What will it take to get the prosperity the people of Belfast deserve…

As Conall notes, Gerry Adams, as well as being the most popular MP at elected to Westminster, is also presiding over the most deprived electoral wards in Northern Ireland. According to Leargas, where Mr Adams has transfigured into a blog (I kid you not!), the ultimate destination of the peace process will come when “the people here have the prosperity they deserve”. But here’s the political meat in Mr Adams’ literary sandwich:

The West Belfast and Greater Shankill Task Force reports were published in February 2002. Since then some progress has been made on a number of these projects like Conway Mill, the Colin Gateway Initiative, and the Shankill Peacewall Art Project. But getting agreement on these has been a huge job of work. There have been at least three concerted efforts in the last 2 years to collapse the Task Force. There are still officials in different government departments working against investment and economic development in west Belfast.

Interestingly one of those departments taking a needlessly aggressive stance against the Task Force over the last few months has been the Department of Education, run by Adams’ own party colleague, Catriona Ruane. Not that there are not valid questions to be asked over the sustainability of Belfast’s regeneration projects. One criticism is that the money that goes out comes with plenty of carrots but no stick.

Organisations like the CBI in Northern Ireland have long been dissatisfied with the supposedly poor return on investment for all this public money. After a typical three year funding cycle there is often little to measurably show for all the money and the effort.

And there tends to be a disjunct between what’s happening on the ground and the commercial opportunities that have arisen from time to time. So that when Fujitsu set up at Springvale, they struggled to fill vacancies in an area where the jobless numbers have been residually high.

In a time of recession it makes little sense to abandon wholesale the work of what’s routinely called ‘building capacity’ in deprived areas. Benefit traps are at their most inimical to the prosperity of individual communities in times of wider societal prosperity, and that’s probably the optimum opportunity to find ways to encourage people to jump from state support to private sector or more free-standing voluntary sector work.

But there is little to suggest that many such lessons have been substantially learned by key players in Belfast’s large community sector. Mr Adams’ party has shown some degree of leadership in strengthening its communities. Despite the often justified criticism that it tends to monopolise strategically important positions for its own supporters, working class loyalist communities continue to trail far behind in their capacity to identify need and deploy government resources.

But if Adams is serious about bringing prosperity to his party’s core areas, then to some extent there needs to be an embrace of some of the aspirational values once propagated by the Labour movement across these islands and an encouragement to individuals to use such opportunities to make the leap out of state funded comfort and into the riskier business of developing a prosperous and diverse private sector.

That will almost certainly come down to a resolve to withdraw the carrot at the right moment, and introducing the right stick to encourage the kind of innovation likely to entrench longer term prosperity.

Mick is founding editor of Slugger. He has written papers on the impacts of the Internet on politics and the wider media and is a regular guest and speaking events across Ireland, the UK and Europe. Twitter: @MickFealty

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