Hamill’s Beat - Is the first UK City of Culture still second-class?

The former Waterside Railway Station. 2001JM65
The former Waterside Railway Station. 2001JM65

Is the City of Culture title a consolation prize? Don’t we need ‘bread’ as well as a ‘circus’?

This isn’t a criticism of the culture title. We can be proud of that. The year has got off to a good start and it’s potentially wonderful. That’s not the point.

The point is that we desperately need investment as well as culture. You can’t eat culture, to paraphrase John Hume’s famous dictum on flags.

There’s no sign of workers’ boots on the ground on our long awaited dual carriageway to Belfast. Still, we’ve only been waiting for 48 years. It was first promised in 1965 when the railway to Portadown was closed. Half a century on, the M2, like most things in the North, still ends east of the Bann.

It’s the same story with the A5 to the border at Aughnacloy. We’re still waiting. Fair enough, we have promises to get on with bits of it.

We’ve literally been talking about improving it since I was in short trousers. During all that time we’ve only seen relatively Mickey Mouse little schemes here and there.

On the university front we’re also still waiting. The grave injustice of 50 years ago hasn’t been put right to any significant degree. Fair enough, we have had investment at Magee but the college remains an embarrassingly poor-relation within the University of Ulster. Meanwhile we have a single track railway to Derry without a passing loop west of Castlerock.

When it re-opens we will still only have half the services enjoyed by the people of Coleraine and Portrush. Meanwhile, Translink can secure funding for grand new stations in Coleraine, Newry, Ballymoney and Portadown to name but a few. Unsurprisingly, no money is available for a railway terminus for Derry. We have to make do with an embarrassing little halt that hardly meets health and safety standards.

Other cities have more impressive public loos but then I nearly forgot, we don’t even have public loos.

We have a severe unemployment problem and alarmingly high levels of social deprivation. Despite that, the vast majority of Invest Northern Ireland jobs go to Greater Belfast.

Welfare cuts will hit Derry particularly hard.

We have a severe shortage of social housing and for private house owners; prices here are amongst the lowest in these islands.

Many of our city centre shops are boarded up and our publicans are struggling to stay in business. Don’t worry about that. Belfast has a scheme to help its traders. They’ve been badly hit by the flags protests and Executive ministers regularly underline the importance of Belfast city centre.

Is this just a typical rant from a Derry whinger? You decide.

To be fair I should acknowledge again that our Peace Bridge is a triumph and our re-juvenated waterfront is wonderful.

The City of Culture prize is potentially an enormous help and already we’re attracting an encouraging number of visitors.

It’s just that none of these things are a substitute for fair spending on economic infrastructure and social justice.