It was a strange scene on Saturday outside City Hall. There were hi-viz vests everywhere as preparations for the Christmas Tree switch on was happening. Crowd barriers being carried, traffic being stopped, walkie talkies being spoken into. Ten or fifteen flag protestors squeezed into a little canal of space between the sheds of Christmas delights being erected. Bemused Dutch soccer fans in Orange stood in front of Orange protestors. All to the backdrop of sound engineers testing Slade’s “I wish it could be Christmas every DAAAYYYYY” and a smell of kangaroo burgers being burned. Yes, Christmas in Belfast is unique if nothing else and the heady mix of commercialism, fun and politics cannot be missed.
That night the mayor of Belfast sped (within legal limits I’m sure), from Derry where he had been at his party’s Ard Fheis to the switch on ceremony. In front of thousands of families and children he and PJ Masks lit up our city for festive cheer.
Meanwhile in another part of Belfast there were those who refuse to see progress, positivity or opportunity. They were Erecting the most grim of banners on their own streets for the electoral purpose of motivating voters, not to vote in a positive way for the DUP but to vote negatively against Belfast Mayor John Finucane.
While others are planning lights and trees and dinners for the elderly and homeless in their communities, these most depressing of elements have decided to bedeck their own areas with tawdry assaults on our mayor. They revel in the fact that his father was killed. They revel in their own direct association with those killers. They revel in the impunity of the state for that killing. They revel in the pretence of their own victimhood when investigated by the Historical Enquiries Team. And they revel in opposition to planned Historical Investigations Units. They are so caught in the most negative of spaces that they nearly deserve our pity. Nearly, except they are poisoning society.
But what of those who benefit from this? The DUP should be facing hard questions from those who will see a failed venture in the House of Commons by ten DUP MPs. They failed to protect the interests of their constituents. They exposed this region to a hard Brexit and economic devastation only to end up with a perpetual border down the Irish Sea and a constitutional revolution on both islands. On their own terms they have failed. So, they are very, very happy that this distraction is distracting their own constituency. They love it when a plan comes together.
The depressing and continuing irony of course is that John Finucane would work harder to promote the interests of working–class loyalist areas than Nigel Dodds ever has, as the Brexit debacle has shown.
For the rest of us however there is a positive Belfast, one filled with commitment and vision and hard work for all that is to be promoted and celebrated. Next week the Aisling Awards will contribute to that. Meanwhile our Mayor will be visiting and promoting projects across the city who are contributing to that.
It is easy to be dragged down by depressing grinches looking down from their sad caves, but we have no time for that. There is a city to be built and a population to be cherished. All of the population, together. The wreckers just need to stand aside.