Ekin defend Maskey move

“Making Belfast a better place for the entire community has been my personal motto since I became a City Councillor.”

“Beforehand, I had often felt frustrated by the lack of co-operation between nationalists and unionists, as it was obvious that this division was leading to the people losing out.”

“Why, it could have been argued, should the ordinary people work together, when their elected representatives couldn’t stomach the sight of each other?”

“It was a valid argument, as the kind of leadership offered was only leading us back into the past, rather than into a shared future together. Sadly, there are still remnants of that type of leadership in City Hall, although thankfully, we seem to be moving away from it.”

“So while there will always be progressive politicians and backward-looking ‘leaders’ in the Council, it is the former who seem to be making greater strides these days.”

“I have to pay tribute to the recent move by Alex Maskey to remember the dead of World War I at the start of the month. For a republican to make such a significant gesture, against opposition from within his own hardline ranks and unionism too, should not go unmentioned. It is a positive example of nationalism reclaiming, rather than re-writing, our shared history, and I hope this continues.”

“Despite the ranting and raving of councillors like Sammy Wilson, the laying of a wreath to the dead was as much as the Mayor Maskey could have done – and a darn sight more than any unionist expected.”

“Alliance can claim a little credit here. We were prepared to give Mayor Maskey a chance to prove himself – although we made tough demands and sought assurances in advance. So far, so good. Alex’s words about inclusivity have been matched by his actions, and I hope that this will continue.”

“But credit where it’s also due. It does appear that some moderate unionists are prepared to adopt a ‘wait and see’ attitude towards Alex Maskey’s tenancy of the Mayor’s chair. That too is understandable, but I hope they won’t allow their judgement to become clouded by feeling they have to ‘out-unionist’ other unionists in the run-up to next May’s election.”

“And if I can do anything to reassure unionists, while I am chair of the good relations committee, there will be no re-writing of the history books, no matter who is Mayor. The history of Belfast City Hall will remain, and no doubt it will be added to over the next 11 months, but there certainly won’t be any wholesale clear-out.”

“Hopefully, this will get both citizens and councillors talking about a more progressive, inclusive Belfast too. A City of Equals. We all need to make Belfast a more welcoming place, far removed from the scenes of fear and violence which for too long dominated television screens around the world. Tourism could be our greatest asset, if we roll out the welcome mat properly.”

“In real terms, that means everyone accepting responsibility. For the paramilitaries, it means an end to interface violence, pipe bombs, petrol bombs, so-called ‘punishment’ attacks, exiling and shootings. For the Council and Assembly it means listening to the people, showing real leadership and true co-operation. For the Government it means giving the police the resources they need to get a firm grip on crime and being responsible when it comes to non-devolved matters.”

“There are big plans for Belfast in the Assembly. The health service shake-up is underway, a new cancer centre is being built, we will even have some form of rapid transit system in a few years’ time. Things are looking up.”

“But that vision could be torn apart. It could end tomorrow. No-one can fail to notice that South Belfast’s crime figures make depressing reading. It really is a sorry state of affairs at the moment. Like the South Belfast News did earlier this month, I would also call for an improvement in the serious crime clear-up rate.”

“But that requires support from all sections of the community. I believe that will be the next big challenge for Sinn Fein – accepting the Police Service of Northern Ireland as the only legitimate forces of law and order. There are some encouraging signs, but I suspect any movement will have to wait until after the May election.”

“However, in the meantime, perhaps Mayor Maskey will find some positive aspects of policing.”


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