4 APRIL, 2001

Thank you for the invitation to come here tonight. I am very happy to accept that invitation and to see that Dean Cassidy has also agreed to be here. I am delighted to be present at the opening of Coalisland Women’s Learn and Leisure Art and Craft Exhibition of 2001. I am delighted to see, at first hand, this renovated and refurbished Stewart’s Mill. I think it stands as a monument to the energy, vision and imagination of Coalisland and District Development Association.

As far back as 1993 this project was undertaken and carried out under the first Community Regeneration Improvement Special Projects, CRISP in other words. One quotation from the Chairman of Coalisland and District Development Association, Jim Canning, has always stayed in my mind. He once told me. “In my experience people are more than willing to work together when given the opportunity and proper incentives”. We salute the achievements of Coalisland and District Development Association over the past twenty years, since its foundation.

The Association was formed to reverse the rising unemployment problem in this area. That problem had been caused by many of the clay-based and textile based industries closing at that time. The Weaving Company factory on the Dungannon Road was purchased and converted into fifty business units. That in itself is a tremendous achievement. The provision of training in various skills, of up to 100 trainees per year, both manual and clerical, for all the people of the area by Coalisland Training Service Limited became a priority. The renovation and refurbishment of Stewart’s Mill, in which we are gathered tonight, is yet another work of which the Association can be very proud. I think CRISP proves the point that God helps those who help themselves because initially the Coalisland and District Development Association collected £43,000 to buy property and provide workspace and training.

There is the International Music Festival, centred in and around this building, with musicians, dancers and singers from all over Europe. There is the Coalisland Heritage Trust, which promotes the Industrial Heritage of this district as a visitor attraction. The achievements of the town have been rewarded by the AIB Better Ireland Award, the British Urban Regeneration Award and the British Airways Tourism Award.
It has been said that development is the new name for peace. I think the improvements, the refurbishment, the environmental development programmes are very important in giving people a stake – a share in their local community. They gain a sense of pride in their place of origin, their local place, their native place.

The numbers are impressive, four factories and a supermarket employing 200 people on the industrial site. This refurbished four-storey corn mill housing the local Library, the Heritage Centre and providing a neutral venue for over forty community groups is marvellous. This urban development programme is a trend-setter.
It is a model.

I suppose the most heartening thing of all is the change in attitude where people have been transformed from depression to self-esteem, discouragement to self confidence, self respect and respect for each other.

The Women’s Learn and Leisure has also played its part. I congratulate you all on this, your eighth Exhibition. The many and various classes held here throughout the year, in many branches of the Arts and Crafts, indicate the amount of interest that has been generated. I am reliably informed that they are so interesting and well presented that a number of men have seen the benefits and have allowed themselves to be coaxed away from the garden and the golf. I hope the Exhibition is going to attract lots and lots of visitors, especially during Holy Week.