Belfast Telegraph

Friday 11 July 2014

DebateNI home of Northern Ireland politics

We've had Orangefest and now it's time for Invest Fest

We've had Legenderry Orangefest and now it’s time for Invest Fest! Yes, our great and good(ish) gather in Belfast to celebrate Norn Iron as a place to do business and try to pry open the wallets of captains of industry from across the world.

Our (sometimes) glorious leaders have now got this down to a fine art. Get them here, wine ‘em and dine ‘em at a plush restaurant – or better still, the place the Queen stays at in Hillsborough.

Next day as the business leaders are struggling with hangovers, force feed them our own patented hangover cure (massive Ulster fry and three cups of tea laden with sugar).

Such will be their delight at the restorative powers of this magic concoction that wallets will spring open, Invest NI will schmooze and offer a few million to pave the way and Bob’s yer uncle we have a few job announcements to go along with all the mutual backslapping.

Which makes you wonder what the rest of the country makes of all this. Yes, the first minister and deputy first minister Peter and Martin will be able to make proclamations.

Martin yesterday evening said the peace process and political institutions were rock solid.

Even prime minister David Cameron has pitched in his tuppenceworth to say that “we’re all doing well”.

But now comes the test. Tomorrow, the day after that, the week after that and the month after that, what will these jobs and investment mean to those in city interfaces involved in protests and counter protests? What will it mean to those determined to cause mayhem should any parades determination not go their way?

If Richard Haass is able to resolve this thorny issue then he deserves a Nobel peace prize and an Ulster fry every day for the rest of his life, which will, should he take up that offer, be shortened by the levels of fat and cholesterol.

Industrial might

There was a time when Belfast was at the heart of global industry. Three shipyards were buildings ships for companies across the world, nearly all of the Royal Navy’s ropes were manufactured in Belfast; there were linen mills constantly churning out fabric and spinning machines were sold across the world.

Then Belfast was a mightier city of industry than anywhere else on this island, and rivalled great European cities for its output. Even agriculture was booming in the early 1900s, with England importing boatload after boatload of quality produce.

But war, partition, depression and a stagnant economic policy, compounded in the 70s with the troubles/conflict, left Belfast a shadow of itself; the mighty Harland and Wolff cranes casting a palid reminder of glory days over the city's decaying industry.

Then peace – of a sorts - broke out. And Hollywood came to Belfast...

With tourists enticed by visions of sinking ships and mighty hexagonal columns of volcanic rock on the north coast, gradually life began to pulse through the once terminal body of the city.

Fading glories of the shipyard were now replaced by a gleaming exhibition to the dangers of icebergs and its paint hall used to film a drama about fantastical lands where rival armies charge against the green screen magic of the Game of Thrones .

The latest development sees the Heritage Lottery Fund provide £4m to regenerate the former Harland and Wolff headquarters into a boutique hotel and its drawing offices into a public attraction.

When the ghosts of the men who penned the designs for the Titanic, the Olympic, the Canberra and HMS Belfast stalk these rooms one cannot feel that they may have a delighted smile.

Despite a century of economic travails, the city that was once described as “the Athens of the North” may be finally rising, Phoenix-like, from the ashes of bombings and bloodshed.

Which makes one wonder what sort of political leadership is going on in Belfast?  Are the city’s fathers plotting out a way towards a real boom? Are MLAs looking forward to a time when their efforts will be recorded in economic textbooks?

No, bad-temper rules in the corridors of Stormont as debates show up fractious fallings out between unionists and nationalists, who like wrestlers tied together can never win, nor ever lose, but must always be seen to fight.

This coming week there will no doubt be a major row about the recently established national crime agency, as the lines of fracture appear once again.

Unfortunately debates like the recent one on town centre regeneration go un-recorded by a media who happily stand in front of cameras beside Parliament Buildings to report on the sectarian squabbling.

Not far from Chambré Public Affairs’ centre of operations, Universal Pictures have offices where they are co-ordinating the filming of a new Dracula film.

Are our MLAs the undead, living in a twilight world where the rest of the population walks in daylight, striving to get on with getting on?

We hope not, but we also hope that within that political class there will be a Van Helsing ready to remove the blood of the undead sectarian ranters and replace it with the economic lifeblood that once coursed with unchecked vitality throughout the city. Any candidates?

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