The cry around Alex Atwood's office this weather seems to be “Quick! Quick!, Get the house tidied, there's visitors coming!”.
The Environment Minister is certainly busy getting his finger out. While others dither over spending and budgets and priorities, AA’s blasting all round him with decisions about planning, golf courses and derelict buildings.
The Big Push, of course, is because the wealthy cousins are coming to stay — i.e, the golfers. They’ll be descending (why do people descend on a place, rather than just arrive?) on the north coast soon for the Irish Open. Unfortunately, the golf tournament is about the only thing that IS open up there. I exaggerate of course, but only just.
Our world heritage site still hasn’t got a visitor centre up and running. It should be ready for July. Everyone’s pulling out all the cliches, sorry, stops, to get it open so that the gods of golf can have the Giant’s Causeway interpreted for them in a warm indoors location, with coffee.
There’s no huge fancy five-star hotel and spa open either. There will be someday, but not yet.
All the hotels and guest houses are having a tough enough time of it, trying to keep going as the heavy waves of economic recession lash the beach of prosperity (I’ll stop with the coastal imagery).
Alex’s crew are in a tizz because the overseas visitors, who are used to golfing in warm, attractive places where waiting staff look like they could give a damn about what you want to eat and drink, will be arriving into Portrush and Portstewart, towns that look like a post-apocalyptic movie in places, with derelict, smashed-up houses, boarded-up guest houses and half-built apartment blocks.
It’s the Marie Celeste of bricks and mortar and it just won’t do, darling! So Mr Attwood says he’s “minded” to put money into, wait for it, making the dereliction look better. Huh?
What are they going to do, wrap the eyesores in glossy paper and tie them up with bows? (actually, that’s not a bad idea — you heard it here first)
Apparently the owners of the dead properties can’t be compelled to clean them up and even if they could, most of them don’t have the money, which is why they’re in this condition in the first place. Covering them up seems the only solution. Unless the minister has a cunning plan to use young unemployed people who’ve walked off their boring work experience jobs, to form human pyramids in front of the ugly buildings, as the well-heeled golfers whizz past on their way to Morelli’s for a poke.
It’s like a family being told to put on their Sunday best, keep smiling, hold their stomachs in and don’t reach for any food while the guests are around.
Once the last hole’s been won and the visitors have ascended back to wherever they descended from then I envisage a mass letting out of breath, opening of belt buckles and top buttons and much grumpiness due to the strain of holding it all together.
Surely this is the time for government to invest in making our north coast towns fit for the 21st century.
Not just drawing a curtain over them temporarily and whistling in the hope the posh types don’t notice they’re there.