New York City Council Speaker Christine Quinn was in Ireland last week for a series of high-level meetings in Dublin and Belfast. Quinn met with the Taoiseach (Prime Minister) Brian Cowen, Irish Minister for Foreign Affairs Micheal Martin in Dublin and with First Minister Peter Robinson and deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness at Stormont in Belfast.
“I was invited to Ireland to attend an awards ceremony but I’ve been hearing the reports about growing tensions, and concerns that the issues of policing and justice might not happen in the timeframe that some of us had hoped,” Quinn told the IrishCentral’s sister publication the Irish Voice.
“With that in mind I decided to extend the trip and do a series of meetings with community leaders and government leaders to convey the message that Irish America’s perspective was that the time for devolution of power around policing and justice was now. I also wanted to offer support to move that process forward.”
In regard to the ramping up of dissident activity in the North in recent months Quinn was unequivocal.
“When you’re in tense situations and yet things continue to move forward it’s harder for those who want to pull it back to get any traction. Our message in Irish America is that there’s been tremendous progress -- it’s actually stunning to many people -- so don’t get stuck on policing and justice. Don’t allow there to be some kind of vacuum, which dissidents will fill in.
“Keep things moving forward. And I agree with Deputy First Minister McGuinness that in the best of all possible worlds we should wrap this up by the year’s end.”
In regard to the economic challenges facing the North, Quinn spoke of the host of initiatives being taken by business leaders there and of the growing ties between New York and Belfast.
“I had meetings with a host of business leaders from the Belfast area and we’re working on a conference in June called New York and New Belfast to bring an even greater partnership between the two cities,” she said.
Quinn held a meeting with Cowen about poling and justice but also about one of her signature issues, the need to invest in the development of a new purpose built building for the Irish Arts Center in New York.
“We talked about policing and justice but the primary focus of those meetings was around the Irish Arts Center and our hope that the Irish government can become more of a financial as well as an inspirational partner in our efforts to rehabilitate the center. A thousand percent commitment was made. They were positive meetings,” she said.
Quinn met with community leaders and victims of state violence in West Belfast, and with community leaders, including paramilitaries turned peacemakers in loyalist East Belfast. She also met with cross community gay groups, and noted that such groups have always been cross community in the North.
“It’s good and inspiring and at times a challenge, and they’re very upfront about that issues they face. I encouraged them to engage with their political leaders using the same approach we have used in the Democratic Party,” she said.
“But every person I spoke to regardless of their perspective, their history, all of them wanted things to move forward. There wasn’t one person I spoke to who thought things weren’t better now.”