The good people of Derry are whooping and hollering with delight this morning. Or at least some of them are: there are those who think competing for the UK City of Culture is a betrayal of their Irishness. If it is, it’s a betrayal that’s been going on in different forms for a long time. Check on the number of Catholic school principals in Derry – particularly females – who’ve reached for an MBE or an OBE when it’s been dangled in front of them. Or consider all the Irish boxers from a nationalist/Catholic background who’ve cheerfully fought for the British, British Empire, British Commonwealth titles down the years. The two Spider Kellys – father and son, both Derrymen – come to mind. Clones-man Barry McGuigan even managed to hop over the border so he could have the privilege of fighting for UK titles. If you reject the Derry bid on the grounds that it’s part of the UK City of Culture competition, logic demands that you reject what all those boxers – and school principals – were happy to do.
In the end, it’s about money. Some people see culture as important in its own right – I’m one of those myself. But there are others who only see it in £ signs, and that’s probably the majority of Derry citizens. So what will the spin-off be financially between now and 2013? An answer can maybe be found in the experience of Liverpool, which in 2008 was named the European (note that – not UK but EUROPEAN) City of Culture.
In 2006, the unemployment rate in Liverpool was 7.1%. Two years later, the city was named European City of Culture. In 2009, 10% of the workforce was unemployed. So even after the European City of Culture title has had plenty of time to make its impact felt, the unemployment rate (always a good indicator of prosperity or its absence) went up some three per cent.
Derry’s not Liverpool or Finchley either, but the Merseyside experience should put a brake on the euphoric projections for the Foyleside city in 2013. Let’s hope that champagne wasn’t too expensive.