Hopeful straws in Council wind

By Máirtín Ó Muilleoir

They are just straws in the wind and it could be nothing more than Stockholm Syndrome after spending seven months in close quarters with the DUP, but I am quite warming to some of my unionist colleagues in the Dome of Delight.

Especially when they cease peeking over the peaceline to see who’s getting what in nationalist areas and instead concentrate on what’s good for all the people of the great city of Belfast.

You can expect more scraps before spring has really sprung, no doubt, but for now, there are signs of progress.

Proof of that is the adoption of the Council’s new investment plan for Belfast which includes, for the first time, a fair share of the pie for nationalist neighbourhoods. More importantly, it’s reaching out to ALL the working class areas of the city, beyond the usual areas which traditionally hoover up Council largesse.

Among projects benefiting from this veritable Marshall Plan should be the plan to re-open the Lanyon Tunnels at the Market — shamefully these tunnels were bricked-up when the Waterfront Hall and Hilton were built to keep the ‘peasants’ at a distance. I also have high hopes of seeing St Comgall’s become a peace museum to complement a new innovation centre at Springvale, the £2m facelift at Dunville Park and several ambitious, job-spinning projects in the Gaeltacht Quarter.

At the meeting of the Development Committee in the Dome this week, SF and the DUP teamed up to push through the first research and action agenda in a decade on how we can bring more people to live in Belfast. 100 years ago, the population of Belfast was close to 400,000, today it has dipped below 300,000.

You can’t be a successful city unless your numbers are growing and, thanks to an initiative by Shankill Councillor Lee Reynolds, we should soon take the crucial steps to call my brother (and sister) back.

The DUP and Sinn Féin represent huge working class constituencies so it makes sense for the big two – representing 31 out of 51 seats on Council – to make common cause on issues of common benefit to all of us: the common five-eights of Belfast.

And in the process, we might even win the unionists over to accepting the fact that a city where the Irish language and culture are treated with respect is good for everyone. I travel in hope.

 

THE TWIN sister of the £150m city investment plan is the Belfast Masterplan which we aim to get through Council by March 1.

Belfast has had more masterplans than Beijing has bicycles but this is one document which we need to ensure reflects the aspirations and needs of the new city.

The 2004 document was a washout. I doubt if one in a  thousand readers knows it exists. But, sadly, exist it does and its failure to focus on areas like West Belfast made it easy for Belfast City Council to neglect our renaissance neighbourhoods.

Thus, City Hall put not one penny into the rejuvenation of Conway Mill or An Chultúrlann. The 2004 Masterplan provided the perfect cover for that type of shameful behaviour.

So it’s crucial that the 2012 Masterplan does much better. Already, there are signs of progress – the Gaeltacht Quarter is in there, as is the proposal for a ‘village’ hub around the reborn Casement Park. But there are also some slip-ups which would make a less forgiving person than me presume the Masterplan doesn’t give the communities which suffered most during the conflict the priority they deserve. Shankill, for example, becomes ‘Shankhill’ in the Masterplan draft presented to councillors. So not too many people from the Shankill working on that particular project, then.

And there’s also the unforgivable suggestion that working class areas will be regenerated without physical development. To me that is turning everything we know about how to rebuild our communities on its head.

The good news is that the DUP and Sinn Féin have agreed, in the fortnight ahead, to consider amendments to the Masterplan which just might ensure a better deal for the people who are at the very heart of the new Belfast.

You can follow Máirtín Ó Muilleoir on Twitter.

 

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