HOOKED ON BELFAST: The city's Big Fish sculpture with the famed Harland and Wolff cranes in background.

Video: Big Apple salute for conference linking Belfast with diaspora

Belfast's best-known expat in the Big Apple, Shaun Kelly, has sent a message of solidarity and greetings to the eighth annual Belfast International Homecoming which opens in Titanic Belfast on Thursday. 

A Vice-Chair of the Global Ireland Funds and Chair of the KPMG Advisory Board in Belfast, the former Andersonstown man was one of the most senior figures in KPMG USA for over 20 years. Latterly, he has led an extensive fundraising effort for the new Irish Arts Center in New York which will open next month. 

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In his video message which will be played at the opening ceremony of the Homecoming – which links Belfast to its diaspora — he welcomes the conference focus on climate change and 'green collar' jobs as a way to power the recovery from Covid. 

At the New York-New Belfast conference back in 2010, "when we were reemerging from the financial crisis (there was a) similar context about regrowth and rebirth," he will tell delegates. "I remember at that time, there was also a focus on a recognition that the green agenda could provide a perfect platform and opportunity for renewed investment and growth. It created a great opportunity for the island of Ireland.

"At the time I came across a Chinese quote, which said, 'when the winds of change blow, some build walls, other build build windmills'. I think that's equally if not more important today."

As the world started to recover from the financial crash, there was a focus on the early potential of the green agenda, he said.

"We also had the fear that borders would go up, international trade would be curbed and countries would become isolationist from an economic standpoint. Something similar (to) today. So while the context of coming out of Covid is different, I think the issues are very similar."

He adds: "I think the ESG (Environmental, Social, Governance) agenda is not only important to the whole global economy but they create a tremendous opportunity for Belfast, for Northern Ireland and for the island of Ireland. I think it also creates a tremendous platform to build further on the great relationships between the US and Belfast. So the topics that you're going to be discussing today are important, very important from a climate change and the future of our planet, but I think are also vitally important for the success and for the prosperity of the island of Ireland."

Shuan Kelly recorded his comments from the new $60m Irish Arts Center in Hell's Kitchen in Manhattan. 

"It's been a long journey for us — including navigating a global pandemic right at the end — but we're proud and excited that we will play a small part in the reopening of the arts and cultural sector here in New York," he says. "We're also proud that we will be able to, again, welcome artists from all over the island of Ireland, here to the Irish Arts Center to give them a platform in the United States."

To see full agenda of the Belfast International Homecoming — which will also feature an address by Pekka Timonen, Mayor of Lahti, Finland, EU Green Capital 2021 — visit the conference site online.  You can register to attend the conference in person (proof of vaccination is required for admittance) or to follow online livestream.