Belfast Telegraph

Competing forces must not hamper the City of Culture

Next year's massive event has the potential to transform Derry. But the delivery has to match the rhetoric, says Ruairi O'Kane

We are told the supposed Second World War wreck discovered in Lough Foyle is not all that it seems - a 'sonic illusion' making it more of a red herring than Red October.

Of course, in the North West no one believes a word of it. Conspiracy and cover-up by the Government was one reaction; "Typical - Derry gets nothing" was another.

Complaints from the Oak Leaf county are now so common that, if the European Union is looking for the next product to grant protected geographical indication status, after Comber potatoes and Armagh Bramley apples, then they could do worse than look at the Derry w(h)ine.

As a Derryman, I can make that joke.

Since the late 1980s, Derry benefited from a peace dividend before actual peace; seeing its riverside redeveloped, the building of several new hotels and the opening of a modern theatre and cultural spaces.

However, as Belfast now basks in the reflective glory of the Titanic centenary celebrations, its rejuvenated Laganside and regenerated Cathedral Quarter, Derry has somehow slipped back.

The Foyle constituency is one of the worst affected by unemployment and dissident republican activity is on the rise - all this in the city where a concerted and successful bid was made by all sections of the community to be designated the inaugural UK City of Culture in 2013.

There is a clear sense of drift and a definite loss in momentum since the joyous months of 2010 so memorably encapsulated by the 'Just Say Yes' campaign.

No doubt tireless work is going on behind the scenes, but seven months from 2013, the public remains in the dark about what will actually take place.

A Sons and Daughters concert will kick things off, the Turner Prize is coming and, thanks to Chomhaltas Ceoltoiri Eireann, the Fleadh Cheoil na h Eireann will take place in Derry.

No word yet on the suggested Brit Awards, or BBC Sports Personality of the Year ceremony, while the much-heralded Womad - the World of Music Arts and Dance festival co-founded by Peter Gabriel - was announced amid much fanfare, only to be promptly ditched on the grounds that it was economically unfeasible - in spite of its potential to attract 30,000 people.

The withdrawal of cult band Massive Attack from June's Peace One Day concert was a further blow, with the added complication of claims they were never booked - in spite of statements welcoming their appearance since last September.

Recent minutes from the Culture Company suggest a draft programme is imminent and is being checked against measurable delivery, but suggestions it should be 'drip-fed' to sustain interest must be rejected in order to quell growing dissent.

The City of Culture has the potential to bring about massive change, but pace and performance is now a must.

Part of the problem is the competing forces of the City of Culture Company, Ilex, the city's regeneration company, and Derry City Council. Ironically, for a city whose regeneration template is called the 'One Plan', three large fish are competing in one very small pond.

The City of Culture Company and the city council have clashed publicly on communication issues and, more seriously, on responsibility for footing the bill for the city's entry in the Clipper 11-12 Round the World Yacht Race.

Meanwhile, Ilex has found itself hauled before Stormont's Public Accounts committee after spending £400,000 of public funds without permission. The successful opening of the Peace Bridge and the regeneration of Ebrington Barracks are now a distant memory for an organisation trying to justify its existence.

This setback is only the latest in a series of mishaps following on from criticism in an audit report last year.

Lack of delivery, accountability and information is central to criticisms of each of these bodies.

Therefore, much has to be done to regain trust and confidence and many people question the need for some of these agencies. Could Ilex be subsumed into a reinforced arm of the council's economic development unit, which would, in turn, work more cohesively with Invest NI?

It the midst of all their difficulties, it appears these agencies have all forgotten the basic PR mantra: tell the people what you are going to do, what you are doing and what you have done and, most importantly, tell them again.

To date, there has been much engagement without apparent productive outcomes. Information has been sporadic and announcements have been greeted with universal disappointment. Delivery with pace is now a must.

Derry might be our second city, but it cannot afford to be a second-class city. It will be unforgivable if 2013 turns out to be another sonic illusion.


From Belfast Telegraph