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Why restaurateur's rant should give politicians some food for thought

By Lindy McDowell

It's bleak mid-winter. It's January. It's grey, miserable and four below. So what's it to be? Ibiza or Belfast? Given a realistic option you'd be up all night mulling over that one, eh? No wonder then, that restaurateur Emma Bricknell is preparing to don her Ray-Bans, pack her cossie and head to la playa. In a couple of years' time anyway.

Emma, who owns three Belfast restaurants - two branches of Made in Belfast and another eaterie specialising in chicken called Le Coop - has lost patience with this place. But before she flees le coop she wants us to know what she thinks of our "backwater" city, the "scumbag minority" at Stormont, bureaucracy, our poor transportation network and a proposed conscience clause for local businesses.

Phew! You let it out girl!

And she is of course, so right. Belfast is a backwater. Although it was even more of a backwater when she came here 10 years ago. But even today no one is going to confuse it with Barcelona. The thing is Belfast is a relatively small city. The lack of flights to and from Sweden (Sweden?), Berlin and Italy and the temporary suspension of the Newark route that she cites, these are down to plain old business economics. A lack of demand.

I'm with Emma, too, in thinking the proposed conscience clause is a nonsense. (Although, for the record I also think the Ashers cake row is a nonsense - a manufactured nonsense that has trivialised and demeaned an important debate. What we need isn't a so-called conscience clause. It's a bit of common sense. All round.)

Yet you have to ask, is this one piece of proposed legislation the real reason she's storming out of the country like Alexander O'Neal pushed to the limits of endurance by Perez Hilton on Celeb Big Brother?

Or is the real crux of her angst the bureaucracy she also mentions in passing?

"It's just beaten the life out of me," she says. "You can't move a licence, you can't get a bar licence."

Her comments are endorsed by fellow restaurant owner Bob McCoubrey from the Mourne Seafood Bar. He cites the hassle - and cost - of getting a licence, steep rates bills, high VAT and lack of official support.

"I asked Invest NI for help in translating my website into Chinese to help attract tourists," he says. "They laughed at me."

I can't say I'm surprised. Some years back when the old NI Tourist Board was on the go, I remember a local bar-owner told me how he'd approached them regarding a Bloomsday event he was holding. Since a fair number of tourists would be attending he asked if the NITB would supply him with a few leaflets. They told him to take a hike.

He rang Bord Failte, who happily supplied booklets, visitor maps, any amount of tourist info. All about Dublin, Kerry and Killarney. Laughing stock old us, as Ms Bricknell might say.

As for "scumbag" Stormont ... why should anyone look to that shower for help?

Emma Bricknell, with her rant about our backwater mentality, may have been a bit spray-gun in her approach. (I also worry she may have shot her own business in the foot. So many people have told me this week they believe her restaurants have shut up shop. They haven't.)

And her disclosure that she won't actually be leaving for a couple of years does somewhat neuter her impact. But she and other business people do make a very valid point about the lack of support they get from Stormont et al.

Official ineptitude, arrogance and downright disinterest isn't just beating the life out of the likes of Emma. It's tearing the heart out of Belfast. And it's almost as if this obstruction is deliberate, concerted policy. No wonder really that Ms Bricknell and so many in our hospitality sector are currently so angry.

So dismayed in Belfast.

Keith won’t stand for hanky panky

Celeb Big Brother (I know, I need to get a life) has been a real eye opener this time around.

Who would have thought that the people coming out of it as the nicest (so far anyway) are Calum Best and — I can’t believe I’m saying this — Keith Chegwin? While the others go to nominate potential evictees spouting vitriol and hatred, Keith nominates two he’d like to see go because they’ve been untidy and left snotty hankies lying around. Now there’s a man who gets his priorities right. Whether he can survive in the pressure cooker atmosphere is anyone’s guess. But even if he can’t stand the heat in the kitchen, Keith won’t leave without first ensuring the bins are emptied.

Sammy’s tweet is hardly a faux pas

Alliance MLA Stewart Dickson, who is demanding action over Sammy Wilson’s “tasteless” Je Suis Sammy tweet, is sort of missing the point, is he not?

The whole message of Charlie Hebdo was the importance of freedom of speech.

The freedom especially to say things that others might find offensive. Sammy’s tweet wasn’t even that.

There are so many other, so much more important things our Assembly members could be concerning themselves over right now.

See above for starters. Tasteless tweeting comes way, way down the list.

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