THE NAME is awful and the artificial flowers and fish tank quite disconcerting, but fundamentally the E3 Belfast MET building at Springvale is a gamechanger for the city. Ducking the squalls this week, I joined Patricia Flanagan to view the spanking new facility on the Springfield Road peaceline. 20 years ago, there were promises – ultimately unfulfilled – to locate a university at this site in a dramatic move which would have turbo-charged the faltering economy of North/West Belfast. But this new facility, boasting a full TV and radio studio, an impressive renewable energies section and new-age work spaces for teams of students, is the bold initiative we've been waiting for.
By September, up to a thousand students per week could be travelling to the new campus to enhance their employability. Link it to the proposed Belfast City Council innovation centre across the road on the Invest NI site, and you can see how education, entrepreneurship and whatever the hell the last ‘e’ stands for could get a fillip. Full marks to Patricia and to Belfast MET CEO Marie Therese McGivern, who grew up a stone's-throw away from the spectacular £19m building.
THERE was an element of back to the future as well in the history-making first-ever City Hall Committee meeting in Irish this week.
Gaeilge champion Janet Muller – who for three decades has fought for rights and fair play for the Irish-speaking community – got her name in the history books when she made a presentation, entirely in Irish, at the Strategic Policy and Resources Committee. Translation was provided by translator Pól Mac Fheilimidh, with Janet fielding questions from councillors from right across the political spectrum.
That’s a welcome change from my first meeting in the Dome in November 1987 when I was thrown out on my arse after ten minutes for speaking Erse.
And while our unionist brethren aren't yet convinced of the merit in enthusiastically promoting the cultural wealth represented by the Irish language, at least Cllrs Lee Reynolds (DUP) and John Kyle (PUP) were there to put their questions to Janet and engage respectfully in the discussion about the changing Belfast. Another step forward, not just for An Ghaeilge, but for Belfast City Council.
The Irish language is a great asset of Belfast and it deserves to be promoted just as vigorously as Basque in Euskadi or Gaidhlig in Scotland – a point driven home by the eight-minute address, entirely in Scottish Gaelic, delivered by Scotland's Minister for Languages Alasdair Allan at our One City Conference (complete with simultaneous translation).
TO SAY we will miss the mischievous smile and sharp wit of pioneering solicitor Paul Graham is a preposterous understatement. For Paul – who had the tenacity and commitment to bulldoze aside efforts to prevent him practicing as a lawyer because of his political beliefs – was a light in the life of every activist and Gaeilgeoir in Béal Feirste. Big-hearted, generous and principled, he led from the front throughout his life. In fact, just recently he was in court stoutly defending the right of pupils at Coláiste Feirste to be treated the same as their peers from other schools. He was, in short, the type of person who makes our community the best in the world. Go raibh suaimhneas síoraí aige agus go dtuga Dia sólás dá mhuintir atá faoi bhrón.