West Belfast stuck in economic ‘siege mentality’?

Newton Emerson pours scorn on Forbairt Feirste’s investment conference, aimed at consolidating support for the establishment of a Ceathrú Gaeltacht (Gaeltacht Quarter) in west Belfast. (H/T Concubhar) In essence he argues that the economic aspect of case is flawed, not least since “residents of the lower Falls live within a mile of 30 per cent of all the jobs in Northern Ireland.” He goes on to accuse the area of excessively cleaving to a kind of internal separatism:

One point repeatedly raised at the west Belfast conference was that the Titanic quarter will shift the city’s economic centre of gravity to the east. But thousands of people from west Belfast once worked on Queen’s Island. They travelled there by tram and they could do so again if Sinn Fein regional development minister Conor Murphy would spend £1.86 million a year on a west Belfast light rail line.

West Belfast is a place and a community apart, not least due to the massive and traumatic population shifts of the late sixties and early seventies. Early attempts by some residents to move their families out into mixed areas, even well beyond the confines of the city ended in some of them being intimidated back into the safer reaches of their original communities. This is often underestimated by outside commentators. If there is a siege mentality, some of it arises from what many in that community would see as good reason.

But Emerson does have a point when he suggested that some of the Troubles-centric development decisions have helped deepen a sense of isolation from the rest of the city. Not least the deep (and widening) trench that is the Westlink:

One obvious and highly profitable solution would be to drop the road into a trench and roof it over, creating hundreds of acres of prime city centre real estate. It might seem perverse to suggest this while the current Westlink widening is still under way but that project ripped up years of recently completed improvements.

Even mundane cities such as Leeds manage to bury their urban motorways, despite having no local ministers with devolved powers. However, burying the Westlink has never been seriously considered throughout all the many opportunities to do so, including the Invest NI conference.

It appears that certain people, both inside and outside west Belfast, are only too happy with its tarmac moat.

He argues that Sinn Fein’s leadership on this issue is at best misguided:

Last week’s ‘cultural conference’ may have helped some republicans to cope with the stench of global capitalism emanating from the Invest NI conference. But few of the party’s constituents will be helped by pretending that a neighbourhood Irish-language quango will be a force for economic growth even if they find this tribal totem more pleasing to contemplate than the difficult decisions that are actually required.

“Whenever I hear the word ‘culture’ I reach for my gun,” Hermann Goering famously never said. Sinn Fein, conversely, has put down its gun and reached for the word ‘culture’. There is little reason to believe that this strategy will be any more successful than the last one.