I know the Cathaoirleach is unwell today as we are both suffering from a sinus infection. I do not know who infected who, but I wish him well in his recovery.
On behalf of Belfast City Council and the people of Belfast, I send sincere condolences to the family and friends of Mícheál Ó Súilleabháin on his passing today. His contribution to the arts across the island of Ireland and beyond is worthy of great recognition.
I am joined by the chief executive of Belfast City Council, Ms Suzanne Wylie. We are delighted to be here and I, as Lord Mayor, am very pleased to have the opportunity to address Seanad Éireann. This is an historic and symbolic occasion not only because it is the first time that a mayor of Belfast has addressed this forum but also because it gives me the opportunity to speak about the city I love. It is a privilege to be here to speak about and represent Belfast and to look for potential links and collaborative working between us. The invitation I received is a very important gesture of friendship between the Seanad, Seanadóirí, the people represented by Members of the Houses of the Oireachtas and the people of Belfast and its elected city council.
Belfast is Ireland's second city and we are the second-largest council on the island. Belfast is changing and that is reflective of a changing Ireland. The most notable and welcome change is that we now have peace. I was 18 years of age when the Good Friday Agreement was endorsed by the people of Ireland and I am glad to say that I voted "Yes" in that referendum. It is against that backdrop that I, as mayor, and other elected members of Belfast City Council perform our daily duties and that I am here today.
The Cathaoirleach visited me last week in Belfast ahead of today's historic address to talk about the link between our two main cities and the huge potential our cities could have in the time ahead. Dublin and Belfast are two cities that, together, can accomplish much to benefit their people and Ireland as a whole. At that meeting we discussed the foundation of the memorandum of understanding signed in 2014 by the mayors of Dublin and Belfast and the opportunities that has given us through closer co-operation between the two cities and the strengthening of links along the economic corridor between them. The Cathaoirleach and I affirmed that in Belfast last week.
Other opportunities also present themselves in terms of Belfast working with other cities across the island, such as Galway, which will be the European capital of culture in 2020.
Belfast bid for the European Capital of Culture but, unfortunately, because of the Brexit scenario, we could not proceed. We do not want this to stop us, however. We want to look at exploring cultural links, to work with Galway City Council and to develop these cultural links, not just across the island of Ireland, but in a European dimension as well. We believe we can work with a variety of cities right across this island. This is acutely important in the context of Brexit. It is so important we continue to forge new and stronger bonds which encourage and spread ideas of knowledge, equality and prosperity.
I am set to launch my mayor's charter in December. This declaration will set out what I am focusing on during my term in office under the theme "a Belfast for all". The three pillars of my charter are equality, empowerment and prosperity. Inclusive growth is the foundation to this, a crucial underpinning to ensure we focus on equality of outcome, not just equality of opportunity. While developing this strategy I have engaged with local people across the city and key campaign groups that have taken to the streets in recent years to demand their equal rights with the rest of society. I know that this merges with the campaigns that have taken to the streets of Dublin and the South overall. I have heard many stories of inequality, class struggle, barriers to inclusion and denial of rights.
As the two largest cities in Ireland, Belfast and Dublin and the corridor between them drive much of our economic development. We know that the full potential of the Dublin-Belfast corridor has yet to be realised. The Belfast Agenda, our community plan for Belfast, sets out ambitious plans for our city to grow by 2035. In the plan we said we would grow our city population by at least 66,000, making housing a priority, particularly much-needed social and public housing. In Belfast we have a housing crisis, with up to 10,000 people on the waiting list. I know that this matches with cities such as Dublin. I believe we can work collectively to overcome these challenges and support families into much-needed housing. We have also said we will support an additional 46,000 better paid jobs. This is an increase of 20% in both housing and employment.
We also want to see the creation of a youth pledge which guarantees that every young person in the city of Belfast who leaves school at 16 will have a pathway. They will be in education or move into employment or training and further upskilling. Through our inclusive growth framework, our priorities are clear. They are to create more and better jobs, promote investment, make life better for all residents, create a competitive and sustainable city and connect people to these opportunities. I must stress again, however, the importance of creating equality of outcome and not just equality of opportunity if we are serious about connecting our most deprived communities to this growth. We are ambitious for our city and focused on ensuring we deliver. As we know, a Belfast that is thriving has an impact beyond the city boundaries. If Belfast does well, we know that impact goes much further. If Dublin and Belfast do well and we have that connection along the eastern corridor, the ripple effect will travel much further, particularly if we have inclusive growth as a key.
Having a vision in place helps us to articulate our case for support and investment at the highest level. The Belfast Region City Deal is a significant part of the jigsaw in making our city work. We are seeking to secure up to €1 billion of co-investment over the next ten years with a real focus on innovation, regeneration led by digital tourism, and infrastructure to connect people to jobs and services. Last week we heard the announcement that we have secured the first £350 million in this city deal from the British Treasury. This deal has an impact on a population of up to 1.1 million people living along the eastern seaboard in the North. It stretches as far as Newry and can help build the economic corridor through to Dublin and beyond, with one of the key infrastructural projects being the southern relief road seeking to link Down with Louth.
We want to tap further into the growing tourism potential. Belfast is a vibrant city. Our tourism statistics show that overnight visitor stays have increased by 50%, overnight tourism spends have increased by 53% and the number of hotel rooms in Belfast has increased by 50%. This year alone we have seen over £150 million in hotel investments and the creation of more than 1,000 additional hotel rooms in the city. Our Belfast tourism agenda goal is ambitious, doubling out-of-state visitor spend by generating 1.9 million overnight stays by 2021. We are determined to make this happen. The Belfast Waterfront Hall and convention centre was named best event space in 2017. We have Titanic Belfast, the world's leading tourist attraction in 2016, and we are the Lonely Planet's number one tourist destination to visit in 2018. Only this week, Belfast picked up the award for world's best food destination at the International Travel and Tourism Awards in London.
The strong collaborative spur between local government, communities, our businesses, educationalists and innovators sees us working hand in hand to deliver for the city. We have a growing talent to be proud of. We are home to two respected universities in Queen's University and Ulster University and two fantastic teacher training colleges in Stranmillis University College and St. Mary's University College, with links to sporting endeavours and pioneering in the development of Irish-medium educational resources for many schools, colleges and other institutions not just in the city but right across Ireland. We also have Belfast Metropolitan College. We have a young population, with a student population across the universities of around 80,000 young people. We also have a well educated population, with 34% of our working population having a degree level or higher level of education.
Our communities are strong and evolving well after many years of conflict. I have been personally involved in reconciliation work at a community level right across Belfast and its communities over many years. I am regularly in the company of people from all backgrounds, whether political activists, elected representatives, community activists, trade unionists, church leaders or members of wider civic society. In this regard, I commend Seanadóir Marshall on his role in this Chamber and the distinctive contribution he makes in bringing to it a perspective of the unionist community, particularly that of people from a rural background. The Seanad has a unique quality to it in that it can be home to many people living outside the boundaries of this State and who, in the case of Seanadóir Marshall, may not share the broader constitutional aspirations of the Seanad. He has a place in it, however, and, more important, a voice. Seanadóir Marshall, like Seanadóir Ó Donnghaile, a former mayor and councillor for Belfast, have both brought a distinctive Northern experience and perspective to the Chamber, and I am sure this is to the benefit of both Houses and their Members, Seanadóirí and Deputies.
Belfast is a forward-thinking, dynamic and ambitious city driven by talent and ready to invest, promoting our city as an attractive place. This is key in delivering our Belfast Agenda ambitions. We have welcomed a number of high-profile investments over the past 12 months from a range of sectors, including financial services, cybersecurity, software and business services, and we are proud of our international relationships, which are bearing fruit. We are delighted that State Street, for example, a global insurance firm with headquarters in our sister city of Boston and a turnover of $11.17 billion, has selected Belfast for its office location. We have developed a competitive advantage and partnership, working in tandem with partners across the city, including Invest Northern Ireland, to develop brand Belfast as a location for a number of other global growth sector firms. As such, we are hopeful for more positive announcements in the near future because Belfast is a city of aspiration and surprises. We are the number one global destination for FinTech investment and the second most successful destination after London for attracting US tradeable services foreign direct investment, FDI, projects. We are home to one of Europe's largest cybersecurity research centres, the Centre for Secure Information Technologies, CSIT, putting us front and centre of research and delivery. We are also home to one of the fastest-growing creative clusters anywhere on these islands and two film studios.
I hope this gives the House an idea of the city in 2018 and our priorities ahead. It shows we can be a strong partner to Dublin and cities such as Cork, Galway and Limerick and that collectively and collaboratively we can become a place that fosters talent, ideas and prosperity, qualities that will breed and strengthen new links.
Brexit is a real challenge for my city as it is for us all. Just a couple of weeks ago, I attended a rally in front of Belfast City Hall which saw thousands of people from across the political spectrum and all age groups, gender profiles and classes come together to raise their concerns and to reinforce the fact that the majority in the North voted to remain. They were concerned that their voices were not being heard in the debate and they pushed for the Irish and British Governments to listen acutely to the voices of the population. One of the unforeseen consequences of the Brexit referendum in the North, where 56% of voters want to remain in the EU, is that some who were traditionally opposed to Irish reunification but who desired to remain within the EU have become more open to a closer and new relationship with the rest of Ireland. This is welcome and it is an important and crucial part of the debate on what Ireland and its relationships could look like in future and in any new configuration that comes.
A national conversation is required to discuss a new Ireland and what it could look like socially, economically, politically and culturally. I call on the Irish Government to start to prepare talks in this regard. How can we work together to ensure we build equality and prosperity for all on this island, not least our many rural communities and deprived communities? How can we approach collectively issues, including health, tourism, infrastructure, structural inequality and housing, to name but a few? How can our cities across the island deliver in this regard? We all need to be assured that a new Ireland with new relationships will be a secure and prosperous place to live with equality at the core of its foundations. Unionists, in particular, need assurance that any constitutional change will not threaten their standard of living or British identity. As evidenced by the letter published in the Irish News this week, Irish citizens in the North need reassurance that their rights, identity and entitlements will also be protected and upheld. A positive expression of this advance will be the holding of next year's referendum on presidential voting rights for many like me and the thousands of Irish citizens in my city who want to play their part in electing their Uachtarán. I wish the House well in its endeavours to make this a reality. In that regard, I congratulate President Michael D. Higgins on his re-election. We have his portrait in the parlour in Belfast City Hall and I wish him well in his term of office.
The partition of Ireland is almost 100 years old. It not only separated us geographically though the Border; it separated us from each other in our minds and in how we think about the society in which we grew up after 1921. Progress is being made to overcome this particular mindset and there is no doubt that my presence here is a good example of that. Thinking outside our respective 1921 state boundaries is a challenge for all of us but the lesson from the peace process and the remarkable changes throughout this island prove, in the words of Nelson Mandela, that the impossible always seems impossible until it is done. My role as Mayor of Belfast is to ensure we build on the links established and continue to build on the relationships and trust which are crucial. Our memorandum recognises that a significant proportion of the future economic growth of the island of Ireland will occur along the eastern corridor. Our developing cities are the pillars which will uphold that corridor. We want to see that growth used to benefit our communities and those communities beyond our city boundaries, not least the long-forgotten communities in the west. It is my firm and passionate belief that a strong and vibrant Belfast will do what it must to make this happen. We are up for the engagement and for the collaboration and partnership work with the Members of the House, Dublin City Council and other local authorities right across the island.
We must continue to build on the memorandum of understanding and to do so effectively. We have been working hard to develop and grow our city, boosting the opportunities available through collaboration. I want to continue to boost our efforts to attract and expand trade and investment along the economic corridor. We will work in tandem on the continuing development of our cities and with other towns and cities. We must sell all of Ireland together. We must showcase ourselves as part of a vibrant ecosystem and as a single investment location in which we are all part of the same proposition so that all of our people feel the benefit of the resulting growth. We want to continue to break down barriers to travel, promoting intercity tourists and non-tourists alike. We want to encourage the movement of students and greater collaboration to encourage visitors to see a combined and attractive offer. Ireland is changing for the better. The North of Ireland and Belfast City Council are part of that change. The common denominator of this change is the desire of people to live in a more equal, prosperous, secure, fair and respectful society. Whether at council, regional or state level, it is our job as political activists to marry people's aspirations with the institutions which govern their lives. We can do that. I thank the Members for the opportunity to come to the House to speak and for their continued commitment to harnessing this relationship. I look forward to developing future links and invite all Members to visit Béal Feirste soon.