Wednesday, 16 December 2015

The Impending Doom of Belfast


A bit of a melodramatic title but now I have your attention.

For once this isn't about flags or having a go at Sinn Fein or the Orange Institution rather it is something that affects both communities; namely the proposed 'regeneration' of the northern part of Belfast's city centre and in particular the plight of The Sunflower bar.

The Sunflower. A spiffing wee place.
Now, before we go into detail let us discuss the two extremes of regeneration:

1/ The hard-core conservationist approach - The extreme end of this would involve all and more of the following actions; a complete moratorium on the erection of tall buildings, a ban on knocking down pre-war buildings, forcing new buildings to adopt a pre-war architectural style, lobbying the government to seize neglected buildings so that they might be preserved, a ban on 'land-banking', compulsory purchases of Belfast's many car parks & derelict buildings and the importing & re-erection of pre-war buildings that have been demolished in other Victorian industrial cities such as Liverpool and Manchester.

2/ The hard-core merciless developer approach - Draw a red line on the map and demolish everything that lies within that red line regardless the publics feelings or affections for said area.

Now, both those scenarios are pretty extreme aren't they?

A rational person would think of a pragmatic arrangement the would fall somewhere between the two poles wouldn't he/she?

Well, from what we can glean so far option #2 is very much on the cards.

Yes, the crazy "no one would be that heartless?!" option is very much what is on offer (seemingly, the plans are conveniently vague when viewed in person at the planning office, 4 - 10 Linenhall St, Belfast).

That's right, the plans are seemingly about taking a wrecking ball to an area that has many interesting old buildings and a great deal of potential should a sympathetic plan be devised (remember what the Cathedral Quarter looked like in the early 90's?).

Now, the area does need some TLC.

The Ulster University needs somewhere to house its students after the re-location to the city centre.

I'm not trying to hold back progress or change. What I am suggesting is that the existing buildings and architectural fabric of the area should be absorbed and incorporated into any new proposals.

And before you start shouting "that's impossible! Those buildings are wrecked ye eejit ye!" please consider that areas such as Temple Bar, the Cathedral Quarter, Glasgow's Merchant City, Melbourne's Fitzroy and various parts of Manhatten were in not too  dissimilar states of disrepair and neglect not SOO long ago.

And now all of the above are rather desirable areas (all right, maybe not Temple Bar, it's too mad for me at the weekend, but, it brings in the tourists and the bucks) courtesy of small businesses and sympathetic regeneration plans.

So, it CAN be done.

Looking at Glasgow's Merchant City in particular, in the late 90's entire blocks were held together with scaffolding, they kept the facades of the old warehouses and wot-not (and the GPO) and built new buildings inside, despite the protests and hissy fits from developers who said it couldn't be done (READ: "That'll eat into our profits...").

Glasgow's Ingram St, before (scaffolding)
Ingram St, After (building on the left was the one with scaffolding)

Glasgow GPO (before)
Glasgow GPO (after)

The Olympia, Glasgow (before)

The Olympia (after)


So, it quite clearly CAN be done. The only problem is that it eats into the profits of a developer.

So, at present, the plan is for developers to have the profits from this 'regeneration' proposal and for Belfast to pay the price in terms of lost heritage.

Not to mention lost potential of long-term employment and tourism.

If that area was done up to a decent and sympathetic standard then it might be enough to persuade tourists to hang around for another night or two. It could be the decider for people who are thinking of a weekend break (Liverpool and Glasgow have put a lot of effort into regeneration and restoration, the two cities most like Belfast in terms of people, culture and history are now pulling out in front in terms of competition for tourists).


Well, if that is the case then Belfast city council conceals these feelings superbly. Look at the pictures below from Belfast promotional posters (this one is in the Shaftesbury Sq area), they're of some of Belfast's key attributes and most appealing parts:

And these tourist info boards on Gt Victoria St fail to mention the flats, apartments and office blocks in the area.

Now, how many of these marketable assets were new buildings? Not many, apart from the Victoria Square building (which is rather schmick in my book).

So, on one hand were being told how wonderful Belfast is with it's wealth of architecture and at the same time the latest proposals are to BULLDOZE the exact same architectural tapestry in an effort to make the city more marketable and appealing.

How does that make any sense? At all?

And look at the tourist agency's website:

Aside from the Titanic Quarter and Victoria Square the attractions are all rather old.

You'll notice that new apartment blocks do not feature as key attractions...

So, now that we have the crazy plans for all to see and the clear merits of regenerating an area in a sympathetic fashion what can we do?

Well, quite a bit actually.

1/ Object


Firstly and most importantly you can object online. The planning office simply need to be made aware of public discontent. It's easy to do.

Follow the links below, register, and add a comment (and tick the 'object' box). It is widely regarded that an economic based argument e.g. tourism would be more effective than an emotional based argument.

The planning portal can be accessed here:

If you follow this link you can search for applications across NI by address/key word or reference number. The ref for Northside is: LA04/2015/0577/O

You can go directly to the application here:

The key thing is to send your comments to: with the reference number, address and proposal clearly stated at the top/on the title. Ask for a notice of receipt to make sure your comment is logged with planning. "

2/ Support a campaign.
No, not THAT campaign.

The Sunflower has its own campaign (and it includes amongst its supporters Jamie Dornan a useful man to have should it come down to chaining protestors to the railings).

On Twitter you can follow them:


There is also the seeds of a broader campaign being sowed at present, email if you are interested in being kept in the loop. It is hoped that when/if numbers hit a practical level there'll be meetings, discussions and airings of alternative plans.

If this interests you in general then you could touch base with the Ulster Architectural Heritage Society. They've been working tirelessly for years trying to save architectural gems:

3/ Write
Write to the planning dept (  ,ref no LA04/2015/0577/O  ), your MLA, councillors and/or newspapers and keep the momentum going.

Now, as good as the photos look of the regeneration plans it should be pointed out that so did the proposed plans for Glasgow's redevelopment in the 60's




The reality:

Of course it's a bit mean to be so harsh on Sir Basil Spence's work, there were many reasons that led to the demise of the flats, but I'm simply trying to highlight that shiny new plans and proposals are no guarantee of good end product especially as we DO have examples of fantastic end products in places like The Merchant City.

We're not asking for a lot. We can have regeneration AND our heritage. No one needs to lose, certainly not Belfast.



Thursday, 2 October 2014

Santa Isn't Real and Other Hard Truths

"On his time as Minister for Culture, Arts and Leisure he (Poots) told me that his greatest achievement was ‘burying the Irish language act’ as he believes there was ‘precious little demand for outside of republican circles’... " - David McCann's interview with Edwin Poots on Slugger O'Toole

Despite all the time I waste on forums and blogs listening to the same old thing some people are convinced that I haven't heard every argument regarding the controversial topic of the public use of the Irish language by republicans and the damage this does for the language's prospects in Northern Ireland.

So, with that in mind I'll address all of the non-convincing arguments that I've heard over the years and stick them here, as a reference of sorts.


As things stand now most unionists/Protestants see a strong association between the Irish language and republicanism, especially Sinn Fein and the IRA.

Look closely and you'll see a subtle association...
That is that.

The bottom line.

 End of.

Case closed.

There's no point in denying this cos that's the way it is at the moment.



This is true to an extent, mainly as a response to Catholic Irish nationalism BUT it is also a straw man argument ( ).

In this case, while it is true that unionism went cold on Gaelic a long time ago this point simply ignores the original claim which  is that nowadays most Protestants/unionists feel it is linked with republicanism.
This is where we are now.

These are two different points.

The fact that unionism let go of its Irish heritage following partition is a separate topic altogether from the argument of association, in this case the association between SF (republicans) and Irish.

And if you think there are no grounds for claiming association then please glance through the following few choice photos:

Republican SF: Not. Helping.



Gerry Adams. Gaeilge. Gerry Adams. Gaeilge. Gerry Adams. Gaeilge....


Took a wee while didn't it?

So, it's not unfair to say that there a perception of a link between the Irish language and SF/republicanism.

The only people who could claim otherwise would be Robert Shapiro (OJ Simpson's lawyer) or people suffering from delusion.


That is correct.

Thankfully there is not.

In Scotland the majority of Gaelic speakers are Protestants, mainly Presbyterians in fact.

In addition, no terrorist group or significant political party in Scotland has used Gaelic in the way or to the extent that some groups in Ireland have.

So the comparison is a duff one, it simply doesn't compare.


Well hats off to them then.

Keeping a language alive is a commendable feat.

Equally commendable is the ability to admit that the survival stage is over and that the 'expansion' stage should begin.

In the business world it is common enough to find company founders who will step aside once the company has hit a certain level e.g. Richard Branson.

Why? Because they understand that certain stages of a company's growth requires certain skills and outlooks.

Why is it beyond question that SF's stewardship is absolutely what is necessary for the next stage of the language's development?

We are at a stage where there is a small awakening amongst some Protestants and unionists regarding their Gaelic history and where an Irish Language Act is the aspiration of many people in the land.

Given that many unionist politicians have an axe to grind with SF then surely the development of the language is hampered by its association with SF i.e. unionists use it as a stick to beat SF with?

So, the language is held back on this account.

Perhaps it's time to take the stabilisers off and let the language progress to the next stage?

If beating the language down because it is seen as a republican thing is something unionists like to do then it will be very difficult to advance the interests of the language, ergo does it not make sense to break this association for the good of the language?

Branson: Knows when to hand the reins to someone else



Anyone who can cause a mass conversion of a group of people with a simple act should consider a career in either marketing or televangelism.

A more realistic way of looking at it will be that slowly but surely the language will lose some of its tainted features and gradually become more acceptable to people within the Protestant community who may have been a bit 'iffy' about the language beforehand.

And with such a change comes the advancement of the language within our society.

To bemoan the idea that SF drop the language on a Monday and that Carrickfergus is not then speaking Irish on a Wednesday is a very weak foundation for an argument.

Unlikely to happen overnight, but...



Sinn Fein's involvement hasn't put THEM off (and fair play to them, keep up the good work) that really doesn't account for the others who ARE put off by Sinn Fein's involvement.

That argument is like singling out a hot girl in McDonald's or KFC and saying "look! She's eating fast food and she's not fat so obviously fast food doesn't make you fat!!!!". (You know it...).

(Incidentally, I did a Google search for 'beautiful people McDonalds' but couldn't find any, the picture below is the best I could manage)

Sinn Fein's new Irish language spokesperson? 


Yes they have, but again that ignores the modern assertion that it is now viewed as a republican thing (thanks in part to unionism's abandonment of the language).

Also, it ignores the previous point that there is evidently some appetite for unionist acquaintance with the language (and you know there is).

Common Ground?: 1892 Unionist Convention "Erin Go Bragh"


Well yes in theory it should be but let me tell you from personal experience that it is very, very, very, very, very, very, very, very, very, difficult to get this point across when the PERCEPTION is that the language is very much a thing for republicans.

Throw us a frickin' bone will ya?!!!!


"Mr Straw-man! We meet again, en garde!"

Yes they do and every time they do they reinforce the perception that it is a republican thing. Simples.

Wood. Trees. Visual obstruction thereof?

No one is saying that they CAN'T, what is being highlighted is that IF their public (NOTE: NOT private) use of Gaelic is detrimental to their goals regarding the language then surely this public use should be examined?

I recently applied the same logic to the Orange Order's parade in Edinburgh in support of the 'No' campaign,        ( ) as in yes they had the RIGHT to march but if it was potentially detrimental to their objective (in this case galvanising support for the No campaign) then what is the point?

Why shoot yourself in the feet with which you march?

Similarly why would republicans shoot themselves in the mouths with which they use to speak Irish?

It makes no sense, it is pride and stubbornness above objectivity and pragmatism.

Now, speaking of the Orange Order, irrationality and the Irish language please recall this jaw dropping episode from one of their senior (Christ!) representatives:

Penfold's 'Publican 'Genda

In fairness to him though, in between all the nonsense please pay attention to 1:33.

He's highlighting how one of his predecessors Dr Ruteledge Kane was Arran Irish speaker who would recite the minutes in Irish (not sure which Arran though...).

Listening to George Chittick...

Now, as much as I was face palming for most of this interview that is still an interesting point; he accepts the place of Irish within the Order's history but now sees it as "political"

Now, can anyone tell me of any political groups that use the Irish language in a very overt and public manner?

A clue

And staying with the 'Orange' theme, that brings me to the next topic:


One of the things that the mobile phone provider Orange had to consider back in the time of the mobile phone network's infancy was the negative connotations of its name in Northern Ireland:

They had to give real consideration to the notion that there were/are negative connotations between the word 'orange' in Northern Ireland and 'shenanigans' (to say the least).

The fact that a multi million pound operation took this seriously should cause you to think about the importance of negative association.

This was not lost on NTL or Tennents, two sponsors of the Old Firm.

They took it upon themselves to sponsor BOTH Old Firm teams rather than just one was it was feared that they'd lose more customers than they would attract (and anecdoatally speaking I know at least one die-hard Celtic fan who would never touch McEwan's Lager (and not just because it tastes like rotting asses ass) and another who stopped drinking 'Oranjeboom' beer because of its association with the House of Orange).

Maybe Magners will do OK now that they've went alone with their Celtic sponsorship but it's difficult to imagine that it won't be poured down the sink of many Rangers orientated pubs around the islands.,d.cGU


(NOTE: This is copied over from a LAD blog   )

"People say it's daft that a language can be a thing of offence but it's not unique to Ireland.

Look east and in the eastern Croatian town of Vukovar there is a similar controversy.

Vukovar was smashed up by in the wars that followed the fall of Yugoslavia.

Destruction, massacres, the works.

Vukovar: 2 cultures
Now the Serbian residents wish to promote their identity and culture by means of erecting signs written in Serbian Cyrillic.

On one hand, fair enough.

 They live there, have lived there for centuries so why not promote their culture?

On the other hand, it evokes painful memories to the resident Croats who were traumatised by the fall of their city and its destruction.

 (I'm not taking sides either way!!!).

Many see it as a politically crafted 'get it up themuns'.

Every time republicans use Irish in their literature, marches and interviews the same view is pinned on the Irish language.

I think this is unfair but it is also how things are.

If we want Irish to belong to all Irish people then there is definitely room for a very frank discussion and examination of Irish as it is handled now."

So, I think it's safe to say that a language and even the script of a language can be politicised.


I would hope not.

If you are an Irish language enthusiast and concerned for the well being of the language and its development and are perhaps embarassed or angry or frustrated by the language's use by political figures then you're going to have to make your voice heard.

Email figures, tweet them or even write them a letter, there's nowt to be gained by holding your tongue.

Gagged: Don't be.

Knowing what we know about people up north, the way things are perceived and the ambitions of many people who would like to see some sort of progress regarding the Irish language is it not safe to say that republicans should (publicly) leave the language alone and give it some breathing space?

The survival stage is over, the expansion stage comes next.

That requires co-operation, sacrifice and accepting hard truths.

PS I'm not saying that they should refrain from defending the language altogether: