Action needed now

By Staff Reporter

As jobless figures spiral to record levels, it’s crucial that every penny of government spending adds value to the economy.

That’s why West Belfast MP Paul Maskey is right to raise questions over suggestions that the multi-million pound Titanic Signature Project is set to fall on its face.

Similarly, Councillor Tim Attwood gets full marks for castigating authorities who have left the Andersonstown barracks site undeveloped for six years… and counting.

Indeed, suggestions by the Department for Social Development that the barracks site will be turned into a grassed area while new bids are sought for the transformation of this tiny plot of land are bemusing.

No doubt locals would welcome the tidying up of the site, but in essence the Department is saying that it will take as long to develop this postage stamp site as it did to build the magnificent £80m Titanic Building.

And that’s not good enough – especially when we are talking about a site which, while small, carries the huge symbolism of turning a symbol of violence and war into a symbol of peace and prosperity.

It is this paper’s view, however, that both politicians must put as much emphasis on solutions to our economic woes as they put on spotlighting the shortcomings of those who would control our economic destiny.

What the community needs is less analysis and more action.

In fairness, both Sinn Féin and the SDLP recognise that fact and have moved to put the case for further investment in West Belfast.

But notwithstanding that fact, it remains the case that there is no publicity brochure, no promotional video, no website, no ad campaign, no radio jingle even, which ‘sells’ West Belfast to investors.

The advantages of West Belfast are many – excellent transport infrastructure (close to motorways and in line for new rapid transit corridor); convenient to city centre; huge, educated, skilled-up and young labour pool; top-class university in St Mary’s University College; pioneering E-3 enterprise centre of Belfast Met opening in New Year; robust community networks; rich cultural offering centred on the biggest Irish language cultural centre in the country; home to blue-chip companies including Bombardier, Andor and FG Wilson; fastest broadband network in Europe; emerging area of one of Europe’s most talked-about cities.

Now that’s a proposition any marketeer could take to a heavyweight financial services company on Wall Street or to the digital media companies like Google and Twitter which have made Dublin their European hub.

In short: there is much to do, but we are well-positioned to do it.

The key task facing our politicians is to ensure that the £80m Titanic Building (the bulk of its funding coming from the  public purse) brings real benefits to our community with jobs and training opportunities. And indeed that applies to the Andersonstown barracks site too.

As we await a new economic investment package from Belfast City Council in the New Year, the rebirth of Casement Park as one of  Ireland’s greatest stadia, and a new social investment fund from Stormont, it’s crucial that the next wave of projects for West Belfast are job-spinning.

Ultimately, the biggest test of the peace will be its ability to deliver for those who suffered the most during the years of warfare. And that, surely, must mean the working class people of West Belfast – of the Falls and Shankill alike.

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