Wednesday, 19 November 2008

Answering my own question

When I arrived in Belfast I wanted to come with no pre-conceptions. I wanted Belfast to speak for itself without the baggage attached to it from the subconscious of having seen it feature so much on TV news during my childhood.

I asked the question is Belfast now fully open for business?

I don’t think its a question that just two days can answer, but at the same time I’ve been able to get a taste of where the answer may lie.

Yes, the shops are gleaming, the cityscape stunning and the future rosy. But at the same time the gleaming shops are the same ones which line the street of every town in Britain. M&S, Carphone Warehouse, Next, Orange, Debenhams. I had hoped that Belfast would buck the trend of other cities in the UK and not be an identikit city. Sadly if you were to read out the names of the shops on the main street it would be impossible to tell if you were in London, Edinburgh, Cardiff, Manchester, Liverpool or Belfast.

In places there is that hint that there is more under the surface. There are no Irish theme bars, just Irish bars. Some of the shops don’t have branches in London, but they do in Dublin and Cork, and in the streets lots of the cars bear number plates from Ireland.

But, perhaps the most depressing thing from my visit was discovering that despite the end to violence and the peace process being over a decade old, the physical divisions between the two communities still exits. The 20 foot high peace walls topped with barbed wire to keep the two communities separate, the gates that sever the link between the communities at night.

In the end rather than answering one question I now have several

  • Is Belfast open for retail? Yes

  • Is Belfast open for tourism? Yes

  • Is Belfast open to community cohesion? Try again in five years time

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