IF only those in power showed a full interest in businesses, small and big, our Belfast would be a booming place.
Many businesses are facing debts of tragic proportions. Also, the freeze in tax rates of 2023/24 does not make any sense because that policy is effective only for one year. I believe that Belfast will come back to its true form where it was years back if the Government and the City Council get a little bit serious with means-testing businesses because many are just suffering too much. But means-testing can be counterproductive too and if that doesn't work, local authorities should have more devolved powers to decide what's best for the local businesses and stop chasing traders for money which they can't afford to pay because the business environment has failed them.
• When I arrived in the North in 1999, then residing in Derry, I wanted to make a trip around the city of Belfast. But it was nearly two hours by train between the two cities so I always kept it on hold.
But let us rewind first. I can remember well my bus journey from London to Stranraer then a ferry across the waters of Sruth na Maoile (the North Channel) – the crossing was a stormy one. It prepared me for the rumours about Belfast and the rest of the Northern landscape being seriously rain-soaked.
The wetness of Belfast made me waste no time in boarding a bus straight to Derry on the same day. There, I remember seeing soldiers in Land Rovers pointing guns as they drove past. In Derry, the soldiers made these journeys around the city twice or sometimes three times a day. I did not see anything else happening. It was so quiet and so peaceful, but as a foreigner it still felt like being in a war zone. It was interesting, though, that the soldiers wore berets instead of helmets, yet they were fully armed. In conflict zones around the world this is a sign that antagonists on all sides are ready to talk or have talked.
This is how I remember Belfast and other towns in the North. I arrived just after the Good Friday Agreement was signed. Without the not-so-high-profile people – the workers of Northern Ireland, the faith groups and charities – the GFA would have been a pipedream. So I can happily say that we were the first batch of migrants who took advantage of the overall peace agreement.
There were already minority communities living here, but there were not as many as there are now – Chinese, South Asians, very few Africans and sparse numbers of people from continental Europe. I finally moved to Belfast from Derry in 2011 and of course I do miss the Walled City. There are now nearly 150,000 people not born in the North, South or Britain who are living here. This is a good sign of good things to come.