Friday, April 19, 2019

Wouldn’t it be better?


Wouldn’t it be better if the British government, the Irish government and the DUP upheld the Brexit referendum vote in the North to remain in the EU?
Yes                             No
Wouldn’t it be better if there was no hard border?
Yes                             No
Wouldn’t it be better if there was no border at all?
Yes                             No
Wouldn’t it be better if the rights of every citizen on the island of Ireland were upheld in law?
Yes                             No
Wouldn’t it be better if the British government honoured its commitments under the Good Friday and subsequent Agreements?
Yes                             No
Wouldn’t it be better if the Irish government honoured its commitments under the Good Friday and subsequent Agreements?
Yes                             No
Wouldn’t it be better if the British government refused to accept a Unionist veto over the rights of citizens available elsewhere on these islands, except the North?
Yes                             No
Wouldn’t it be better if the Irish government pro-actively and publicly campaigned for these rights and for the right of Irish citizens living in the North and overseas to vote in Presidential elections?
Yes                             No
Wouldn’t it be better if the Irish government honoured the commitment in the Good Friday Agreement negotiations to allow MPs elected in the North to attend and speak in the Dáil -without voting rights?
Yes                             No
Wouldn’t it be better if the British government accepted the right of citizens in the North to identify as Irish or British or both and to honour that right in legislation?
Yes                             No
Wouldn’t it be better if the Irish government privately and publicly challenged the British government on its refusal to accept the right of citizens in the North, enshrined in the Good Friday Agreement, to identity as Irish?
Yes                             No
Wouldn’t it be better if our future was based on tolerance and rights?
Yes                             No
Wouldn’t it be better if there was no place for sectarian politics, segregation, gender or racial discrimination?
Yes                             No
Wouldn’t it be better if the island of Ireland was a leader in tackling climate change?
Yes                             No
Wouldn’t it be better if every citizen had the right to a home, to a job, to education at all levels and access to health care at the point of delivery?
Yes                             No
Wouldn’t it be better if we lived in a society in which neither gender or race, age or disability, sexual orientation or class, or creed or skin colour or location was used to deny citizens their full rights and entitlements?
Yes                             No
Wouldn’t it be better to live in a society – a place of opportunity and equality in which there is no denial of rights and where every single person, despite our differences, is equal?
Yes                             No
Wouldn’t it be better if there was full co-operation across our island on public services, as well as agriculture, tourism, fishing, the environment, health, education, policing and other services?
Yes                             No
Wouldn’t it be better if health services in the North were available to people from the South and vice versa?
Yes                             No
Wouldn’t it be better if we lived in a society that upheld and defended workers’ rights, ended the crisis in housing and homelessness across this island?
Yes                             No
Wouldn’t it be better if we had an all-island economy that created more employment, better paid jobs, ended the scourge of zero hour contracts, and treated workers with respect?
Yes                             No
Wouldn’t it be better if we had one policing and justice system for the island of Ireland?
Yes                             No
Wouldn’t it be better if these matters were agreed between the people who live on the island of Ireland without interference from others?
Yes                             No
Wouldn’t it be better to live in a new, shared Ireland in which people of all religions and none, whether unionist or nationalist or republican or none, have the same entitlement to the full ownership of that new Ireland??
Yes                             No
Wouldn’t it be better if we started planning for this?
Yes                             No
Wouldn’t it be better if the people of the North and the South on the opportunity to agree on our future?
Yes                             No
Wouldn’t it be better if, instead of engaging in negative carping and criticising as divisive efforts to achieve a united, modern and shared Ireland, Fine Gael, Fianna Fáil and others in the South agreed to establish a Forum which could plan for and win a United Ireland?
Yes                             No
Wouldn’t it be better if the Irish government supported the demand for a referendum on Irish Unity as set out in the Good Friday Agreement?
Yes                             No

Sunday, April 14, 2019

Institutional Racism

Four years ago a horrific fire at a so-called ‘temporary halting site’ at Carrickmines in Dublin claimed the lives of ten people – five adults and five children. Thomas and Sylvia O’Connor and their three children Jimmy aged 5, Christy aged 2 and Mary aged five months; Willy Lynch, his partner Tara Gilbert, their daughters Jodie aged 9 and Kelsey aged 4, and Willy’s brother Jimmy, were all killed. Tara was also pregnant at the time. It was the state’s biggest fatal fire since the Stardust night club disaster in 1981 which killed 48 people.
There was an outpouring of grief and solidarity in the weeks after the Carrickmines tragedy. Books of condolences were opened, public vigils were held, and flags were flown at half-mast. I attended the funerals in Bray and Sandyford. At Sandyford I arrived as the haunting lament from a lone Uilleann piper echoed around the Church. The funerals were desperately sad.
At the inquest in January it emerged that a chip-pan was the source of the fire. But the inquest also heard that the site was originally established in 2008 as an ‘emergency temporary site’. Under Department of Environment Guidelines for Traveller Accommodation (1998) such ‘temporary sites’ should not exist for more than five years. It also calls for at least six metres between mobile homes. At Carrickmines the structures were within one metre of each other.
In the aftermath of the fire the government established an interagency group to agree a needs assessment for the survivors. I met with Tánaiste Simon Coveney who promised to take the steps necessary to ensure that the surviving family members would be properly supported by the state.
Last July Mary Lou McDonald and I visited the Connors family. We met Jim and Josie Connors who are the grandparents of the two surviving young sons of Thomas and Sylvia Connors.  Michael was six when his parents perished. He was staying with his grandparents the night the fire struck. Thomas, who is two years younger, was pulled from the mobile by 14 year old John Keith Connors only seconds before a ‘flashover scenario’ occurred which saw the burning chip pan explode in an inferno that engulfed the mobile. The inquest jury recommended that John should be nominated for a bravery award for his courage in rescuing his four year old nephew.
Josie and Jim – who has significant health issues – told us of the pressures they face rearing two active young boys. Their primary concern was the need for school transport to take Michael and Thomas to school each day. For Josie, who is also caring for her husband Jim, that means four trips each day. It is an exhausting experience.
Since our meeting I have tried to get a succession of Ministers to remove this burden from the family.
I wrote to Tánaiste Simon Coveney on July 12th 2018. The issue was referred by his office to the Minister for Housing, Eoghan Murphy.
I also wrote to the Minister for Education Richard Bruton TD and the Minister for Social Protection Regina Doherty TD on the basis that the provision of school transport for the children had the potential to be deferred to a number of different government departments.
Minister Eoghan Murphy TD responded with an acknowledgement in September 2018. He advised the issue was one for the local Council. A few months later he wrote to say it had been referred.
Minister Regina Doherty TD’s office phoned last September to advise that the matter was a matter for the Minister for Education.
I also made written representations to the Minister for Transport Shane Ross TD, having spoken with him personally in the Dáil last November. In a letter I received from him in February I was told that the provision of school transport for two young children had been referred to the Minister of State at the Department of Education John Halligan TD.
I had already raised the needs of the two youngsters with Minister Halligan last November. I made further representations to him in January with no outcome. Despite significant contact by phone, no solution was offered, except to apply for School Transport scheme - which the family don’t qualify for.
In January 2019 I again made written representations to Minister Shane Ross TD - with no response.
I have spoken in person with Minister Shane Ross TD and the Tánaiste Simon Coveney TD. There has been no progress.
Last Thursday I raised the matter in the Dáil with the Tánaiste Simon Coveney TD, during questions on Promised Legislation. I asked the Tánaiste when the commitment he made to me about fully supporting the Connors family would be honoured? He said he would get back to me.
The prevarication, stalling, obfuscation, delays, evasion that have marked the government’s refusal to take the steps promised and provide the supports for Michael and Thomas, are a source of deep disappointment.
Their experience is indicative of the many challenges facing the Traveller community in terms of housing, health, and especially mental health services, employment opportunities, and indifference and hostility from state institutions and local government structures.
The European Committee on Social Rights has found that the Irish state is in violation of the European Social Charter on five grounds by failing to provide adequate Traveller Accommodation. A report of the Traveller Accommodation Expert Group which was established to look at this issue will be published within the next few weeks. It is vital that this report effectively confront the institutional racism which is at the heart of much of the objections to accommodation for Travellers.
The needs of young boys – survivors of a horrendous tragedy that claimed their parents and siblings – are being ignored by Ministers who are passing this issue from one to another while doing absolutely nothing.
Two years ago the Irish government announced its decision to recognise Traveller ethnicity. It was the right thing to do. I said then that legislative protections needed to follow. But if the institutions of the state cannot find within themselves the means to help two children – two survivors of a dreadful human tragedy – then what hope is there for those same institutions confronting the institutional racism that condemns the Traveller community as the most socially disadvantaged group in Irish society.

Thursday, April 4, 2019

A Referendum on Unity is coming

Last November, a few days after the Withdrawal Treaty was published, and on the eve of British Prime Minister Theresa May travelling to Brussels to sign it, Boris Johnson arrived in the North. He was in Belfast to address the DUP’s annual party conference; the night after the British Chancellor Philip Hammond attended it. Johnson entered the Crowne Plaza amid great fanfare. The visits were a show of solidarity and plamas by English Tories to keep the DUP on board the partnership arrangements. There was a standing ovation and lots of photos of a beaming Boris hugging Arlene. Smiles all around. Johnson told an enraptured DUP audience that the British government was “on the verge of making a historic mistake.” He told them: “We need to junk the backstop.”
Johnson told the DUP conference exactly what it wanted to hear. Just like Jacob Rees Mogg. In recent weeks as the debacle of a succession of failed Westminster votes and defeats for the May government unfolded, the Tory backbencher, and leader of the right wing European Research Group (ERG), told every media outlet who asked that his vote on the backstop and the Withdrawal Treaty was entirely dependent upon on the DUP. Using emotive and divisive rhetoric Mogg claimed that the Withdrawal Treaty would leave Britain a vassal state to the EU. He said: It is not something I would vote for, nor is it what the British people voted for.” In his scathing criticism of Theresa May he accused her of giving Brussels “everything they want … It’s not so much a vassal state anymore as a slave state.”  The DUP were delighted.
Last week it all came unstuck. Johnson and Mogg both u-turned, abandoned their friends in the DUP and walked through the lobby in Westminster in support of May’s Withdrawal Treaty. Could Johnson’s ambition to be the next leader of the Conservative Party have had anything to do with this volte-face?
Almost 100 years ago Edward Carson, the father of Ulster Unionism, was faced with a similar betrayal. Addressing the British House of Lords in December 1921, on the issue of the Treaty and the Partition of Ireland, Carson was contemptuous of the British government’s willingness to negotiate with the “Sinn Feiners”.  
Carson said: “What a fool I was. I was only a puppet, and so was Ulster, and so was Ireland, in the political game that was to get the Conservative Party into power. And of all the men in my experience that I think are the most loathsome it is those who will sell their friends for the purpose of conciliating their enemies, and, perhaps, still worse, the men who climb up a ladder into power of which even I may have been part of a humble rung, and then, when they have got into power, kick the ladder away without any concern for the pain, or injury, or mischief, or damage that they do to those who have helped them to gain power”.
Carson’s words echo down through the decades as a warning to unionist leaders that the real threat to political unionism comes from English Tories who are prepared to betray unionists in Ireland if English interests require it.
Thatcher – the Iron Lady - demonstrated that same calculating approach when, in November 1985, she signed the Anglo-Irish Agreement with the Irish government against the expressed wishes of political unionism. Ian Paisley led tens of thousands in mass demonstrations to oppose an Agreement that appeared to give the Irish government some sort of role in the North. It was his “Never, Never, Never” moment. Unionists felt betrayed. But Thatcher believed that the tokenism of the Agreement, with its objective of bolstering the SDLP against the electoral advance of Sinn Féin, were worth it. British interests again trumped unionist interests.
Last Friday, at two separate ‘Leave’ rallies outside Westminster, one of which was led by two loyalist bands from Scotland playing The Sash and other Orange songs, Ian Paisley Jnr tried to emulate his father. He treated the crowd to ‘No Surrender’ and claimed that: “Ahead of us stands the sunny uplands of Freedom! Do not let any government put upon you a Withdrawal Agreement that cuts our great nation in two”.
Almost two years ago after Theresa May’s disastrous general election saw the Conservatives lose seats and enter into an alliance with the DUP, I warned then that it would be a relatively short-lived experiment and that there would be tears at the end of it. In the midst of the back-stabbing and schisms at Westminster that is a daily feature of British news, the British political system is now more divided than at any time in its recent history.
It is also increasingly clear with every day that passes, and with each report that is published, that Brexit – whether hard or soft - poses a huge threat to the two economies on this island.
Brexit threatens thousands of jobs, our farming and agri-food industry, the human and civil rights of citizens, and the Good Friday Agreement. In addition, the British government is using this crisis to undermine the rights of Irish citizens living in the North - enshrined in the Good Friday Agreement – by trying to force British citizenship on to us. This is unacceptable. There is a huge onus on the Irish government to stand up to British jingoism and Tory partisan policies. It must defend the rights and entitlements of all citizens living in the North that are a fundamental part of the architecture of the Good Friday Agreement.
At the weekend thousands turned out at a series of events along the border, organised by the Border Communities Against Brexit, to protest at Brexit. They were good natured protests. But there is a clear determination on the part of the border communities not to see the clock turned back to the days of border checkpoints and disruption of community and family life.
There is now hardly a day passes without the issue of a referendum on Irish Unity and of a United Ireland being part of the discourse around Brexit. Former President Mary McAleese made a thoughtful speech last week on this and related issues. Reunification is now a mainstream topic. A referendum on Irish Unity will happen.
The fiasco that is Brexit, and the Tory and DUP shambles of a response to it, have together opened up a willingness for a real and meaningful conversation on Unity. It is an opportunity that must be grasped and not ignored by the Irish government. The debate is happening anyway. Dublin needs to embrace it and face the future. A united and fair future for everyone on the island of Ireland. So, let’s prepare for the referendum”.

Friday, March 29, 2019

Áras Uí Chonghaile – A world class centre for Belfast

Jim McVeigh opening the event
 “Comrades, Brothers and Sisters,
I have wonderful news! Our comrade James Connolly, the General Secretary of our great union, the ITGWU, is returning to Belfast on the 19th April. He and his family will take up residence in 374 Falls Road.
Come and welcome him. Come and listen to his speeches. Come and read his insightful publications.
He comes to Belfast to lead us and unite the working class, not as Catholics and Protestants, not as Nationalist and Unionist but as Belfast workers united.
He comes to lead us in the glorious struggle for Socialism”.

With these stirring words, Jim McVeigh, Trade Union activist and Chair of the James Connolly Association, commenced the formal launch of Áras Uí Chonghaile – the James Connolly Visitor Centre – at Belfast City Hall last week. The centre itself will be opened on April 19th with a pageant along the Falls Road from Conway Mill, where 100 years ago Connolly helped organize the predominantly female workforce, to Áras Uí Chonghaile.

Fáilte Feirste Thiar – the west Belfast Tourist Board – is the lead agency responsible for the development and administration of Áras Uí Chonghaile. The new centre is only a couple of hundred yards from the Connolly family home at 1 Glenalina Terrace (420 Falls Road).

With Fergal Rainey shoing Paul Maskey MP and mise the plans

The last time I was in 374 Falls Road it was a shop and post office. A couple of weeks ago when I visited it again the noise was intense. Workmen were busy hammering and drilling and brickies were hard at work carefully putting the new front wall in place. Electricians were running wire. New stairs were being erected. The huge sheets of steel, which will form the side elevation of the building with the image of James Connolly emblazoned on them, had still to be erected. They had still not gone through the acid wash and weathering necessary for them to develop the characteristic rust-like appearance which will soon dominate that part of the Falls Road. That process was only completed last week.

But Fergal Rainey of McGurk Architects is confident that the entire Áras will be completed for the April 19th opening.

The purpose of the £1.4 million centre is to conserve the heritage of James Connolly and the key role he played in Irish history, the struggle for freedom and the Labour Movement. It will be a world class visitor centre exploring the life of Connolly; with a unique interactive exhibition; a library of writing by and about Connolly; a multi-functional conference facility, and an all year round programme of engagement with communities, schools and visitors and a bialann. Redhead Exhibitions has brought its considerable experience to the project to ensure that the exhibition is of world class standard. Áras Uí Chonghaile will also hold historical objects relating to Connolly, photographs and original publications, including photos never seen before. There will also be a 1935 hardback edition of a book written by Nora Connolly O’Brien, Connolly’s daughter.
Incidently, I lent my copy of this fine book to a friend to help his daughter in a school project. I haven’t got it back Gary.
The centre has been funded by Belfast City Council and with the financial and logistical support of the American Trade Union Movement under the leadership of Terry O’Sullivan of Laborers International Union of North America and John Samuelsson of the Transport Workers Union.

Paul Maskey; Fergal Rainey, mise and Harry Connolly of Failte Feirste Thiar

Áras Uí Chonghaile will be a celebration of the life and times of Connolly from his birth in Edinburgh in 1868 to his execution by the British in May 1916. It will explore Connolly’s work as a trade union activist; his writings; his travels in Ireland, Britain and the USA; the establishment of the Irish Citizen Army and the Dublin Lockout; and his life in Belfast organizing the Dockers and Linen workers.

His Belfast days did much to shape Connolly’s politics and his socialism. He was appointed Belfast Branch Secretary and Ulster Organiser of the Irish Transport and General Workers Union with is office in Corporation Street. He immediately set about organizing the Dock and Linen workers. Their conditions of work 100 years ago were hellish. The first strike he organized was by the Dockers. They were paid a penny per ton for shoveling iron ore. This was a quarter of the rate for Dockers doing he same work in Britain.  Connolly organized a non-sectarian band which paraded through the streets collecting money for the strike fund. The strike ended when the worker’s pay was increased.

Writing about the Linen workers of Belfast Connolly wrote: ‘Many Belfast Mills are slaughterhouses for the women and penitentiaries for the children…Spinning is a skilled trade, requiring a long apprenticeship, alert brains, and nimble fingers. Yet for all this skill, for all those weary years of learning, for all this toil in a super-heated atmosphere, with clothes drenched with water, and hands torn and lacerated as a consequence of the speeding up of the machinery, a qualified spinner in Belfast receives a wage less than some of our pious millowners would spend weekly upon a dog.’

Connolly was avowedly anti-sectarian. He understood how the unionist ascendancy employed sectarianism to divide workers and protect their interests. Writing in March 1911 he said:
‘The Protestant workers of Belfast are essentially democratic in their instincts, but not a single Belfast Loyalist MP voted for the Old Age Pensions Act. The loyalist MPs knew that the beating of the orange drum would drown every protest within their constituencies.
The development of democracy in Ireland has been smothered by the Union. Remove that barrier, throw the Irish people back upon their own resources, make them realize that the causes of poverty, of lack of progress, of arrested civic and national development, are then to be sought from within and not without, are in their power to remove or perpetuate, and ere long that spirit of democratic progress will invade and permeate all our social and civic institutions.’
Three years later he spoke out against Partition. His words resonate today just as strongly as they did in 1914. Writing about the plan to partition Ireland Connolly warned that it would trigger a ‘carnival of reaction’. He wrote:
‘Such a scheme as that agreed to by Redmond and Devlin, the betrayal; of the national democracy of industrial Ulster would mean a carnival of reaction both North and South, would set back the wheels of progress, would destroy the oncoming unity of the Irish labour movement and paralyse all advanced movements whilst it endured.
To it Labour should give the bitterest opposition, against it Labour in Ulster should fight even to the death, if necessary, as our fathers fought before us.’
Connolly was a visionary. His declaration that ‘the cause of labour is the cause of Ireland and the cause of Ireland is the cause of labour’ is as true today as it was 100 years ago.
Áras Uí Chonghaile is a hugely ambitious undertaking. I want to thank and commend all those who had the vision and energy to turn the dream into a reality. On April 19th – Good Friday – you are all invited to join in the pageant which will commence at 6pm at Conway Mill and walk along the Falls Road to Áras Chonghaile. Be there to welcome James Connolly back to Belfast.

James Connolly Heron with Belfast Mayor Deirdre Hargey

Monday, March 25, 2019

James Connolly Heron: Remarks to the City Hall Launch of Áras ÚI Chonghaile

James Connolly Heron:
Remarks to the City Hall Launch of Áras ÚI Chonghaile on Wednesday 20 March 2019:
Chairperson,  Thanks to the Committee for the invitation to this launch of a most important visitor centre in a city and in an area very close to the hearts of those of us fortunate to be related to a person still held in such high esteem at home and abroad.   One hundred years on - Edinburgh, Belfast, New York, Chicago and Dublin - still hold the footprints of a remarkable journey for its time marking what was for James Connolly and his family, in his own words - ‘a full life’.
It is a great honour to be here on what is a very special occasion - an historic day.
Lord Mayor, Members of the Áras Uí Chonghaile Project, friends and comrades,
So wrote Nora Sullivan, republican prisoner in a Kilmainham Gaol prison autograph book.
That golden generation - the men and women of 1916 - didn’t talk of themselves.  They didn’t talk themselves up. Perhaps they felt no need. They had served the cause and we are the direct beneficiaries of their struggle, courage, their bravery and sacrifice.  For those of us so privileged to have known them they didn’t appear to resent us that.  They fought to free Ireland from oppression, slavery and conquest against all odds and we are forever in their debt.  We didn’t tell them that, of course - perhaps WE felt there was no need. We trust now that they knew it. We have not seen their like since - we may never see their like again.
My grandmother Ina Connolly became visibly upset whenever she spoke of her father.  The effect of a brutal execution carried out at the dawn of a bright May morning passed on to a later generation. It was a struggle for her to write of that loss without breaking down. And so the questions that one might have asked were left unanswered for fear of causing upset.  That is a regret now - the missed opportunities.  The questions not asked yesterday sometimes come back to haunt us today.  Such is life.
Perhaps that is the case with every generation.  But we should be mindful of it - in the words of the song - teach your children well.
Driving my grandmother around Dublin and crossing the River Liffey to visit friends or family she would without fail pass comment on the skyscraper that is Liberty Hall - at the time our first and only skyscraper - the spiritual home of the trade union movement.  A much maligned building at the time as the city’s first tower she held a counter view on its appearance and merits . ‘Oh If only Daddy could see Liberty Hall now’ she would say bursting with pride ‘ the Union with the tallest building in Dublin.  He would not have believed it’.
I never had the heart to tell her that there was great opposition to it at the time. For her it was a statement - a testament to her father’s life’s work - dedicated to the cause of labour and the cause of Ireland - his towering achievement reflected for her in a glowing edifice of shining light out of  the darkness of a very different Ireland that she had known, lived, worked and grew up in. 
An Ireland of privilege over poverty, rich and poor, the haves over the have nots, the oppressor and the oppressed.
And her father set out to change all that.
He burned to end it as a self-proclaimed ‘disturber of the political peace’.
True revolutionaries dedicate themselves twice, he wrote, first in the flush of youth, then in the wisdom of maturity’.
And his family never wavered in supporting him every step of the way - from bright beginning to sad dark end.
When I first learnt of this Aras project on the occasion of the unveiling of the JC monument on the Falls Road I stood on a street corner and listened as the grand plan was explained. I admit to have being a little sceptical as to it ever coming to pass.
It was to my mind an incredible undertaking and in ways a dream that was unlikely to be realised. How wrong I was - I am pleased to say. The continuing 17 year long campaign to Save Moore Street from the developers wrecking ball has obviously left its mark on me.  Our aim is to develop a 1916 Historic Cultural Quarter there - on the very ground that our forebears made history.  But today the last HQ of the 1916 Provisional Government still lies neglected and abandoned by successive administrations and is closed to the public. 
Restoration work undertaken under pressure, plans for its future still uncertain. Described by the National Museum as’ the most important historic site in modern Irish history’ the area is is now under the ownership and control of a British based vulture capital fund - the irony of that apparently lost on those holding office.
Today I take this opportunity to salute Sinn Fein for their unstinting support for the Moore Street Campaign. In particular, the late and much missed Martin Mc Guinness, Gerry Adams,TD, and Uachtarain Shinn Fein, Mary Lou Mc Donald. Councillors Criona Ni Dalaigh and Cllr. Michael Mac Donncha also did sterling work on our behalf when holding office as successive Lord Mayor’s of Dublin.
This project, from dream to reality, puts the authorities in Dublin to shame. The success of one development stands in marked contrast to the inexplicable paralysis surrounding another.
When Joe and Harry outlined progress on the plan on a recent visit to Dublin and fittingly in the GPO, it was clear that this day would indeed come to pass. Their sterling work rewarded. A dream realised.  The story of a success.
Of course the reason this has been achieved is directly associated with the area in which it is located.  Where people appreciate and connect to their proud past, guard the memory of their heroes, preserve the record and stand up to be counted. A community bound together through great struggle is a stronger community in the long run - hurdles are to be leapt over - failure is not an option - dreams can never die.  Everyone can play a part.  And in this case where there is a will there is a way. This visitor centre celebrating the life and times of James Connolly will not only benefit tourism, education and community relations - it will change lives. Cultural centres can become the heartbeat of a community.  Where lessons are learned relationships built, friendships flourish and lives are enriched.  
Communities are under threat in an ever changing world. What were traditional hubs in the community where, news and views were exchanged and shared - the local shop or store, the post office or community hall or local pub are fast becoming a thing of the past - our lives are becoming more privatised - leaving many citizens isolated some abandoned, some lost, others lonely.  A community without conversation is a community in crisis. There is no such thing as society if we do not strive to keep it intact. Social interaction respect and understanding among all citizens are its vital ingredients. The heroes of our time will emerge from the struggles of today and not out of the comforts of tomorrow.
The value and values of times past held in trust within the community and passed to future generations will be the story of this success. 
In many ways this new centre brings James Connolly and his family home. Here in the city that marked him and his children and one that Lillie Connolly in particular did not want to leave. She left Belfast with tears in her eyes as the family made their way to Dublin for the final chapter in what was and is a remarkable family story.
This city helped shape her husband as a trade union leader and defender of workers’ rights. Their fight was his fight, their struggle his struggle, their cause his cause - to the very end. Here he stood for election as the’ determined enemy of the domination of class over class, of nation over nation, of sex over sex, who will at all times stand for the cause of the lowly-paid and oppressed’.  My grandmother and grand Aunt Nora joined the Fianna here and  Ina became secretary of the Betsy Gray Cumann with, as she puts it, ‘their headquarters in old wooden army huts on the Falls Road built to house soldiers who kept the peace as it was called when there was rioting in Belfast’.  The baton in their family had already passed to the next generation.
And It was in Belfast that they first enjoyed the stability and comfort of their first real family home.
The joining of forces behind this project is also a great testament to their father’s refusal in his time to engage in sectarianism of any kind.  To build a society based on opportunity for all, with equality in housing, health, and education - basic civil rights - rights that had to be fought for in our time - at home and abroad and still not realised.
The pillars of a real democracy where nobody is left behind, marginalised, abandoned or forgotten. My grandmother in her biography of her father wrote:  “Accused of being fanatically Nationalist on one hand and not Nationalistic on the other James Connolly found one home, one country - the hearts of the working people of the world. Sacrifice and devotion to their cause was the weather of his mind and the keystone of his work”.
How fitting therefore that this project has had widespread support from near and far.
Writing in The Irish Worker during municipal elections in 1913 he himself wrote: “A small nation such as Ireland can only become great by reason of the greatness of soul of its individual citizens. Discontent is the fulcrum upon which the lever of thought has ever moved the world to action. Ireland has two things that must make the blood run with exaltation in the veins of every lover of the Irish race - a discontented working class and the nucleus of a rebellious womanhood. I cannot separate these two things in my mind”.
Winifred Carney, Margaret Skinnider, Countess Markievicz among the great rebel women of his time. The heroes of our history.
The lesson of this success is that working together Citizens are best placed to build a future shaped by all and not designed by the few, planned for all and not to benefit the few. That ‘greatness of soul’ of the individual citizen allowed flourish so that all have the opportunity to make a contribution to society for the betterment of all.  A peoples project - evidence yet again that there is so much more to unite us than there is to divide us.
And West Belfast again showing the way forward.  
Great credit and enormous thanks is due to all who have given their time energy and talent to see it through. 
To Joe, Harry, Jim and the committee and all who helped in any way this is your day. Your work now takes tangible physical form and this visitor centre will no doubt influence, educate and inspire a new generation to strive to achieve equality and justice for all. 
And though this is your deserved day in the sun - you allow us bask in its reflective light.
By honouring the memory of my great grandfather his life and times in this way you also pay family members great tribute - undeserved but accepted with humility and gratitude.
I can only imagine what my grandmother would think of the development of this centre honouring the name, memory and sacrifice of her father within a stones throw of the family home.
I know that were she here today she would be bursting with pride.
As I am. We salute you. We are forever in your debt.
James Connolly Heron