SDLP Councillor Michael Savage has said that this can be a year of hope, ambition through growth for Newry, Mourne and Down as he assumes the role of Chairperson of Newry, Mourne and Down District Council.
On assuming the role, Chairperson Savage said:
The theme I have chosen for my year in office is 'Hope and Ambition through Growth'. It is not often you hear these three words in one sentence these days, given the turbulent times we live in. But I want to take these words and translate them into action through everything I do as Chair of Newry Mourne & Down District Council in the year ahead. I firmly believe, that now is a time like no other, to offer our people hope and work to help them fulfil their ambitions by providing opportunities through growth.
We need to offer hope at a time when we are emerging from Covid and one of the bleakest periods in our history when our communities and families lost so many loved ones and faced the additional trauma of not being able to say farewell in our traditional Irish and Ulster way. We need to offer hope at a time when our health service is on its knees, our people are waiting for life changing operations and our two local hospitals are fighting to take their rightful place in the much-needed transformation of our health service. We need to offer hope at a time when families across our district are facing the biggest cost of living crisis in living memory and mothers are skipping meals to feed their children and thousands continue to languish on a waiting list for a place to call home. We need to offer hope at a time when the world has become a more dangerous place with many of our people from Eastern Europe who now call our district their home living in fear for the safety of loved ones and friends in war torn Ukraine. We need to offer hope at a time when anxiety and polarisation are dominating our devolved institutions as a result of the outworking of Brexit and concerns about the importation and exportation of goods drown out the most worrying export problem we face - the export of our talent and future - our young people.
We need to provide our people with hope.
There are so many huge challenges facing our society right now that we don't even have to look for them - they are there in front of us every minute of every day. That is why I believe it is our duty as elected members to what is the most stable form of government available to our people in this place we call home - local government - to provide the civic leadership and courage that is required to provide our people with hope, ambition and growth!
Having lived in both sides of this district in equal measure throughout all of my life, I believe I can relate to the challenges of all our people across the district and my pledge tonight is that I will be a First Citizen for everyone. I want to help with the post Covid healing process and provide an outlet for hope and dignity for all those families who lost loved ones throughout the depths of the Pandemic and work with our two Cathedrals in Newry and Downpatrick to acknowledge their grief and loss and afford them an opportunity to remember their loved ones in a dignified way and provide them with hope for the future.
20 years ago my father in law Frank Feely, who is with me here tonight with his wife Ella met with Queen Elizabeth and accepted City Status on behalf of the people of greater Newry. It is my privilege and honour to Chair Council on this anniversary at a time when our city and district is on the cusp of the biggest inward investment programme in our history. I believe the Belfast Region City Deal and associated funding sources offer us the opportunity to provide our people with Hope and Ambition through Growth.
Fulfilling Newry's ambition as a City will be central to my year ahead and I stand ready and available to work with our business community, statutory agencies and all our citizens to promote our district as a place to invest in. Our indigenous industries and blue chip companies such as First Derivatives, Finnebrogue Artisan, Glen Dimplex, Rockwell Collins and Statsports to name but a few are testimony to just what can be achieved in Newry Mourne and Down. In parallel to that I also want to see the town where I spent my formative years, went to school and started my own business - Downpatrick - reclaim its rightful status as the County Town of Down. The Regeneration plans are underway in the resting place of Saint Patrick and it is crucial that the people of Downpatrick and its hinterland start to see hope and ambition in the form of an economic dividend that is triggered through the endeavours of this Council and its Councillors. We also need to provide ambition and growth opportunities for our local fishing industry and support the development plans at Ardglass and Kilkeel.
We have the privilege of living in what I believe to be one of the most beautiful districts on this planet. I want to help drive our ambition to promote our area to as many people as possible so that the tourism industry can meet its potential and this district can become the number one outdoor destination in Ireland. We can achieve this goal through the development of the 15 Acre City Park in Newry, The Gateway to The Mournes Project in Newcastle, Castlewellan Forest Park Project and Warrenpoint Baths being added to already popular attractions like Slieve Gullion Forest Park, St Patrick's Centre, Kilbroney Forest Park and our world class Mountain bike trails in Rostrevor and Castlewellan to name a few.
I mentioned earlier the challenge we face with the continuing export of our biggest asset - our talented young people. And as a father with a son who went to England and may never return home, I want to try and turn this into a positive. Our diaspora is far flung and not insignificant and it could provide us with so many opportunities for inward investment and tourism. Over the next 12 months I aim to reach out to as many people as possible across the globe with connections to this district and encourage them to come home for a visit and enjoy the place where they have strong roots. Maybe some of them can be encouraged to invest here and create good opportunities for future generations of our young people so they don't have to leave.
We live in a rural district and Covid has shone the spotlight on the growing problem of social isolation and I will endeavour to help in whatever I can in the year ahead to highlight this issue and provide hope and support to those people who feel alone or cut off from society. We need to tap in to the strength of our local rural communities across South Down and South Armagh and provide support and a voice for our farmers and put our rural way of life front and centre in the promotion of our district - it is who we are.
Our children are our future and we are so lucky to have some of the best schools in these islands and I want to thank the teachers, staff and governors for the Trojan work they've done to maintain pupil-centred education here through the most challenging times. To our young people - you are brilliant, you are our future and I hope I can provide opportunities and space in the coming year in which you can showcase your hopes and dreams for the future and allow your voice to be heard.
I have outlined just some of the ambitions for the year ahead and you may feel they are a little optimistic but I have always been a glass half full type of guy but I am also confident that many of them can be fulfilled through our greatest local strength - our strength of partnership. I had outlined earlier how we continue to face a housing shortage here and how homelessness remains a challenge in our district. But this Council through partnership has made a real difference in the decisions it has made on planning policy and will continue to take the lead in providing partnership opportunities through its housing conference to find solutions and provide hope to those people and families waiting on a place to call home. Partnership is the very essence of our community and voluntary group sector. It is the backbone of our district and without those dedicated volunteers and our heroic NHS staff and other frontline workers over the last few years our society would have crumbled under the immense challenges of Covid and the most vulnerable people in our society would not have survived. I want to thank you all on behalf of the people of Newry Mourne and Down for the huge difference you have made, and I promise to continue to champion the work of our amazing community, voluntary, sporting club and charity sectors and our NHS and frontline workers and I hope to meet with as many of you as possible in the months ahead.
Therefore, having reflected on where I, in my role as Chair, can provide hope in the year ahead I have chosen promote the following charities over the next 12 months: the Southern Area Hospice, Saint Vincent De Paul & Salvation Army, Simon Community and our Local Network of Foodbanks.
Tonight is a very proud moment for me to become district's first citizen and it is a great honour that has crept up on me. My wife Noreen and daughter Tara aren't with me tonight as some months back I booked a sun holiday for them both for Tara's 21st so this wasn't exactly planned. However I know they and my son Caolan who is working in Manchester are with me in spirit tonight. As you all know being a politician can take its toll on family life and I'm exceptionally lucky to have Noreen's support at all times as well as that of my family. Thank you Noreen. I feel proud to have my Mum and Dad Brenda and Pat here tonight from The Spa and I want to thank them for all they've done for me - the eldest of seven children - throughout my life. They are my greatest sounding board and have always offered sage advice. My youngest daughter Ella got the golden ticket tonight and she is with me and I'm delighted my wee one is here with here to see her Dad in the Chamber tonight. I'd also like to make a special mention of another former Mayor John McArdle who is here tonight with his wife Patricia. I simply wouldn't have got elected without John's help over the years and I'm delighted he's here to enjoy this moment with me this evening. Thank you John.
I'm deeply honoured to receive this chain of office and will treat it with the honour and respect it deserves. I look forward to working positively with my fellow Councillors in what I believe will be a busy and productive year.
A year of Hope, Ambition and Growth.