I often interject on this blog to write pieces about what is good about Northern Ireland. It is surely the case that we are at best humble and at worst plain cynical about our own homeland!
No one is doubting we have our problems, but I have written before about some aspects of our Health Service which are the best in the British Isles (such as our innovative work and networks on dementia or e-health); some aspects of our investment or tourist offering which are genuinely world class (say the remarkable boom in our creative industries about which the Game of Thrones is the highlight, something which would have seemed impossible a decade ago); parts of our education system (notably our change in 2007 towards specifying that children have to be taught decision-making – the outcome of which was highest marks in Europe and the English-speaking world for literacy and numeracy in a recent Boston College report). We are now a host for significant events – like the Giro d’Italia start, the Police and Fire Games or the MTV Europe Music Awards. That is leaving aside golfing greats, literature laureates and famous film stars all coming from this tiny spec of territory…
Much more important than any of that, I feel, is that we often reckon our foibles are somehow unique to us.
Our politicians are a joke – but then gridlock caused a breakdown in the finances of no other country than the United States last year; it caused Belgium to wait more than a year for a government this decade; and are we seriously suggesting the voids at Westminster or parish pumpers at Leinster House are a marked improvement? We don’t have leadership – but would we really want it from the likes of Francois Hollande or Silvio Berlusconi?
Our crime stories can be appalling. Every morning, seemingly, we wake up to yet another outrageous racist attack, disgusting arson threat or some depraved lunatic setting fire to an animal. It’s genuinely shocking there are so many deranged fools out there. But there is plenty of gang crime in Dublin or Limerick; murders by beheading in London; and a murder rate nearly double ours in Scotland. It’s a problem – but it’s not like it’s unique to us.
Our economy is a basket case. But then, no country in the UK pays its way. The Eurozone’s national debt is now rising to higher than that of the UK. Germany’s, France’s, Italy’s and Spain’s economies are all in recession – and, you know what, Northern Ireland’s isn’t!
I recently dashed to Central Station (admittedly horrendously named, a good fifteen minutes’ walk from the City Centre and don’t I know it!) in an effort to catch a train home after work on a Friday so I could have dinner with my lovely wife – her Council work often precludes this. As I got to the ticket queue I inadvertently muttered aloud “Come on, let’s get on with this!” – far from thinking me a fool, the kind young woman in front of me turned and said “Are you going to miss your train? Go on in front of me – I’ve been there myself in the past”.
Well, she probably did think me a fool actually (an entirely reasonable assessment, of course), but the point is she didn’t let it show! And the bigger point is I got my train just as the doors closed, I had dinner with my wife for the first time all week, and I got to think to myself “You know, there can’t be too much wrong with a place inhabited by good people like that”…