Hamill’s Beat - Is the second city a second class city?

It’s no go the merry-go-round, it’s no go the rickshaw,

All we want is a limousine and a ticket for the peepshow.

Don’t ask me what the above lines mean, exactly. They’re from “Bagpipe music” by celebrated Ulster poet Louis MacNeice. They make as much or as little sense as the music did to MacNeice (and to me).

They come to mind when thinking about what’s happening and what’s not happening here in Derry. Important things aren’t happening but we do have ‘consolation prizes’. Perhaps they’re, “all we want”.

We’re at the end of the line. Our last surviving railway line, that is. We’re the last place on the line and last place in the line for track improvements. It has been re-laid as far as Coleraine but, as in most things, we’re expected to wait a while longer. Our other major railway, the old GNR, was closed in 1965 and we’ve been waiting ever since then for the promised alternative of a dual-carriageway road. So, the Belfast route is just 46 years late already and the more recently promised Dublin route may not go ahead either. A cap remains on student numbers at Magee. (Back in 1965 Magee was also threatened with closure but, unlike the railway, it survived. That was another source of massive discontent.) A disproportionate number of jobs have been supported in Belfast compared to here. The hub for the trans-Atlantic cable, Project Kelvin, was almost stolen from us. Attempts were even made to stop us having a cancer treatment centre. We can’t even get tourist board funding for our flagship soccer competition, the Foyle Cup.

Are we in the second city and the second class city?

Still, we have our new Peace Bridge. I’m not knocking it. It’s a thing of beauty and will greatly help us to re-focus on our long-neglected waterfront. It links the cityside with the old parade ground at Ebrington. It has superb views back across the river to the west bank.

St Columb’s Cathedral and First Derry Presbyterian Church have been done-up. Then there’s the jewel in our crown, the City of Culture title. We would be crazy not to milk that for all its worth, no matter what anyone wants to call it. These are significant ‘consolation prizes’.

We have a lot going for us. We have the natural beauty of our situation; we have Derry’s unrivalled wealth of history and our talented, warm and friendly people. We have hugely committed and high quality political representatives.

The west does, however, remain under-represented on the Stormont Executive. We can’t afford to keep on losing out for ever to the land flowing with milk and honey east of the Bann. OK, so that’s overstating it a bit but we can’t allow that trend to continue. We need investment too. Are we too easily satisfied?

To paraphrase MacNeice:

It’s no go the roads, it’s slow go the railway,

All we want is a bridge and a controversial year of culture.

Read more from Norman Hamill in the Journal every Tuesday