I love the forum that Belfast City Council has become. It has emerged from days of being probably the saddest public example of the worst of what our politics was to right now being one of the most dynamic and interesting sites of political debate and innovative projects.
Obviously it is no walk in the daisies in there. But that is partly what makes it so interesting and reflective of what Belfast actually is and can be.
I love that there are debates on the Irish language, marriage equality, Palestine, mental health, domestic violence. All with a view to asking themselves and us all as Belfast citizens if they and we can take responsibility for moving the city forward. That the city took responsibility for refugee provision was so inspiring and gave so much hope. That significant infrastructural projects are taking place because Belfast Council is taking responsibility for previous lack of investment in areas like Colin, is so heartening. As someone who lives in the Colin area I am busting with excitement to see our long overdue leisure centre.
That DUP Mayor Brian Kingston opened Belfast’s book of condolence to Martin McGuinness was no small moment. It was a moment of grace and political maturity at a time when republicans were grieving. He recognised that, and he moved with purpose. It was not lost on many of us.
Belfast Council also has genuinely hard working representatives from the loyalist community. Councillors like John Kyle who gets his hands dirty in support of his own electorate, with an open mind to all electorates. His contributions are regularly insightful and important.
There are women councillors like current deputy mayor Mary Ellen Campbell who speak on ex-prisoners’ rights, gay rights and the experience of women, voices so often silenced and censored.
And despite negative commentary or the rows that sometimes make the news, Belfast Council is clearly a place where positive business can be done and is being done. Have a look at social media with the City Hall celebrating in lights our city’s heroes and those who deserve all of our support – all of the colours of the rainbow have lit up what was once a grey and dreary bastion of hatred. In fact when it is lit in rainbow colours for Gay Pride that must be one of the most symbolic sights of all! And inside! The wonderful banquets held to promote and support all kinds of marvellous causes. No longer stuffy and only for the privileged few, citizens have true ownership of the space.
It is easy to say “all politicians are the same”, that is simply not true. The transformation of our civic space has demonstrated that with imagination, hard work, good manners, and dedication to better relationships, the future is bright.
However, there is one area that continues to disappoint and alienate. The victims of our conflict who are remembered in windows and on cenotaphs within City Hall remains partial. The public displays are of one narrative. A pro-British state narrative. That needs to change. The journey to inclusivity would be further enriched by inclusive reflection of all experiences. This can be done respectfully and safely. With courage the journey of transformation to date has proven that this could be achieved in this once most unlikely of spaces.