As 2019 approaches, Mayor of Derry City and Strabane District, Councillor John Boyle, takes time to reflect on a busy six months for him at the Guildhall, and looks ahead to what he predicts will be a new time of opportunity, despite the political uncertainties and challenges that the New Year may bring...
It’s hard to believe that 2019 is now upon us, and that I am already half way through my tenure as Mayor of Derry and Strabane. It has certainly been an eventful year with a packed schedule of engagements that has taken me across all parts of Derry and Strabane, not to mention destinations around the world, where we continue to forge positive business relationships.
When I was first elected as mayor in June I took on the role with a real sense of pride that I would spend a year dedicated to representing the people of our City and District. I expected it would be a busy time – but nothing really prepared me for the sheer volume of requests from local groups and organisations right across the North West.
While I’ve been actively involved in local communities throughout my political career, this year has given me a real insight into the very significant efforts being made by good people here every day. People who dedicate their lives to improving their local communities. I have been made welcome by organisations from every culture and ethnic community, I have been invited to schools, colleges, community centres, and cultural venues, to celebrate a diversity of events alongside people of all ages and backgrounds. I have also been overwhelmed by the warmth of the welcome extended to me by people who don’t share my politics or my religion, and I have a new appreciation for the role of Mayor as a civic ambassador. I am proud to say that I have been there to represent the interests of all.
So far there have been many highlights, too many to mention. Some of the most rewarding times have been at the small events, the ones celebrating local people at their work, or acknowledging acts of extraordinary achievement by ordinary people who are out there making a difference every day.
One of the very significant highlights of my year to date was hosting the 50th Anniversary of the Civil Rights Movement Festival programme at the Guildhall, led by the Civil Rights Commemoration Committee. I was deeply honoured to welcome President Michael D Higgins to our city to mark what was a pivotal and historic moment for Derry.
Since that historic day on October 5th 1968, many have continued to deliver on the vision of peace and equality which was first propounded by the first Civil Rights leaders of that time. It was my very great privilege to welcome many of those original figures to the Guildhall. I was deeply moved to share the platform with Ivan Cooper, Eamonn McCann, Fionnbarra O’Doherty, Aiden McKinney and many others to reflect on how far we have come since that day. I will never forget the very moving moment when the Colmcille Ladies Choir and the packed audience in the Guildhall sang ‘We Shall Overcome’. My only sadness was that my friend, colleague and inspiration, John Hume could not be with us. However, it was with great pride that I welcomed Pat Hume who is the very epitome of all that the Civil Rights struggle stands for.
I was also delighted to welcome once again the Clipper Round the World Yacht Fleet as they brought colour and excitement to the Foyle during the Foyle Maritime Festival in July. The atmosphere along the quayside was buzzing during what was a bumper week for the North West, with the Foyle Cup Tournament also in full swing. While some sinister elements tried to put a damper on the spirits of local people with potentially damaging pockets of anti-social behaviour in some areas, the city rose above the negativity to enjoy the benefits of unprecedented numbers of visitors and an international platform for tourism.
In a year of political chaos over Brexit it’s been a challenging time for local businesses, and while there is much uncertainty about the future, I have been working hard alongside our civic and political leaders North and South and our strong connection of partners in education, business and the community sector to establish a firm foundation for growth here.
In September I was honoured to join with the City of London to host a reception to launch our Outline Vision Bid Proposal for our City Deal. It was inspirational to be at the London Guildhall and witness the number of local business leaders who turned out to support the aspirations for our City and District. It was a real testament to the growing support from a wide network of companies who have invested in building and growing our region. I am confident that the stage has now been set for the delivery of a City Deal in the New Year and that we are strategically in a good place to capitalise on the many benefits that this will bring.
I have been honoured to represent Derry and Strabane on a number of trade missions to the United States in recent months, showcasing the region’s exceptional tourism offering as well as the growing business profile of the North West. The welcome we received from our extended diaspora family in the US was heartfelt and genuine, and the strengthening affinity with Boston and Philadelphia based on shared interests in education, business and technology is undeniable. It’s fantastic to see the groundwork laid over years of partnership working with Donegal County Council forming a strong and tangible foundation for growth and investment here in the North West.
It has been a real privilege this year to work on behalf of one of the most dedicated organisations in this city, Foyle Search and Rescue, raising funds to assist them in their courageous and selfless work. I’ve had the opportunity to see for myself the support they offer local people through the most difficult times, in the most physically challenging environment. They are an inspiration to us all and I will continue to highlight the valuable work they do throughout my time as Mayor, thank you all for your support to date.
I have also really enjoyed welcoming people from everywhere to the Guildhall for a variety of receptions, celebrations, and performances. Among those to be honoured are some of the city’s finest talents, the stunning soprano Margaret Keys, sporting heroes Megan Frazer, Tyrone McCullagh and the Derry City FC League Cup winning team as well as dedicated community figures such as one of Creggan’s favourite sons, Nucker Tierney.
There have been challenges, of course. However, I have been constantly buoyed up by the energy of those around me, and the many good people that I meet every day. There is an enormous determination in our City and District to build a better future. I am determined to continue to work to reconcile differences and promote understanding. A collegiate approach where we all work for the greater good will surely reap rewards for all.
Looking ahead to next year, my diary is already looking busy and I’m particularly looking forward to attending events planned around our Youth19 programme. It will provide a fantastic opportunity for our young people to come to the fore and express that unparalleled talent and creativity that sets this place apart. Young people are at the heart of our Strategic Growth Plan for the City and District, and their role in shaping the future of Derry and Strabane cannot be underestimated.
Finally, I want to take this opportunity to wish everyone a very peaceful and prosperous News Year. I look forward to meeting more of you out and about over the coming months and I pledge to continue my positive work as an ambassador for this great City and District and to embrace all the challenge and opportunity that will present itself in the coming twelve months.