Belfast Telegraph

Saturday 2 August 2014

Pol O Muiri: Is the march southward really such a bad thing?

Pól Ó'Muirí, Belfast Telegraph

Northern cities are ‘beyond revival’ and residents should head south. Needless to say, it is the sort of headline that would get the attention of anyone in Northern Ireland. After all, we live in northern climes and not everyone wants to move south.

Don’t panic yet, however. A report written by the conservative think-tank, The Policy Exchange, argues that northern English cities – such as Liverpool, Bradford and Sunderland – are beyond salvation.

Their traditional industries have disappeared; regeneration is not possible and residents should head south where there is a chance of employment and an opportunity to escape poverty. (Conservative leader, David Cameron, has described the think-tank’s proposals as “insane”.)

The think-tank did not offer an opinion on the future of cities in Northern Ireland. If Liverpool and Sunderland are beyond saving now that their traditional industries are no more, then what are the chances of Derry or Belfast managing to reinvent themselves successfully?

Indeed, the outlook is so bleak for so many cities in Western Europe at the minute, that the good people in the — ahem — cities of Lisburn, Newry and Armagh might want to hand the title back and ask to be downgraded to towns once again. This would, at the very least, take the pressure of them to perform to city-like standards by having silly things like — well — factories and jobs.

It makes perfect political sense for Cameron to decry the report. Undoubtedly, had the authors replaced “Belfast” for “Bradford” and “Derry” for “Sunderland” our politicians would be doing the same.

The odd thing though is that what the report suggests is a panacea for English people — move to find work — is one that many Northerners are already doing. Travel on the Belfast-Dublin Enterprise service any day of the week and you cannot help but be struck by the number of people travelling to work in Dublin — day and daily.

Dublin may not be the only place where work is but it is where a lot of the best-paid work is to be found. What the think-tank is suggesting should be government policy in Britain is, in effect, happening here already, though many local workers are commuters and not many of them really want to live any further south than Newry.

Are cities and towns here ‘beyond revival’? Is it only a question of a few more years before the North resembles Mayo in the mid-1950s, a place where people are born and schooled but who must leave to get work?

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