Hamill’s Beat

Ebrington Square.
Ebrington Square.

Is this really the relief of Derry?

Have you recovered yet? Outsiders think we had the biggest celebration last week since the siege ended in 1689. In about five years we might be able to get to Belfast 20 minutes quicker on the A6 at peak times. Someone even said they were “ecstatic”. Steady on!

Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) leader Arlene Foster Northern Ireland's first minister.

Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) leader Arlene Foster Northern Ireland's first minister.

Some of those interviewed for TV had a more measured perspective. They welcomed the proposed improvements but also said much would remain to be done. “Now finish the job,” as someone rightly said. Despite that, the story was presented on the regional news as a transformative opportunity for Derry. It was over-hyped with local voices contributing to the daft euphoria. It sounded like we should be dancing in the streets.

In fact we’ve already been waiting over half a century for a dual-carriageway to Belfast. It was first promised in 1965 when the Great Northern Railway was closed. It linked Derry with Dublin and Belfast via Portadown. Fifty years on, Derry remains the only major city in Ireland and possibly in Europe, without a dual-carriageway to anywhere except to a tiny airport eight or nine miles out the road.

Now we’ve been told work may begin later this year on the eight miles between Castledawson and the M2. If it happens; of course every little helps and we should be grateful for small mercies. “For this relief much thanks,” as Francisco, a soldier in Hamlet, says to Bernardo when he relieves him from a cold night’s duty on the castle walls. That’s the trouble with a literary education. Lines from plays sometimes leap to mind. And, Francisco was able to say, “You come most carefully upon your hour”. His relief didn’t turn up over half a century late! Sure we might even hear soon about the 19 miles between Dungiven and Derry although the remaining 19 miles from Castledawson to Dungiven remain on the longest of long-fingers.

Meanwhile Belfast has motorways heading out of town in three directions and a dual-carriageway to Larne. Larne is no mean town and port but it’s not the second city. And, a dual-carriageway is likely to reach Coleraine before one arrives at the end of the crawler lane on the Glenshane Pass.

The Proclamation of 1916.

The Proclamation of 1916.

Potentially more encouraging in the medium term, is news that the Environment Minister has approved a planning application for the further regeneration of Ebrington. Mark H. Durkan said the plans would, “boost business, tourism and people in the area by revitalising the site with new homes, offices, cafes, restaurants and museum and arts facilities. Welcoming the decision, Ilex chairman Philip Flynn said it would be, “a further catalyst for economic and creative growth with the potential to create 2,400 jobs.”

Impressive sketches showcased plans for the 26 acre site. If they come to pass, then Ebrington will be transformed. What’s not to like about that?

Sorry to strike a cynical note but we remember similar sketches showing Fort George looking more like oil-rich Dubai than Derry. Ten years or more later and it’s still more like the desert outside Dubai, except for the lack of sunshine and the slightly greener vegetation.

Plans can’t transform anywhere unless they’re implemented and new roads only make a huge difference when they don’t end abruptly, miles from anywhere.

Stephen Nolan.

Stephen Nolan.

Two out of three on history for Mrs Foster

First Minster Foster said the Easter Rising was, “a violent attack on the United Kingdom.” Many aspects of the rising have been debated over the last 100 years but we’ve never heard anyone claim it wasn’t, “a violent attack on the United Kingdom.” Mrs Foster got that right.

More of a problem is that the First Minister also described the Rising as, “an attack on democracy”. Again, despite a century of debate, before Mrs Foster said it, we’d never heard it called, an attack on “democracy”.

British rule in Ireland depended for its claim to legitimacy on the Act of Union of 1800. It put an end to the old Irish Parliament which sat in what is now the Bank of Ireland on Dublin’s College Green. When the bill was first proposed in the Dublin Parliament in 1799, it was rejected. Within a year the London Government had overcome opposition by blatant bribery and by the widespread award of peerages and honours.

Whatever else you can say about the Act of Union, the notion that it was democratic isn’t one of them. Even by 18th century standards, it was undemocratic.

Catholic emancipation wasn’t even conceded for another 29 years. It’s beyond question that with anything like modern democracy the Act of Union would have been impossible. So, whatever the 1916 Rising was an attack on, it was hardly ‘democracy’.

Mrs Foster also described herself as an “amateur historian”. Right again! Maybe two out of three isn’t too bad!

Radio Face is cringe-inducing TV

Have you seen Radio Face on TV? (BBC 1 Wednesdays at 10.45) It’s people making a spectacle of themselves for our entertainment. It’s a highly questionable extension of the Nolan radio show, yet we’re glued to it.

It’s like watching a reprise of Alf Garnet in Till Death Us Do Part in the 1960s. It’s also, in a sense, like watching the cringe-inducing antics on Benidorm. At least both of those shows were sit-coms with a professional cast. They were intended to be funny.

With Radio Face we’re invited to laugh at locals who aren’t always trying to be funny. Their ‘reward’ is to get on TV. I say locals but there isn’t anyone from Derry. A farmer “from Limavady” is as close as we get.

Stephen Nolan is clearly elated when his cast come out with their ‘best’ lines. One such moment is when the farmer “from Limavady” does a poor impression of Health Minister Simon Hamilton and Mr Nolan promptly asks him to repeat it.

In fairness most of the contributors seem to realise they’re providing entertainment. They’re happy being filmed with their props such as cigarettes, snacks, energy drinks, dogs, strategically-placed radio sets and so on. That ameliorates the uncomfortable feeling that they’re being used but it doesn’t entirely absolve the programme makers.

It’s a cringe-inducing show which reinforces the worst aspects of the radio programme. It can be funny in parts but I’m not sure it’s what the BBC should be doing.