It is my honour tonight to be elected to serve as the new Chairperson of Newry, Mourne and Down Council. This occasion is made even more special by the presence of my family and the republican activists with whom I have campaigned for many years. Throughout my time as a representative in this area I have enjoyed support from, and have had the pleasure to serve, people from all walks of life.
This position is an opportunity to pursue and achieve real change for the people in our area, and from the outset I want to be clear about my biggest priority in the year ahead.
The uncertain future of Daisy Hill Hospital and the looming threat of service closure has stirred great unease in our community. More importantly, however, it has once again revived the great campaigning spirit of this area. We are all too aware of the challenges faced by our health service, but the importance of the security of Daisy Hill Hospital rings true in every town and village in Newry, Mourne and Down.
In my year as Chair of this Council I will place this issue at the forefront of local politics, empowering and supporting the inspiring grassroots activity of recent years. But to achieve our objectives we must come together into one cohesive campaign. I will use my year in office to bring together the wealth of ideas, the energy and the efforts of community groups, the staff of Daisy Hill, our trade unions and local businesses into one unified campaign. As Chair I will ensure that as a community we speak effectively with a single voice to Save Daisy Hill – the heart of our community.
Indeed it is this sense of community that I will champion in order to face down the other challenges we face in the year ahead. Brexit will define social, economic and political life in this region for a generation. Our border communities in particular face disruption of their way of life and their livelihoods. All of us here have a duty to stop this from happening. As other councils have done, we must come together to do what it best for the people of Newry, Mourne and Down – and citizens here need us to stand against Brexit.
I am from South Armagh, and I am immensely proud of my home. It is a community rooted in centuries of strong and vibrant heritage, history and culture. Moreover, the people who I am proud to represent are themselves rooted in this heritage. The position of Chair is one of great privilege, and it is an opportunity to deliver Newry, Mourne and Down Council, and all the good work it does, to everyone in every part of our community. I will listen to and represent the bountiful diversity of culture and opinion across our area. In the year ahead I will be a Chair for all.
I will work hard as Chair, but the true first citizens of Newry, Mourne and Down are working tirelessly to bind and grow our community cohesion.
– They organise festivals and celebrations to promote our shared culture
– They’re fundraising and caring for the sick and disadvantaged
– They’re fighting to save Daisy Hill Hospital
My charities this year will reflect this crucial and unceasing effort from the vast network of community activists in Newry, Mourne and Down. They will be rooted in our towns and village. They are run by those who know their time is always best spent in the service of others, promoting wellbeing, health and togetherness. These charities pledge themselves to this end; I will ensure that we as a Council we give them the support they deserve.
I look forward to tackling these challenges in the year ahead, and I will be supported by a talented and dedicated Deputy-Chair in Willie Clarke, and indeed the whole Council team. Together we will work to build a unity of purpose to overcome the obstacles we all face in the time ahead. As a Council we must resolve to embrace a collective spirit of working, representing everyone – from Crossmaglen to Castlewellan.
Go raibh maith agaibh, agus ádh mor.