At the meeting of Bushmills Peace Group on March 18th, in St Patrick’s Hall, Portrush, Fr.Rory Sheehan led the worship with a quotation from St. Luke 9: 21 to 23.
His theme was “cross makers” and he wondered if the carpenter who made the cross for Jesus knew its significance. He challenged his listeners to ask themselves what crosses they make for others. Do they know and more importantly, do they care? Fr. Rory then paid tribute to the Guest Speaker, Naomi Long, MP, by describing her as one who was prepared to carry the cross for others or at least to help splinter it.
In her talk Naomi revealed that, while she is a self-confessed city girl, her grandparents came from the Bushmills area. Born in 1971, with the Troubles at their height, she grew up in the shadow of the shipyard in a totally Protestant community. With a passion for learning she enjoyed school, attending Mersey Street Primary School, Bloomfield Collegiate and Queen’s University where she gained a degree in Civil Engineering, a career which she has pursued and loves.
She described how, at university, she realised that “division in this country is the problem and violence is the sympton”, and, guided by Christian principles, and the belief that a shared vision is needed if Northern Ireland is to succeed, she has dedicated herself to the work of reconciliation. Naomi joined the Alliance Party and, to her surprise, was elected to Belfast City Council. In 2003 she became an MLA and found constituency work particularly rewarding. She was subsequently elected as the first Alliance candidate to Westminster 40 years after the inception of the party. As a Member of Parliament, which is now her “single job”, her aim is to work to transform NI for the improvement of all its citizens.
She continued that in 2009 she became Lord Mayor of Belfast, the second only woman to hold that post. Her year of office was for her a very happy time. She aimed to make contact with all sections of the community, believing that it is important for everyone here, especially the deprived and the young, to feel they have a share in a prosperous, integrated future. She praised the ground roots trust and co-operation to be found in local Peace Groups and saw, as a fitting symbol for the Province, the Mayoral chain which predated Partition and unites Celtic and British images to create something uniquely beautiful.
Naomi concluded by expressing her confidence in the future of Northern Ireland quoting as two positives the general acceptance of a Sinn Fein Lord Mayor of Belfast and the transformation of St Patrick’s Day Celebrations in Belfast into a happy carnival which everyone can enjoy. She then took questions from the audience.
Bushmills Peace Group greatly appreciate Naomi taking time to come to talk to them. They were inspired by her optimism and her total commitment to and pride in Northern Ireland and wish her well for the future. The next meeting of the Group is the A.G.M. on May 17th and, on 4th June, they look forward to a trip to Downpatrick. New friends are always welcome.