the EU is saying – no hardening of the border, protect the free trade agreement and a spoked, special arrangement for the North of Ireland so someone’s going to be let down very badly, Adrian. And remember we’re talking about June (crosstalk) but October is only around the corner and the British saying leave in March so the time frame is tightening on this. It’s a do or die moment for me and Brexit and as you’ve observed, Adrian, the up-side of Brexit, if there can be such a thing, even though I do accept it’s loss-loss, or lose-lose, is that it has increased interest and support for a united Ireland, whatever shape that will take, and then when we do get to this unity poll or border referendum the question won’t be: Do you want a united Ireland? It will be: Do you want to re-join the European Union? And in those circumstances I do believe that we will get a border poll and I do believe it’s winnable.

Adrian: For those who might assume that the New York New Belfast Conference has something to do with and is exclusive to those who have a cheque book who can come in, who can do something of a practical basis with a dollar sign – looking at your list of speakers and participants, you know from Tom DiNapoli, who is the Comptroller of the State of New York, and then you have Mike Cusick, New York Assembly, you have Brian McCabe, who is the Chairman of the Executive Council of the American Irish Historical Society, Christine Kinealy, you know who…
Máirtín: …a superstar…

Adrian: …yes, superstar but also professor at Quinnipiac University Ireland’s Great Hunger Institute. You’ve Corey Johnson, speaker from the City Council, Danny Dromm, you have Belfast’s own Geraldine Hughes – a great number of speakers who would not all be speaking of just investment – there’s culture – it’s a two day, very, very poignant conference which covers all of those aspects. It’s not just again – you know, it might be perceived as: Okay, well we’re going to talk money, money, money. It’s actually a great platform for the interchange of the cultures of both cities.

Máirtín: Absolutely. And it’s fun, Adrian. No one really wants to engage in a partnership that isn’t going to be fun and it’s about friendships. And you just listed – you know some people have made a phenomenal contribution to Belfast. Tom DiNapoli, as Comptroller, has made the largest outward, single investment in an equity fund in the North of Ireland and remains a Belfast friend. Christine Kinealy and our friends at Quinnipiac University – of course, what a contribution they have made to the island of Ireland and to Irish heritage and what a thrill it is that the Coming Home exhibition (inaudible) will be coming to Doire in January, yes, as well as Dublin and Skibbereen. And the message, I think, that we’re sending out is: First of all, everyone’s welcome and the opening night at the American Irish Historical Society on Thursday night is really focused on arts and culture. Fifty years since Van Morrison issued his seminal, iconoclastic Astral Weeks album in New York – Belfast artist – they’re celebrating. Two hundred years, two hundredth birthday of Frederick Douglas who gave a…

Adrian: …I know, yeah…

Máirtín: …phenomenal address in Belfast in 1845 which we will re-enact. So, lots of fun and lots of culture and then the next day, certainly, in Corey Johnson, the new speaker, New York City Council – but who’s been in Belfast – who’s been in my constituency meeting some of the ethnic minorities. Danny Dromm addressed a dinner here, three-four hundred people, about his journey in New York so what I’ve been proud of is that we put Belfast on the visiting menu of American leaders. But I suppose the message I would have for people is that: Whatever area of life you’re involved in, why don’t you try and expand it to include Belfast? And our friend Roy Walsh, the former (inaudible) commissioner now a lecturer at NYU…

Adrian: …Oh, yeah…

Máirtín: …he always does a walking tour on the afternoon of the conference which will be Friday the eighth of June on Hudson Square. But I keep meeting people of different walks of life in Belfast who say: Do you remember when we went to Myrtle Avenue in Brooklyn? Remember when we went to the Bronx? And then we went out to Red Hook – because these are a great bunch of people of ‘change makers’ to use the jargon…

Adrian: …Absolutely…

Máirtín: …and (inaudible) contribution is trying to say: Here’s what we have learned about building neighbourhoods and building communities. So my message to everyone is: Whether you involved in a pipe band or a choir or a meeting circle or a business network put Belfast on the list – come and check us out…

Adrian: …Absolutely, yeah…

Máirtín: …I think if we can get you here I think we can start the beginnings of a relationship and so what we do is we say to people: Come during the basketball tournament this year, 28th, 29th, 30th of November. Will we have the Belfast International Homecoming and that gives people a chance to come to Belfast and see for themselves so that’s the completion of the circle. But I would like to think that we have been giving back to America as well when both universities are going into New York New Belfast this week – Queens and (inaudible) and the universities themselves have made big contributions to America so it has to be a two way street and I think that’s what works best.

Adrian: Absolutely. Good for New York. Good for New Belfast. The conference is next Thursday and Friday. You can get information, friends, and there are – it’s almost, let’s say, a sell out but there are some opportunities left – why don’t you log onto aisling dash events dot com (Adrian spells it out) that’s the website which will give you the information on the New York New Belfast Conference, again June 7th and 8th. I think if you look through this you’ll get an idea and participation is very important and it has a great mix, as you say, it’s not one way or it’s best just to bring your cheque book. It’s a great conference and good luck to you. We look forward to seeing you on Thursday and Friday. Máirtín Ó Muilleoir, who is the founder of the New York New Belfast Conference. Máirtín, look forward to seeing you.

Máirtín: Well Adrian, thanks to you and Áine for continuing to be so generous in your allocation of time to Belfast and I think the message, and you understand this message, to all our great supporters and friends in Irish-America is that we face many challenges, as does America, but we’re determined, with your help, that we’ll overcome whatever challenges there are in the future and we’ll continue this onward journey of Belfast and your great companies so thank you very much for having me on the programme.

Adrian: You’re very welcome indeed. (station identification) Our guest there has been Máirtín Ó Muilleoir and, again, it’s the New York New Belfast Conference, the ninth annual, taking place at the American Irish Historical Society and indeed at Pier A at South Street Seaport, highlighting the bridges of progress and prosperity being built between the citizens of these great cities of New York and Belfast – looking optimistically at the future, celebrating our shared past, our heritage and again that’s aisling (Adrian spells it out) dash events dot com.


The Transcripts, Of Interest to the Irish Republican Community.
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Anthony McIntyre

Former IRA prisoner, spent 18 years in Long Kesh. Free Speech advocate, writer, historian, humanist, and researcher.

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