David opens Irish Festival

14 Oct 2005

David Clelland officially opened the 19th Tyneside Irish Festival this week at a ceremony in the Tyneside Irish Centre.

In his speech, David was optimistic about the future for Ireland with the IRA disarming despite evidence of some Unionist factions engaging in criminal acts.

He also praised the diversity of cultures on Tyneside, of which the Irish community is one.

David's full speech:

I was delighted and honoured to be asked to launch the Tyneside Irish Festival 2005 - its an event I've taken part in, and thoroughly enjoyed, for many years. This isn't an occasion for big speeches but I would like to say a few words - when have you known a politician to miss an opportunity like this?

As ever the news from Northern Ireland is good and bad. Good news that the IRA have finally agreed to lay down their arms and pursue a political solution to the problems of Ulster. Bad news that factions in the Unionist community have re-engaged in violent and criminal acts.

But, despite this, I believe that what we are now seeing are the death throes of the organised violence and criminal behaviour that have plagued the community for too many years, and that we will soon see progress towards the reconstruction of the devolved assembly and a better future for the deserving majority.

On a lighter note, all the talk in London is about who is going to be the chosen successor. Will it be someone of experience and gravitas? Will it be someone younger and more dashing? Will he be chosen for his looks or his skills? Well, whoever the next James Bond is we will know tomorrow - but other questions as to who will lead the Tory Party? When will Tony go? and can Charlie boy hang on? - will all have to wait a little longer.

As I look around the room I see friends and colleagues, many who just love Irish music and a good knees-up but also many people who have real Irish roots, people who are second, third, even fourth and fifth generation Irish-born but who still feel that strong bond, that strong affinity, with the Irish culture. You feel your Irishness, but we are all Geordies, regardless of whether we were born so or have simply moved to the area. But, however we got here, we're all proud of Tyneside, of our area and our region

As I arrived, and walked under the magnificent Chinese Arch that now proudly stands, only feet away from the Irish Centre, I was reminded that while we are here to celebrate Irish week and the culture of Ireland, we are only part of a wider community of many cultures.

The Chinese community has been here for many years of course and over the years we have been enriched by even more cultural diversity as people for the Indian sub continent and many other parts of the world have come to Tyneside, become part of our community, but nevertheless want to maintain links with their cultural heritage.

And quite right too. It is our recognition of the legitimate right and desire of people to remember and celebrate their roots - as we are doing here tonight - that will help forge even stronger links between us and is the real answer to overcoming suspicion and division.

I am sorry about the football result last night - but we are all pleased for England I know - perhaps the coming week of celebration will help ease the bruises a bit.

Have a great night and a great festival

The Festival's future is threatened by the policy of the Arts Council North East who have stopped the usual grant of about 7,000, although similar festivals elsewhere in Britain continue to be funded. See http://www.tynesideirish.com

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Promoted by Ken Childs on behalf of David Clelland, both of 19 Ravensworth Road, Dunston, Gateshead. NE11 9AB
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