NEVER MISS AN OPPORTUNITY TO MISS AN OPPORTUNITY AGAINFebruary 11, 2016
With a population of approximately one hundred thousand, similar to the total number of people in Derry city, west Belfast makes up a significant percentage of the entire population of the six counties. From Castle Street stretching out almost as far as Derriaghy there are vast swathes of people, homes and communities.
Right across west Belfast over past decades, educational attainment has significantly improved and the number of school leavers entering universities and colleges is now at record numbers. The areas of law and education are two vocations where west Belfast graduates have performed particularly well in recent years.
In fact the two top legal figures in the north’s justice system are former Andersonstown-based and now Director of Public Prosecutions Barra McGrory QC and former St Mary’s Glen Road student, John Larkin QC, Attorney General. It is well known that the legal profession boasts many sons and daughters of working class west Belfast including prominent solicitors, QC’s, barristers and judges.
West Belfast has also produced many renowned figures in the world of education. Some have held high office in the education department or CCMS and there have been vast numbers of teachers churned out with many reaching vice-principal and principal positions. St Mary’s University College on the Falls Road is an undoubted jewel in that academic crown.
On the accounting front Riverdale’s Shaun Kelly is the global CEO of accountancy world leader KPMG and talking of leaders we have produced an abundance of outstanding community leaders in the form of the phenomenal Damien Lindsay, Failte Feirste Thiar’s Harry Connolly, Feile an Phobail’s Kevin Gamble and one of the most renowned leaders in Irish history, Gerry Adams.
But for the wealth of talent we have in law, education, politics and the community there is a deficit of entrepreneurial spirit. We can select a few examples of those who are bucking the trend like the exceptional Adams sisters Theresa, Claire, Jane and Laura, JDM Management’s Jim, David and Martin Conlon, Paul Hesketh from St James’s who recently formed Belfast City Coaches and Northern Property’s Declan and Tony Donnelly.
However west Belfast needs more entrepreneurs. In fact what it needs is a new generation of entrepreneurs to emerge. It is true to say that industry, commerce and business have not traditionally been the domains of communities like ours but that must change.
Business is powerful and has many responsibilities. West Belfast needs to produce a wave of entrepreneurs who can drive the economy forward. This entrepreneurial revolution does not have to be exclusively young entrepreneurs. Anybody of any age with a business idea should go and do it. The more self-starters we have, the more our economy will improve and the more our community will benefit.
The backbone of a strong economy is a strong sense of entrepreneurship. Entrepreneurs create jobs and jobs give people purpose. West Belfast has drawn the short straw in terms of our fair share for as long as I can remember but it doesn’t have to stay like that. Invest NI do not have a good record in west Belfast so I have invited the Chief Executive Alastair Hamilton to address an event in Andersonstown later this year. I want to know why west Belfast tends to creep under the radar of Invest NI and I want to know what we need to do to change that.
We are a confident community, highly resourceful, intelligent and enthusiastic but we need more people to become business-minded. Our community needs to create more in terms of jobs and wealth. This isn’t necessarily something for politicians to do. This is something you can do. What politicians can do is create an environment to allow that spirit of entrepreneurship to flourish.
West Belfast is a socially aware community. We want first class public services. A highly performing private sector should work hand in hand with a highly performing public sector. More entrepreneurship means more jobs and that means more people paying tax, which then means more money to be reinvested back into public services.
We need to eradicate old ideas of entrepreneurship being right wing and aligned closely with Tories. Entrepreneurship is about building strong communities. It is about creating jobs and making business play its part in forming a better society for each of us to live and work in. It is about creating, making and doing. Over the coming period you should reflect on what you want to achieve in your career or life in general. Reflect on how you want to impact positively on your community. If you have a business idea, research it, plan it and start it. This is the right time for west Belfast to emerge in the business world. Let’s do it.