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Jeremy Paxman: Titanic iceberg did Belfast a huge favour

Fury at ex-BBC host's 'appalling' jibe at city - and he also has dig at UK cash spent on Northern Ireland

By Noel McAdam

Published 03/12/2014

Former Newsnight presenter Jeremy Paxman has ruffled feathers with his comments in The Spectator magazine
Former Newsnight presenter Jeremy Paxman has ruffled feathers with his comments in The Spectator magazine

TV's grand inquisitor Jeremy Paxman has been accused of insulting Northern Ireland and damaging efforts to improve the image of Belfast.

A barrage of anger is growing against the former BBC Newsnight anchorman over an article in a high-profile magazine highlighting the amount of public money being spent in the province.

In his piece for this week's Spectator, the author - who recently received almost £1m as part of a book deal - said "if people want to see where their taxes are going, they should come to Northern Ireland" and that the iceberg that sunk the Titanic "did Belfast a huge favour".

He added that the City Hall Christmas market was offering "40 varieties of food you could not think of eating".

Though largely jovial in tone, the piece also suggested the Government had given up on saving jobs in Northern Ireland in favour of what he called the "modern cure-all" of leisure.

His comments have been branded "offensive", "appalling" and "in poor taste", and Mr Paxman has been urged to withdraw them.

Last night his management team said the broadcaster was "too busy" to respond to the criticism.

Mr Paxman had been for dinner in the Titanic Quarter and described the Titanic building as "astonishing", with imaginative displays.

The University Challenge presenter came under attack, however, after joking the iceberg that sunk the Titanic did Belfast "a huge favour" and the Titanic Quarter should be renamed the "Iceberg Quarter".

The article starts: "If you ever wonder what happens to your taxes, I recommend a visit to NI."

He also wrote: "For years, governments poured in public money to try to secure the thousands of shipyard jobs, before throwing in the towel in favour of the modern cure-all, 'leisure'."

Belfast deputy Lord Mayor Maire Hendron said: "It is really quite offensive. If it is a joke, I don't see what the joke is. There are a lot of people working very hard to improve the image of Belfast and succeeding.

"I don't think this sort of article is either helpful or constructive, but Jeremy Paxman is not known for being positive about things," the Alliance councillor added.

Harland and Wolff sales manager David McVeigh hit out: "He is just so wrong. We are expanding here and investing very heavily and are extremely busy. Our cranes are not just ornaments.

"It seems to be more of a reminisence from the past and is no longer accurate. We are bringing core employment to the area. If he wants to come here I will be glad to show him where he is so wrong."

Veteran Belfast councillor Jim Rodgers said the remarks were "appalling" and urged the author and broadcaster to withdraw them.

"It really is in very bad taste. I am enraged because this is a very damaging article."

The Ulster Unionist former Lord Mayor added: "Paxman is, of course, a controversial individual and this seems to be deliberate to keep him in the spotlight since he is no longer on Newsnight.

"I would ask him to withdraw the remarks and would invite him to come back to Belfast and let me take him round the rest of the city and point out where he is so wrong."

A spokeswoman for Mr Paxman said: "Jeremy is not going to have time to answer your questions. He won't have time this week - too many other commitments."

In the article Mr Paxman, who worked as a BBC reporter in Northern Ireland during the Troubles, also added: "When I first lived there, during the Troubles of the 1970s, it was hard to imagine a more benighted place (literally so in troubled parts of Belfast, where all the streetlights had been shot out, blown out or switched off).

"The dinner was in what is now called the Titanic Quarter.

"There seem to be at least half a dozen quarters of Belfast, but that's inflation for you.

"Forty years ago the area was known as the shipyard. All that remains are the giant yellow gantries."

Crossing swords: The opinionated TV presenter vs the defenders of Belfast

On the spending of public money in Northern Ireland

What Paxman said: "If you ever wonder what happens to your taxes, I recommend a visit to Northern Ireland. When I first lived there, during the Troubles of the 1970s, it was hard to imagine a more benighted place. For years, governments poured in public money to try to secure the thousands of shipyard jobs, before throwing in the towel in favour of the modern cure-all, 'leisure'."

Harland and Wolff sales manager David McVeigh replied: "He is just so wrong. We are expanding here and investing very heavily. We are extremely busy. Our cranes are not just there as ornaments. it seems to be more of a reminisence from the past and is no longer accurate. We are bringing core employment to the area. If he wants to come here I will be glad to show him where he is so wrong."

On Belfast and the Titanic Quarter

What Paxman said: There seem to be at least half a dozen quarters of Belfast, but that's inflation for you. Forty years ago the area was known as the shipyard. All that remains are the giant yellow gantries. Harland and Wolff must have built thousands of vessels but Titanic is the only one most people have heard of. Whatever the loss of life, that iceberg did the city a huge favour. They should call it the 'Iceberg Quarter'."

The city's Deputy Lord Mayor Maire Hendron replied: "There are a lot of people working very hard to improve the image of Belfast and succeeding and this is neither helpful or constructive. It is really quite offensive. If it is a joke, I don't see what the joke is.

"I don't think this sort of article is either helpful or constructive, but Jeremy Paxman is not known for being positive about things."

On the city centre and the Christmas market

What Paxman said: "The centre of town was alive with Christmas lights and the streets bustling with shoppers, Romanian Big Issue sellers and people turned that weird shade or orange which tanning salons think attractive. Outside City Hall, a Christmas market offered the odours of 40 varieties of food you could not think of eating."

Veteran Belfast councillor and former Lord Mayor Jim Rodgers replied: "This really is in very bad taste. I am enraged because this is a very damaging article and should be withdrawn in my view. Paxman is, of course, a controversial individual and this seems to be deliberate to keep him in the spotlight since he is no longer on Newsnight. I would ask him to withdraw the remarks and would invite him to come back to Belfast and let me take him round the rest of the city and point out where he is so wrong."

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