Sometimes the word honour can seem glib or perfunctory. Take it as absolutely meant John when I say what an honour it is to be part of your installation evening tonight.
It is 25 years this year since I moved from Dublin to Belfast. I can remember Dermot Finucane saying goodbye to me in one of my last days before I moved! He was homesick! And I was a stranger coming here to a city devastated by conflict, in those months before ceasefires that would change our worlds.
To be here tonight speaking in a political, infrastructural and community context that is changed beyond any of our hopes, in Belfast City Hall is gobsmacking for a girl who up until 1994 being a Southsider meant being born south of the Liffey, rather than a border.
To sum up Belfast’s transformation we could do worse that think about the Glider. Such a bus route across our city would have been unthinkable a few short years ago. Our pensioners groups West and East riding a bus to have lunch in “Ballysnackamore” or “that old church where they speak the Irish”, An Cultúrlann. Our own invisible borders are being lifted by a bus journey. So much so North and South Belfast will undoubtedly be gliding in the near future.
On that journey we see the progress being made. From a cozy seat with WiFi and charging points we can see the infrastructural and economic miracles that aresprouting along our docks, and in our city centre. In a relatively short period of time our city scarred by gaps in the skyline and pot holed with car parks is transforminginto a metropolis.
But we cannot ignore the contested and painful journey of recovery we are on. Our peace process that has delivered so much, is unfinished and for some it feels it has bypassed them. We are still divided in too many spaces. We have suffered horrific pain from our conflict,and those harms are unresolved.
But there are many unsung heroes who are determined to ensure that work is completed. And the work of healing and building relationships is happening across our city in remarkable ways, from spaces for micro-breweries to inter-community environmental groups. We can underestimate their significance and value when faced with big questions of turmoil or challenge, but it is essential to remind ourselves and take notice of them.
Two things can be true at once. And that is the story of our Belfast today. A thriving modern positive city. A city devastated by conflict whose people are coming to terms with themselves and each other. Just as we see it in Belfast, in John Finucane we see the colliding of youth, progress and positivity with understanding and concentration on the hard graft and work that remains to be done, post conflict. Harnessing our two Belfasts is our challenge and our potential, with hope and the certainty.
We can acknowledge, respect and engage with the harms our citizens have survived and we can together build the future we all want our children’s children to have. One is not possible without the other. And the prize of Belfast reborn is worth the hard work we know we can put in. The story of Belfast is nothing is it is not that of the hardworking citizens that have built it and continue to build it.
We live on an island that is changing for the better, economically and socially and we have connectionsnorth and south unprecedented since Partition. Ties that will only develop. We are the bridge to our closest neighbour Britain. For many of us our relationships with Britain have been complex, to say the least. My Leicester grandfather came to Ireland and married my Cork grandmother, when she passed away he married the Women’s Airforce force of nature from Wigan who was my Nana. My father and his brothers worked in England, he came home, some stayed. Most people in this room have similar relationships with Britain that co-exist in parallel with our constitutional positions and engagements. Whatever they may be. Two truths which also hold the hope and possibility of a better future for our islands.
Our contemporary relationships will be better than our past ones. If we work on them. If we are determined that they not only should be, but must be. The truth will set us all free and in the words of President Eisenhower, peace and justice are two sides of the same coin. John Finucane’s story and track record along with the salient examples of his mother Geraldine, brother Michael and sister Katherine, points to the confidence we can have in a better future for all.
To conclude it is my great pleasure to introduce you to Danielle Carragher, DANI, a folk musician and conflict transformation facilitator. Her contemporary sound is inspired by the Irish traditional melodies she was raised with, her song writing narrative delve into the Celtic mythic imagination. DANI was the Artist in Residence at the Cathedral Quarter Arts Festival 2019, supporting Rufus Wainwright, Joshua Burnside, The Easkies, Say Sue Me, and Sneaks. Please put your hands to together and welcome DANI