#UTV Roadtrip: Fermanagh and South Tyrone beyond the digital frontier?

Fermanagh South Tyrone have one big thing in common. They are both rural, highly dependent on the health of Argiculture and, as the Minister for Agriculture Michelle Gildernew told us, both struggle with a perceived lack of seriousness with which policy makers treat both rural and small scale urban resources.


But in many other respects, South Tyrone is very different from Fermanagh. Dungannon is at the heart of a thriving agri-industrial life. The huge growth in migrant labour is visible in the street life of the town, with several eastern European businesses. Indeed the window of the Sinn Fein advice centre window was plastered in election pitches in five or six different languages.

In Enniskillen utilising the enormous tourist potential of this island town. Having two ministers in the Executive was seen as having a beneficial effect, the two “female ministers have helped improve representation for both the region’s economic stance and women’s issues”, although it was conceded that “Belfast-centricity applies to infrastructure, representation and opinion”.

According to local hotelier, Terry McCartney “The road from Belfast to Enniskillen is much longer than from Enniskillen to Belfast”. A reference to how difficult it is to winkle serious civil servants and others out of their Belfast fastness. It’s a view shared by people across the political divide.

There was also a feeling that planning laws are literalist and aimed at working towards prohibition of new development. Several participants pointed out that despite being an island there are very few places within the town where you can relax and eat and drink and enjoy the water.

Education was picked up by Arlene Foster, particularly on the problem of school estate (buildings) falling into disrepair..


But there were other concerns, not least the way the grammar schools are soaking up entrants from local secondary schools, “We dont have academic selection, we have academic creaming with the top percentage being effectively headhunted”.

Lastly, and probably one of the most important revelations of our last two visits, our so-called 100% Broadband rollout means something else in Fermanagh and South Tyrone than it does in Belfast. Getting a broadband connection to the exchange is not the same as getting a functional (and economically viable) signal into public and private spaces.

There are assumptions (some of which I have to admit I shared) that we are all digital now. The digital world has a lot of offer, not least in bringing our fledgling democracy closer to the people. But it is just not happening out there.

You cannot doubt the commitment of the local MLAs, but as one person at the Enniskillen ‘Tweetup’ put it so eloquently, policy makers prioritise big number populations over small numbers.

It is, it seems, an endless struggle to get city based establishment to take seriously the digital infrastructure deficits of people living beyond the eastern conurbations of Northern Ireland.