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University of Ulster’s relocation gives us real hope for the future

By Liam Clarke

It's finally lift-off time for Northern Ireland.

The announcement of a series of major investments will make the province a better place to be — whether you are a local, a student or a tourist.

The biggest in cash terms is the £250m relocation of the University of Ulster’s Jordanstown campus to Belfast city centre.

It is predicted to boost the local economy by £1bn over the next 10 years and also breathe new life into the growing Cathedral Quarter.

The injection of 15,000 students into the area will transform the area’s nightlife and culture and give a massive boost to the struggling construction industry. Also in Belfast, the Titanic experience will be boosted by the renovation of the graving dock where the great ship began its life 100 years ago.

On the centenary of the Titanic’s doomed maiden voyage the dock will complement an extensive tourist development in a formerly derelict area of the city.

It is vital that Northern Ireland capitalises on the centenary anniversary of the sinking of the Titanic and the signs are good.

This dry dock announcement comes as the head of Belfast’s Titanic Quarter predicts that up to 60,000 jobs could be created in the area over the next two decades.

But this is dependent on the area receiving proper investment so that the whole district of the city can be regenerated.

The Giant’s Causeway visitors centre near Bushmills will provide a proper interpretative experience for the World Heritage site.

Despite some initial reservations expressed by the National Trust — who are developing the centre — it will inevitably be complemented by the nearby Bushmills Dunes golf resort unveiled last week. Together with existing attractions they will make the north coast a must-see destination in Ireland, attracting hundreds of thousands of visitors.

Perhaps the most symbolic project is the proposed building of a bridge linking Co Down to Co Louth across Carlingford Lough, hopefully partly funded by European money. It will not just promote commerce. It will reclaim the name of the Narrow Water beauty spot which was the scene, in 1979, of the massacre of 18 British soldiers by IRA bombers operating from across the lough.

The narrow waters which once divided will soon be spanned by a modern road bridge creating one of Ireland’s finest views and making the Mourne and Cooley Mountains into a single must-see destination for tourists.

It is a moment for the politicians and Stormont, who have made all this happen despite their divisions and despite the recession, to take a bow.

It sends a clear sign that Northern Ireland is not only open for business but open to visitors.

The last task for the ministers is to ensure that it will actually happen.

Alex Attwood, the Environment Minister, has a particular duty to ensure that none of the planning hold ups for which we have become notorious are allowed to gum up the works at this moment of opportunity.

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