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Maiden City has huge potential


Belfast Telegraph Editor Mike Gilson with, right with Londonderry Chamber of Commerce President Jim Sammon  and Foyle MP Mark Durkan.

Belfast Telegraph Editor Mike Gilson with, right with Londonderry Chamber of Commerce President Jim Sammon and Foyle MP Mark Durkan.

Martin McKeown

Belfast Telegraph Editor Mike Gilson with, right with Londonderry Chamber of Commerce President Jim Sammon and Foyle MP Mark Durkan.

The impact of the City of Culture title on Londonderry, Ilex's regeneration plan, anti-social behaviour and even the effect of slang and Ulster-Scots on young people were the topics under discussion at the Millennium Forum during the question and answers session of the Belfast Telegraph's Tell Us About It campaign.

Heather McGee, a teacher at St Columb's College and vice-president of Londonderry Junior Chamber of Commerce, Jim Sammon, president of Londonderry Chamber of Commerce, Foyle MP Mark Durkan and SDLP mayor of Derry Colum Eastwood were on the panel, with Linda Bryans in the chair. Belfast Telegraph editor Mike Gilson was also in the city to keep an eye on the proceedings.

QUESTION: Does the panel think that the City of Culture title for 2013 will do any good for Derry?

COLUM EASTWOOD: “Yes, of course. We fought very hard to get it. I believe it will make a huge difference but we have a lot of work to do to make that potential real. A lot of people from this city backed it, people from both communities and I think that was the power behind it.

“For the first time in a long time people from both communities were behind something positive together.

“People really got it under their skin and realised what it could do.

“Bill Clinton today talked about 3,000 jobs but I think we could be talking about a whole lot more of a legacy. We could have a great big party in 2013 and wake up in 2014 with nothing to show for it. We need to put in the infrastructure and get the legacy products we can be proud of.”

MARK DURKAN: “We won the bid because of a lot of good work, not just by the cultural team but by the whole community, and let’s not forget we have a strong culture background and people basically became alive and got behind the bid.”

QUESTION: How will you measure its success?

MARK DURKAN: “There is a danger that now we have won the title we leave it to a group of people, but we must make sure we go forward on a city-wide basis, and because there will be less public money available we need to make sure that there is sponsorship from the private sector.”

QUESTION: Did Derry really need that title?

HEATHER McGEE: “From growing up in the city and having lived here all my life I feel we have all the ingredients — it’s just a matter of getting them all together in the right formula and I think the City of Culture bid was just the boost we needed to showcase the many, many talented people in this city and now is their time to shine. But it’s about more than that — it’s about improving infrastructure, it’s about making jobs, it’s about getting our young people here and keeping our young people here.”

JIM SAMMON: “As Mark said, we can't leave it to a handful of people in what really is a regional effort and must involve everyone. We need a complete community effort if it is to be successful. We have a rich heritage and culture, we have lots to show.”

QUESTION: Bill Clinton (on a visit to Magee College in the city on Wednesday) talked about the impact of Northern Ireland on the rest of the world, in that we are known now for the peace process and the impact of that, but we are known for very little else. So can we get around that and get people to come to Derry?

HEATHER McGEE: “All I would say is that it is important to have local people involved. There is no point in having some agency in London being brought in to promote the city. Local knowledge is the key and there is no better source than having local people.”

COLUM EASTWOOD: Bill Clinton was saying that people don't know anything about this place other than we have had peace and that's a very serious indictment, so there is obviously work that needs to be done with the tourist board so that the uniqueness of this place can be marketed. We need to be talking about the investment opportunities we have here and about the opportunities people will have from coming here for a holiday with the golf course and the like we have to offer. We need to be telling the story better.”

JIM SAMMON: “This is something all of Northern Ireland needs to be doing. This was a win for the whole region. The events that could be brought here will bring us into an international audience and once we are there it makes it easier to sell ourselves in terms of investment, because people will see that it is a good place.”

MARK DURKAN: “We need to focus on the hotspots of tourism as a region because you don't come to a location and not want to see around, so we need to be selling the whole region.”

QUESTION FROM THE FLOOR: Belfast has made an industry of promoting a ship that sank in the first week it sailed, but we have a field out the road where Amelia Earhart landed and it’s not mentioned in this town. They make films in America about it but there is nothing over here.

Decision makers need to realise that if you are trying to attract Americans to this city there is no better place to start than with the woman who flew across the Atlantic and promote where she landed.

My biggest single gripe with the decision makers in the town, and I say this as a complete independent — we have a book that has just been published by Ilex and it’s very aspirational, but these decision makers need to sit down and make a priority list and forget about this idea of ‘if green gets something, then orange needs to get something', we need to figure out what is best for the town.

COLUM EASTWOOD: “You are right about Amelia Earhart and about having a priority list but there is a consultation process and we need to hear from these people, but the reason the Ilex document is so big is that there is so much to do and there has been such an historic lack of investment, or under-investment in this place for so long, so there is a lot of work to be done.

“Government needs to commit to doing this.

“They are talking about cuts here and cuts there, but if you look at east of the Bann and west of the Bann they are talking about investment.

“They need to be looking at where are the places where investment has been missing, and let’s think seriously about not cutting there, so there is a job for us locally to do but there is a job for Government to do to ensure this place get invested in, and not just more cuts.”

MARK DURKAN: “We need to remember that the document was drafted for consultation and it is detailed because people will want to know more about what is it, and we do have to find out our priorities. And if we end up with a 100 or more priorities, then we need to make sure we know what the main key changes are.

“We have to know some of the people we will be lobbying will have their own priorities, and if that is the case and we don't get adequate funding for one aspect, then we need to have others to fall back on that we will get funding.

“The challenge is, how do we market the means to make this happen? I would prefer that there was a fund that would go across all these priorities, rather than go to all these different departments.”

JIM SAMMON: “It’s not just about going to Belfast with a list, we should be going internationally with a range of ideas that will change us from being net takers to becoming net contributors, because that is what the plan actually does. The richness and diversity of that plan allows us to do that.”

QUESTION: Do you think there should be less cuts in Derry because of the city's history?

COLUM EASTWOOD: “I'm not arguing for less cuts, I'm arguing for no cuts. I think a new integrated development fund would be helpful because we have a lot to do.

“I think we need an investment policy, and I have spoken to Invest Northern Ireland about this, where we go out and focus on particular places and saying that people should come to Derry.”

HEATHER McGEE: “I completely agree. I lived in Belfast for four years at university and they're miles ahead of us. I always feel like there is so much more going on there.

“I don't know what it is, but since we won the bid for the City of Culture there has been a lot more positivity, there is a real vibe, but when you look at something like Belsonic in Belfast you wonder if we are City of Culture, why we didn't organise it?

“Why do we have to go to Belfast to do things?”

QUESTION: Do you have the infrastructure to hold something like that here?

HEATHER McGEE: “We had the Radio One One Big Weekend which happened at Prehen playing fields which probably wasn't the best venue, but everyone was absolutely buzzing. The venue where Belsonic is held is not a huge venue, it was an intimate gig and I see no reason why we couldn't host it. We need to be looking at our assets and asking why we seem to be missing out.”

COLUM EASTWOOD: “We do have a realistic chance of hosting major events in the city.

“The City of Culture is a framework but we need people like the private sector to come and say: ‘Right we are going to come and spend our money'. There are hotels sitting there with planning permission, but developers need to pull the trigger and go for it.

“This is a great opportunity. We are not going to build the hotels for people, we are not going to build the venues, but we have provided the platform.”

JIM SAMMON: “I think I would support it in principle subject to different caveats, but it is only part of the solution. The problem doesn't arise when the brick is in the hand, it has arisen long before that. There is a story to be told. It is a family problem, it is a personal problem.”

QUESTION: Is antisocial behaviour a big issue for the business community?

JIM SAMMON: “It is a big issue and I think it affects all the community and people need to understand the difference between right and wrong.

“But there is an important link between unemployment and crime and I think if people have a stake in the community they are less likely to be lawless and this is part of what the City of Culture will hopefully achieve.”

QUESTION: Does the panel agree with Emma Thompson that slang makes children sound stupid and can the same be said of Ulster- Scots?

MARK DURKAN: “I don't agree slang does make children sound stupid. We need to recognise language is moving on and there is a whole different culture with text communication where we are actually seeing new words being created. That is not actually a bad thing, people are being creative and people are being imaginative. Let's not say let's have a big revival of just received English.

“It has its place, but there are some great local words.”

”It is a means of communication and communication changes all the time.

“Last year there was a school visiting the Assembly and a girl came to me and said, 'I don't understand, our teacher is always telling us it's not aye, it's yes, but you all vote aye here.”

Belfast Telegraph