"Building a people’s peace" - Nichola Mallon, deputy leader of the SDLP

Posted on: 30 April 2018 by Nichola Mallon in 2018 posts

Women holding a cooking pot
City hall dinner for aslyum seekers and refugees in Belfast.

This guest blog by Nichola Mallon, deputy leader of the SDLP and former Lord Mayor of Belfast (2014-2015), looks at the challenges facing the city of Belfast and the progress that has been made, influenced by the Belfast/Good Friday Agreement.

"Peace is built on historic agreements, but it is cemented and sustained by everyday gestures. While we have peace in Northern Ireland, we are not at peace in ourselves and with each other. One section of our people is fearful of going back to the old days; the other is fearful of what the future might hold.

When I became the Lord Mayor of Belfast a few years ago, I thought long and hard about the challenges facing my city and my priorities for that year. I am so proud of all that my city and its people have achieved, but I am also conscious that we remain a divided and unreconciled people. Reconciliation, particularly among politicians, is a word too much used and action too little practised.

How could I as the Lord Mayor of Belfast take up the challenge set out in the Good Friday Agreement to ‘strive in every practical way towards reconciliation and rapprochement?’ and how could I encourage others?

For change to happen, you need first to believe it can happen. My priorities for that year were 'Celebrating the Best of Belfast' and 'Remembering Our Forgotten Citizens'.

Woman holding an award with mayorOne of Belfast's unsung heroes - Mona McConnell - devoted to helping those forgotten in Belfast. She has sadly passed away since. 

I continually celebrated our progress and the many unsung heroes who achieved it. I asked people not just to appreciate them but be inspired by them. I used every opportunity I could to shine a light on the plight of our forgotten citizens, those suffering with addiction and mental health, the homeless, those who feel invisible and of no value. I asked people to reach out and show them compassion; to see our common humanity.

During that year, I also hosted the Queen in Belfast City Hall. I got to meet Pope Francis, welcomed President Michael D Higgins to the city and hosted the powerful 'Quiet Peacemakers' exhibition by Susan Hughes. I went to corners of the city deemed to be the territory of ‘the other’ and got the warmest of welcomes.

Above all else I met ordinary people right across our city doing extraordinary things for others.

What did I learn? When we see the progress we have made, it inspires us to go even further. Our people are light-years ahead of politicians. Compassion not only connects us but reminds us of our common humanity.

When we care for each other, we connect with each other, we make an effort to better understand each other, we build peace and we all feel we have a stake and belong."

Find out more

Explore the Beflast/Good Friday Agreement online exhibition: 'Agreement: A People's Process'