Addressing the sold-out Aisling Awards gala in Belfast’s Europa Hotel on Thursday last, Quinn also urged unionists to complete this phase of the peace process by agreeing to devolve policing and justice powers from London. But she added that the success of the peace process would also involve “addressing economic needs fairly.”
Her guest of honor appearance at the city’s biggest awards celebration came as part of a hectic round of meetings with political leaders and community activists from both communities.
At Stormont, she was welcomed by first and deputy first ministers Peter Robinson and Martin McGuinness – this in a rare display of unity by the two – while among the paramilitaries turned peacemakers she met in East Belfast was one-time UDA leader Andy Tyrie.
In West Belfast, Quinn was hosted by relatives of the Ballymurphy massacre victims – 11 civilians shot dead in the Ballymurphy area during the introduction of internment in 1971.
Belfast’s business community also rolled out the red carpet for the New York visitor at a special breakfast where she vowed the two cities would fight the recession together.
“Ireland is of enormous importance to New Yorkers,” Quinn said.
“The impact of Ireland in New York is huge. New York feels an enormous connection to Ireland. The future of Belfast, the future of the peace process, is of enormous importance to us and we understand that the next leg of the peace process is economic development. And we want to feel that we played a part not only in stabilizing the peace, but building it further.”
Accompanied by her father, Larry, Quinn was given a standing ovation when she was ushered into the Aisling Awards gala.
“New Yorkers have always shared a special relationship with the Irish people,” she told the audience.
“Our future successes are mutually dependant on one another. I’ve visited East Belfast and West Belfast and I’m encouraged to have met so many people working to solve the same challenges.
“I’m encouraged to have had meaningful discussions about lasting peace through economic development that reaches underserved areas. I see that work as an example of the same commitment shown by the peacemakers we honor here tonight. New York is not here tonight to point fingers, but to stand with you. New York is here to learn from you, to find hope and inspiration from your perseverance and fortitude.”
Among the honorees at the Aisling Awards, organized by the Belfast Media Group, were Alan McBride, a peace worker who lost his wife Sharon and father-in-law Desmond in the IRA’s 1993 Shankill Road bombing, and the city’s former first citizen, Sinn F