Crass Jeremy Paxman should apologise
It is not just the content of Jeremy Paxman's article about Belfast which is offensive; it is also the tone. By turns it is patronising, sneering and downright insensitive. Perhaps he still thinks he is chairing University Challenge where he was apt to make fun of hapless contestants who gave the wrong answer.
But the man who prided himself on his reputation as the grand inquisitor on BBC2's flagship Newsnight programme should really have done a little more research for his article published in The Spectator magazine.
He complains about British taxpayers' money being poured into Northern Ireland. Admittedly we have the highest per capita public expenditure in the UK, but as someone who covered our Troubles during the early years of his career he must realise that the region has a lot of catching up to do in rebuilding not only infrastructure but also civic confidence. And his sneer that the government has given up trying to bankroll failing industries such as the shipyard in favour of bankrolling leisure facilities is unjustified. Were similar efforts not made to save the shipyards in the north of England and Scotland? A nd anyway, Harland and Wolff has reinvented itself.
It is possible to accept that some of his comments, for example Belfast having six quarters, are an attempt at heavy-handed humour but there are insulting overtones as well.
However, his biggest blunder was to suggest that the iceberg which sank the Titanic in one of the worst maritime disasters of all time did Belfast a favour. The city has a proud heritage of industrial achievement and does not owe its reputation to the fact that it built a ship which sank with the loss of more than 1,500 passengers.
That was a comment too far and rather than be unavailable for interview, Paxman should apologise for this crass statement which was more smart alec than clever.
However, we should take note of his comments, whether we think them ill-informed or not, as they represent a popular view in England where there is growing resentment at the amount of money devolved to Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.
This is an issue which Ukip has seized upon and we should beware of a potential backlash from the English taxpayers. If we get corporation tax-varying powers devolved to us today, it will only heighten the resentment.