Saturday 21 July, Belfast
The love-in between Northern Ireland’s First and Deputy First Minister shows no signs of abating, but it’s all a bit too much for Belfast Telegraph columnist Kevin Myers:
“Viewing the pictures of Martin McGuinness and Ian Paisley avidly viewing one another at the North-South meeting like a pair of Linda Lovelaces, I felt a panic-inspiring vertigo. It was like Pope John Paul snapping awake at a Papal Banquet in the Vatican and finding a nude Mother Teresa cavorting with an equally naked Ayatollah Khomeini, while the Mormon Tabernacle choir sang Seven Drunken Nights and the Dalai Lama harpooned koala bears.”
However incongruous and even nauseating Mr Myers finds such displays of affection, I’m thankful that the Province’s two most powerful men are getting along. Unless they continue to, the new settlement may not endure.
Tuesday 24 July, Belturbet, Co.Cavan
We’re visiting friends in a sleepy town situated just inside the Republic, in what used to be the border badlands during the Troubles. Two of the town’s youngsters were murdered in a car bomb, so the peace dividend is particularly cherished here.
Whereas the impoverished Republic was once viewed with disdain by those in the North, the tables have been decisively turned over the last fifteen years. Indeed the Celtic Tiger is now dispensing considerable largesse to improve the Province’s infrastructure.
The Irish Times has further details of Eire’s 400 million Euro investment in the North, which will include a new Dublin-Londonderry motorway. Some Unionists consider this part of strategy to achieve a united Ireland by stealth, but none of the main parties are prepared to look such a generous gift horse in the mouth.
I fell in love with the north Antrim coast when I first visited last summer. We’re back in the same cottage, perched on the coast a mile from the seaside town of Ballycastle. As the sun sets I look out over the tranquil waters of the North Channel to the small island of Rathlin. Sweeping, hypnotic beams of light are cast over the sea from two of the island’s lighthouses. Silhouetted above them are the towering peaks of Jura. BBC Scotland’s Radio Nan Gaidheal is on in the background, playing its usual mix of haunting Gaelic melodies and accordion and fiddle music. This is a glorious place to be.
There is far more to this dramatic stretch of coastline than the Giant’s Causeway. Antrim’s multitude of excellent links courses make it a golfers’ paradise – Royal Portrush is the only club outside Britain to have hosted the Open Championship, in 1951.
Tourism obviously has a major role to play in revitalising the Province’s ailing economy. Northern Ireland consumes more than £5 billion in public spending than it pays in taxes. Expenditure is over 60% of GDP, yet per capita GDP is still 20% below the national average. In the race to attract inward investors, Northern Ireland is struggling to stay in touch with the Republic where corporation tax is a mere 12.5%, less than half the 30% levied in the North.
Jump-starting Northern Ireland’s economy is the most pressing priority for the new all-party Executive, yet they have few tools at their disposal to achieve this. However there are signs of hope. This week the Bank of Ireland announced the creation of 150 graduate-level jobs in Belfast administering hedge funds. Ryanair also announced it was establishing many new routes from Belfast City Airport to Britain and Europe.
When you’re next planning a vacation or weekend break, why not consider Northern Ireland? For too many Brits it’s the undiscovered gem on their doorstep.