Tag Archives: northern ireland

BACK IN BLACK 

And every other colour under the sun now. Vinyl is back and it could well be here to stay. With Record Store Day just around the corner thousands of eager vinyl collectors will be waiting outside record shops all across U.K in the hope of bagging themselves one of the prized, rare, limited edition pressings, released exclusively for Record Store Day.

The point of the event is to get people to visit their local, independent record store, and to promote the comeback of vinyl records. With 2017 being the 10th anniversary of Record Store Day, there could well be some very special and sought after releases indeed.

Some of the records rumored to be released for the event include;

Alice In Chains – What The Hell Have I/Get Born Again [2×7”] (gatefold, limited to 4000, indie-retail exclusive) 7″,

Buddy Guy – Sick With Love / She Got It Together [10”] (two brand new songs, limited to 1500, indie-retail exclusive) 10″,

Motorhead – Clean Your Clock [2LP] (Picture Disc, limited to 1500, indie-retail exclusive) LP, and Toto – Africa [12”] (Picture Disc, die cut, limited to 2500, indie-retail exclusive) 12″.

Not only does the event draw crowds of genuine collectors who want the release for themselves, but it also draws in people who want to buy the rare pressing because they know they can quickly turn a profit by selling them online.

Vinyl Records are becoming increasingly popular with sales overtaking downloads in December 2016.

2016 saw vinyl sales at their highest in 25 years. According to the Entertainment Retailers Association, in one week alone in December vinyl sales actually made £2.4m and overtook downloads which made £2.1m.

Many people think the reason download sales are declining could be due to the increase in popularity of streaming services such as Spotify, Apple Music and Pandora. With these services, you don’t actually own the music, rather you pay your subscription to the service and the music is then ‘rented’ to you.

Spotify offers a family package for £14.99 per month which allows up to six different user accounts. This means that between six people, you can have the service for £2.50 per month so it’s easy to see why people are moving towards services such as this. However, a lot of people still want to own their music and a hard copy of it too. This is one of the reasons that vinyl records have seen a revival over the past decade.

This isn’t the first time vinyl has made a comeback however. The first vinyl revival was largely due to teenage bedroom DJs in the 90s, who wanted to play in the top night clubs in Ibiza. They would buy their turntables and mixers and then all the latest records to use in their own mixes. This came to an end however, with the popularity of digital music on the rise. DJs were able to take their whole record collection with them without having to carry boxes of heavy vinyl around with them. Go to any night club today and you’ll most likely see a DJ using little more than a laptop and a mixer. Vinyl sets are more of a gimmick these days, played in more ‘alternative’ clubs or on ‘Old School’ nights.

What is the appeal of vinyl? 

Whether it’s a trendy youngster who is following the latest craze, a housewife who wants something to spin while she does the cleaning, or a middle aged man trying to rebuild his collection that the wife made him get rid of when we all thought vinyl was dead and buried, it seems that vinyl could be here be stay this time.

Just what is it everybody seems to love about vinyl though? Maybe it’s the ritual of browsing through the pile of records, taking it out of its sleeve and placing it on the turntable. Maybe it’s the initial sound of the needle dropping or the smell of old records. It could be the perfect imperfections in an old record that give it a sense of character.  Maybe it’s just about nostalgia for many people.

To find out more, I spoke to Connor Booth, an avid vinyl collector who has been adding to his collection for the past 7 or 8 years. He has traveled all over the country buying, selling and swapping records and audio equipment.

I then wanted to get some more opinions, so I took to social media to see just what it is about vinyl that means it won’t go away.

I asked the question, “Vinyl Collectors:- What is it about vinyl that you like so much compared to other formats?”

Some responses from Facebook included;

I then asked the same question on the ‘Metal Amino’ app. This is an app where you can interact with other users and talk about music.

A user by the name of Steven said, “To me vinyl has a raw sound to it compared to CD’s, the artwork is much bigger, the boxsets are usually filled with more goodies than most CD boxsets and you usually get a poster with the vinyl too.”

Another user by the name ‘Br00tal’ replied to this comment saying, “Don’t forget that almost all vinyl records now come with a free code for digital download too, so now you can have two formats!”

“Nostalgia, better packaging, good investment and the sound quality is superior to digital formats” said user, ‘GreyMatterSplatter’.

‘Lony’ agrees with the previous comments but adds, “I also enjoy the crackling sound my record player makes sometimes.”

‘Derek Wayne Buckner’ says, “It’s more collectable. It’s bigger. It sounds different. It can’t be pirated easily or copied. I feel like you get more of a product for the money. The artwork and stuff included is bigger and seems nicer.”

‘GreyMatterSplatter’ mentioned that vinyl is a good investment. This is actually a very good point. If you buy your music digitally, then it’s yours, but you can’t sell it. (Not legally anyway.) However if you buy vinyl records, you can usually sell them on for close to what you paid for it if it’s a new release. Of course some records also go up in value if they are limited edition. This also means that if you buy a record and you decide you don’t really like it, you can simply sell it on or swap it for a different one.

Independent Shops 

Track Records is an independent record store in Ballymena

There are quite a few independent record shops opening up across the country now. This is almost hard to believe as just a few years ago, big chain stores were closing down. In February 2013, HMV announced that they would be closing 66 stores throughout the UK. 9 of these stores were in Northern Ireland including one in Ballymena where a small independent shop is now open. This was a time where it was thought to be the death of physical media. Everything was being downloaded; not just music but also films, games and even books and magazines.

Track Records started out life when Joe Rocks was working for free in a café which also sold vintage clothes.  Some vinyl was then brought in to sell alongside the clothes and there seemed to be quite a demand for it. Joe, along with a 5-a-side friend then opened a small stall at a market on Saturdays selling vinyl. This led to the birth of Track Records which has changed location 3 times but has been in business for the past 5 years – quite an achievement for a small independent shop in a town where so many other businesses are having to close their doors.

 

I went along to Track Records, to speak with the owner, Joe Rocks about the vinyl revival and the impact Record Store Day has on small, independent record shops.

 

Owner, Joe Rocks is also a singer/songwriter

So whether it’s the big artwork and inserts, the little crackles you get from the needle, or just simply the collectability of it, it would seem that vinyl certainly has a place in our hearts and it may be here for the long run this time.

 

World Record Store day is happening on 22nd April and participating stores in Northern Ireland are; Head – Belfast, Sick Records – Belfast, Armagh Music – Armagh, Cool Discs Music – Londonderry.
But don’t forget to look in other independent stores too- you may find a great bargain or hidden gem!

For a full list of official releases check out RSD’s website here.

Is New Technology and Social Media Ruining Our Children’s Lives?

With new technology being ‘the way forward’ and ‘essential’ in our day-to-day lives, one question that is still something that parents often think about is, is technology today ruining our children’s lives? Ulster University student Aoife Reilly reports. 

 

Although we are in the 21st Century and digital technology is anywhere and everywhere, in 2017, it is not unusual for children to be seen walking about with a smart phone or a tablet constantly in their hands. From such a young age, we see children subconsciously swiping and confidently pressing buttons as if they were born knowing how to do it.

When we, as adults today, reminisce of our own childhood activities, we automatically think back to going outside to play hide and seek, cycling around on our bikes and even sometimes something as simple as kicking a football around with our neighbours we were at our happiest. These fond childhood memories play a major part and are essential for older people today to look back on to try to understand the issues that are facing children today.

However, for children now a days, because they are introduced to technology at such a young age, some of the games and outdoor activities that were popular a mere 20 years ago, are quite literally oblivious to them because new technologies have taken over and they would rather play a game on their iPad than outside in the fresh air.

It has gotten to the point in today’s world that many children, from as young as the age of 2 or 3, are now able to fully work and control tablets, laptops, smart phones and games consoles better than someone a lot older than them. With this, they can often begin to teach their own parents and grandparents new things and how to use them correctly.

‘growing up with lack of key life skills such as being able to read or riding a bike’

 

Since we are now in the digital media age where tablets and smart phones are a central part of our day to day lives, it is becoming somewhat clear that these pieces of technology are aiding children in ways, with iPads now being introduced into schools. However, from research conducted recently in 2014, it has been revealed that children, who have been introduced to new technology such as smart phones and tablets at a very young age, are more than likely growing up with a lack of key life skills such as being able to read or riding a bike.

It is often for some very hard to come to terms with the fact that we no longer can look out our windows on Christmas day and see children out playing with their new bikes or toys because they have either gotten the newest games console or a brand new iPhone.

Often when parents want a bit of peace and quiet they will hand their young children their tablets and games consoles, which will keep them occupied for as long as they need and more than often not, in restaurants you will see children sat at the table playing on their iPad or watching something on their parent’s phone just so they won’t kick up a fuss. While parents do give in to allowing their children to watch TV or use their tablets just so they can have some peace and quiet, they do secretly worry what this screen time is doing to their children’s brains.

 “I think it has got worse over the last number of years”

 

Speaking to social care worker Deborah Reilly, she expressed her opinion on the matter explaining, “I think it has got worse over the last number of years,” while believing that “children are at risk of bullying.” To hear the full interview with Deborah, click here.

It is not only parents and those who are much older who have become very much aware of how technology is taking over our lives, but more significantly, our children’s, but also young adults such as students. A post was written by a student on Facebook recently expressed, “Our elders will never understand how hard it is to grow up in this day and age…Technology (has) took over. We live most of our lives staring at our phones.”

Jonathan Maitland’s ITV Tonight programme, ‘Too young for technology?’ revealed that, by the time children start school at the age of 3 or 4, 70 per cent of them will already be confident in using a laptop, tablet or smart phone. In the same programme, it was also revealed that 47 per cent of parents think that it is important for a child to be familiar with technology before school, while 17 per cent of children under three actually owns their own smart phone or tablet.

 ’17 per cent of children under 3 own a smart phone or tablet’

 

For anyone who has children of their own, who allows them, from a young age to use these technologies, this will appear as a shock and often they will not realise the impact of technology on young children until they see statistics, like the ones above, placed in front of them.

On average, it is said that children from as young as the age of 3 are spending almost 8 hours of their day with their eyes glued to technology and it is now on the rise. Not only is screen time on the increase, most parents today are unaware of what their children are actually watching or viewing when they are online.

In recent years, it has come to the attention of media professionals, such as Ofcom and a huge concern that more and more children are watching real or staged violence online and are playing video games that are violent or contain other age-inappropriate content.

Although bodies such as the Games Rating Agency, GRA, deal with what age goes on the game, more than not children are getting their hands on games, which are not for their correct age group. With this, children are often led to believe that what they watch online or see in video games is ok to do and is somewhat legal which is why parents should be a lot more aware of what their children are watching online.

 

With social media on the increase and more and more people using it, it will be a shock to anyone at what the age restrictions are as it is often overlooked and forgotten about.

To create an account on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Snap Chat etc., you have to be 13 years or older and to sign up to YouTube you have to be 18 years of age, although you can sign up at 13 with a parents permission. However, at least 78 per cent of users ignored the age requirements and are under 13 years of age.

 ’78 percent of users ignore the age requirements’

 

In 2006, the National Crime Agency (NCA), Jim Gamble and Peter Davies set up the organisation ‘Child Exploitation and Online Protection’, CEOP, to help protect the public from the most serious threats by disrupting and bringing to justice those serious and organised criminals who present the highest risk to the UK.

It is important to make sure that children are feeling safe online, so by parents keeping an eye on what websites they are visiting and whom they are talking to, this will be guaranteed.

The students at Ulster University, Coleraine and Queens University, Belfast expressed their thoughts on the topic with many sharing how different young children have it compared to their own childhood with iPhones non-existent.

 “not experiencing the kind of childhood that I did”

 

One student in particular, Malcolm Lyttle felt that “children are already too dependent on their devices that they have in their hand and they are not experiencing the kind of childhood that I did.” To find out what the other students thought, click here..

Although screen time does not just mean children being on their tablets or on their laptops playing games, this also involves watching TV and YouTube. With YouTube and catch up TV becoming increasingly popular over the last several years, it seems that a child would rather sit down and watch something from their tablet than sit in front of a TV.

Not only does this allow children to watch what they want when they want, it also means that they are able to find new programmes and new content other than what you’d find on TV.

For anyone who may feel at risk of being bullied, threatened or in any way attacked online should visit the website, www.ceop.police.uk, where you are able to get more information on how to report the situation.

Ten hour mountain bike race for Glenarm in Antrim

Northern Irish mountain bikers will have their endurance tested in a ten hour race taking place in Glenarm, Co. Antrim as part of the Dalriada Festival on July 23.

The event, known as “10 in the Glen”, involves solo mountain bike riders or teams competing to complete as many laps of a 6km loop as they can in ten hours. While similar events have taken place in England, Scotland and Wales, this is the first race of this scale in Northern Ireland.

The course in Glenarm consists of sections of single speed track, gravel trails and forest runs, suitable for both novice and intermediate mountain bikers. Each team and solo rider will be designated a pit area along the race track for making repairs and resting up between laps.

Ian Cumming, Director of 26 Extreme, a company that runs outdoor events, is managing the race on behalf of the Dalriada Festival. He explained that while events like these are usually “slow to get going”, spaces for the competition are already a quarter full over three months out from race day.

He confirmed that the race will be part of the finale for the Dalriada Festival. He added: “Along with fireworks planned to close the festival, the final few laps should add to the party atmosphere”.

Depending on the success of this year’s event, Mr Cumming is planning to run the ten hour race annually in Glenarm. He is also considering organising similar events in other locations in the province to take place more frequently.

Kevin Purcell, member of Coventry Road Cycling Club, will be travelling from England to compete in the race as part of a team. Mr Purcell, originally from Donegal, was delighted that such an event was being held in Ulster. He said: “We are lucky in Ulster to have such great trails for mountain biking and it is about time a competition like this was organised”.

For more information about the race including entry forms, log on to www.26extreme.com.

Binevenagh Wind Farm: The Story So Far

In 2010, the Northern Ireland Executive put forward a new strategy for a more eco-friendly Northern Ireland. As such, Renewable Energy International and Windy Fields Group developed a plan to erect 21 wind turbines at Binevenagh, County Londonderry, better known as Windy Hill.

Binevenagh is one of three locations in Northern Ireland that a wind farm is being developed on. These three sites are part of a larger nine that are under special protection as Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB). It is because Binevenagh is recognised as an area of natural beauty and a popular tourist destination that the plans have been met with significant backlash.

The backlash came as a result of concerns that a large wind farm would spoil the natural beauty of the area; lengthy construction time and turbines a third the height of the cliffs themselves would cause “catastrophic and irreversible damage”, per Binevenagh SOS. Opposition to the proposed wind farm came in the form of protestors, a Facebook page with almost 3,000 likes, a website (Binevenagh SOS), and public opposition from branches of the Northern Ireland Tourism Board and the Northern Ireland Environmental Agency.

For more information on the links mentioned, check out the Binevenagh SOS website and the Binevenagh Facebook page.

Binevenagh Mountain

Amid all of the opposition to the proposal, Windy Fields and political figures have emerged and made statements in an attempt to stop concerns, or at least highlight the benefits the wind farm would provide. Furthermore, as a means of alleviating concerns over the supposed destruction of the landscape, Windy Fields reduced the number of turbines from 21 to 16. Windy Fields CEO Jeff Potter said, “We have gone to great lengths to reduce the visual impact of the wind farm, including the removal of five turbines and moving several others back from the escarpment.”

Windy Fields have argued that Northern Ireland absolutely needs to become a more eco-friendly country and the Binevenagh wind farm is the first step forward. Windy Hill, as it is known locally, is one of the windiest locations in all of Europe and, as such, is the perfect location for a wind farm. The benefits far outweigh the aesthetic drawbacks is the case put forward by Windy Fields and, with opposition having fallen to 10%, it seems like it is just a matter of time until the farm is erected, for better or worse.

 

The Positive

There are  a myriad of benefits to using wind farms as a source of renewable energy. From the low cost of production to the high output of power, wind farms are an increasingly viable option to the energy crisis facing the entire world. This is especially true considering just how windy the UK and Ireland is.

Windy Farms CEO Jeff Potter has shed some new light on the controversial Binevenagh Wind Farm project. The plans for a 21 turbine wind farm on the Northern coast have been in motion since 2010 but there still hasn’t been any ground broken. The plans have been reimagined and now there are only 16 turbines being erected but the backlash to the project has still not diminished. Potter talked about the project and explained where it’s at now.

“Yes, we are still moving along.” Said Potter. “The application has gone to the Planning Appeals Commission (PAC) on an article 33 non-determination appeal, as the DOE planners were unlikely to decide either way.  The PAC is now waiting on our last environmental submission which we hope to send off in early March.” Windy Farms have submitted the last environmental report and, assuming there are no major hiccups, should receive a definitive yes or no by April or May.

Windy Fields Plans
Windy Fields Plans

So it seems likely that the project will indeed be breaking ground sometime in 2015, but there remains a vocal community of protestors, which Jeff Potter maintains are a minority. “A recent poll conducted by DECC that was released on 3 Feb 2015 showed support for onshore wind farms up to 68% of the public and total opposition down to 10%.” The 10% of total opposition seems surprising given the amount of support the anti-wind-farm Facebook page has and the Binevenagh SOS website, however it is possible that, over the past few years, the story has not been as prominent in media and public awareness of the project has dropped. Regardless of the reasoning Potter said, “This is encouraging, as it is impossible to satisfy all the people all the time.” While Potter’s words may be true, the people who oppose the wind farm are not looking for a compromise. “There is a certain percentage of the 10% of opponents who will never be satisfied and refuse to respond to questions as to where the electricity is going to come from, or how climate change should be dealt with.”

When asked about the concerns that the wind farm would ruin the natural beauty of the landscape, Potter admitted that Windy Farms have done everything to keep it as inconspicuous as possible. “We have gone to great lengths to reduce the visual impact of the wind farm, including the removal of five turbines and moving several others back from the escarpment.” And when asked if the reason for reducing the number of turbines from 21 to 16 was also aesthetic, Potter implied that it was.

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An Artist’s Rendering of The Plans

One of the major concerns of the project is ruining the natural beauty of the landscape, which could have a negative effect on tourism. Moreover Northern Ireland is seen as a budding film and television location and protestors argued that shows like Game of Thrones, which has provided a major economic boost for Northern Ireland, would be deterred from shooting here. Potter was asked about the concerns over tourism and the entertainment industry, he responded defiantly. “Most films determine their shooting destination on availability of skilled technicians and tax credits. So, these people see Northern Ireland as the New Hollywood?  On the effect of wind farms on tourism see: (1) a study commissioned by the Welsh government and published in April 2014 and (2) a study in 2011 commissioned by NITB.” Northern Ireland may not be the new Hollywood, as Potter put it, but the boost in tourism and global recognition brought forth by Game of Thrones is undeniable and deterring future projects would be a real disappointment.

Game of Thrones being filmed on the Binevenagh coast
Game of Thrones being filmed on the Binevenagh coast

Even the Northern Ireland Tourism Board has been drawn into the discussion over the aesthetic of the wind farm, per the Londonderry Sentinel (2014). “A development of this scale and in such close proximity to these features may have an impact on the ‘visitor experience’ in the area.” But when asked about the public opposition from official bodies, Potter had this to say. “The NITB did not put in an objection letter.  In fact, it would make more sense for them to support it in light of the tourism and educational centre that will be built alongside the wind farm, as well as recreational activities that it will promote: walking, jogging, cycling, etc.”

Considering the benefits of the wind farm that Potter mentioned, he was prompted for any other advantages the project could bring. Potter replied with a list:

  • Jobs – before, during and post construction in an area that is among the highest in unemployment in NI
  • Helping NI and the UK achieve binding Renewable Energy targets
  • Climate change mitigation (for those that care, as we do)
  • Community Fund of over £250,000 per annum being injected back into the local community with an emphasis on job creation and environmental projects
  • Landowner rents impacting the local economy indirectly
  • Significant Rates which will partially go to the local councils
  • The Tourism and Education Centre will provide facilities for tourists, schoolchildren/students and the local community through recreational activities
  • The peat restoration project will make the wind farm carbon positive
  • The habitat management plan will benefit flora and fauna

If all of Potter’s predicted advantages to the project come to fruition then it is hard to object the wind farm, even if it is unsightly. Potter addressed almost all of the concerns and backlash the project has faced thus far and retort for every one, some of which were more PR than others. The final question put forth to Potter was simple, what would he like to say to anyone who opposes the Binevenagh Wind Farm, in order to alleviate the concerns once and for all.

“I have had a number of discussions with opponents who came to our open days and almost all said that they have nothing against renewable energy or wind energy, but they just wanted it somewhere else.  But if coastal inhabitants in this area aren’t concerned about future (or even current!) effects of climate change, then you have to wonder what they are thinking! The project will provide much needed jobs, electricity and economic benefits, not to speak of helping to mitigate the effects of climate change. To argue that this is not enough to compensate for individual aesthetic issues is short-sighted.”

For more information and news, check out the official Windy Fields website.

 

The Not-So Positive

Gortmore-Viewing-Point-Manannan-MacLir

As mentioned on a few occasions, there has been considerable backlash to the proposed wind farm. From those who live on the coast, to Councillors and the Northern Ireland Tourist Board, Windy Fields has faced opposition from day one.

The opposition from locals in the County Antrim/County Londonderry area has been vocal in the form of protests, petitions, fund-raisers and social media.

These tweets are among a myriad of those opposing the wind farm. The Binevenagh SOS also has a twitter page that regularly tweets about petitions and makes sure anyone who opposes the project is encouraged to voice their opinion.

The primary concerns are about the lengthy construction time that would be necessary to build 16 turbines, the “ruined” aesthetic of the landscape once they’re erected, and the noise generated by them. Some people have voiced their concerns that the noise of the turbines would disrupt the peaceful nature of hearing the ocean. The following video shows the noise produced by a single turbine.

The Londonderry Sentinel said last year the Northern Ireland Tourist board is “the latest in a series of groups, individuals and businesses to oppose the planned wind farm in the heart of the Binevenagh Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. Those opposed to the plans point to the negative impact on tourism of a ‘panoramic view of industrial size turbines’.” Ruth Morgan, Environmental Officer for NITB, was asked for any updates on the organisation’s feelings, to which she replied, “Tourism NI’s previous responses to this proposal – in which the tourism value of the area was highlighted – remains current.” Morgan’s comment is short but reinforces the original sentiments put forward by the NITB.

Mike Jones, Chairman of the Castlerock Community Association, was interviewed about the topic and had some choice words. “I think that this particular windfarm project is a complete ‘no-no’ in every way.” Said Jones. “The site chosen will destroy a very important landscape area which is a designated an ‘Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty’ and has been since 2006. ”

When asked about his thoughts on the comments made by Jeff Potter, about Northern Ireland not being “the new Hollywood”, Jones replied with “We are not Bollywood yet but clearly we’re getting there”, along with this image:

Scan0151

Jones continued by saying, “The film industry is, in fact, becoming more and more important as a source of income for NI in general and for this area, in particular. The number of visitors – from all over the World – taking the Game of Thrones Heritage Trail, for instance, which brings them to the Downhill and Castlerock areas, has shot up over the last two seasons.”

Jones was asked about the potential benefits on the wind farm, as put forth by Potter, to which he said “Windy Fields have been trying recently to woo the local people with the promise of all kinds of jam tomorrow. They are so ill-thought out and changing from day-to-day that the eminent mendacity of this deceitful campaign is truly pitiful.” Potter’s claims about a boost in employment were also mentioned to Jones. “Employment? It’s mostly eyewash. Some labourers may get short-term work but all the skilled construction workers will be drafted in on short-term contracts, probably recruited from the unemployed oil industry construction workers in Scotland, with most of their pay being sent back there.” Jones summed up his opinion on the economic boost and employment opportunities by saying, “No profit to NI economy there!”

“Windfarms have their place in areas where the landscape is less important and much less likely to be damaged permanently by such constructions.” Said Jones, when asked for any final comments. “Submerged turbines off the coast, powered by tidal power are now being shown to be much more efficient and effective than wind turbines. The term ‘eco-friendly’ to me implies that you don’t desecrate finest landscapes and pillage the environment in pursuit of some ill-judged conviction that plastering over the countryside everywhere with turbines will solve our on-going energy problems.”

For the full interview with Mike Jones, visit this link.

Not everyone is as outspoken as Mr. Jones but he does convey the thoughts, albeit more articulately, of many on the Binevenagh Facebook page. However Ruth Morgan of NITB stated that, in recent surveys, tourists have said any wind farm would not deter them from visiting the coast. “A 2011 study commissioned by Tourism NI from Mintel provides some initial insights and has found that 52% domestic visitors and 48% ROI visitors would be happy to visit an area with wind turbines.”

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Choosing A Side

It seems that the topic is still a divisive one. As stated previously by Jeff Potter and Ruth Morgan, the opposition to the wind farm has fallen dramatically and only represents a fraction of the community. However, as we’ve discovered through the opposing websites, organisations, and interview with Mike Jones, that small pocket of opposition is a very vocal one.

The Binevenagh Wind Farm is not a black and white issue with an outcome that is both efficient and moral. Windy Fields have argued the necessity for the farm and attempted to compromise by lowering the number of turbines. That being said, the tumultuous construction of the site and eternal eye-sore on the historic landscape is undeniable.

With both sides claiming advantages and disadvantages, as well as hitting out at the other, the waters become murkier. It’s difficult to figure out who to believe and which side should be taken.  A new eco-friendly initiative is great for the environment but is it worth ravaging the land you’re trying to save?  As Mike Jones said, there is more efficient ways of generating power in a green way, without having to ruin a historic landscape. Regardless of what happens, Binevenagh will always be a sight to behold.

N Ireland debates EU exit but unites to lobby Irish Presidency on CAP reform

EUUN0001As the UK eyes the EU exit door, Northern Ireland is looking to the Irish Presidency of the European Council as an opportunity to lobby on behalf of farmers in upcoming Common Agriculture Policy (CAP) negotiations.

At a Office of the First Minister and Deputy First Minister Committee report meeting Monday, Members of the Assembly (MLAs) debated EU membership while voicing support of having a strong, unified front in CAP reform.

Stephen Moutray, DUP – Upper Bann, expressed his party’s support for an UK exit but was more concerned about the “single biggest issue facing us from Europe.”

“Europe cannot be discussed without immediately thinking of the rural dwellers and particularly rural families who very much depend on their Single Farm Payments especially at this very difficult time when banks are not lending as they once did.”

Moutray said the Dept of Regional Development, having consulted with farmers and become familiarised with CAP, “are at a strong position to fight the corner of our farming community.”

CAP accounts for half of the EU annual budget. Its average annual subsidy per farm is roughly €12,200 (£10,374) – providing almost half of farmers’ income in the EU. Based on hectares of land, small traditional farmers feel discriminated as 80 per cent of subsidies go to a quarter of farmers – those with the largest holdings.

Proposed reforms would subsidise acreage farmed instead of production totals and limit the amount a farm can receive at €300,000. A third of these “direct payments” would be dependent on meeting environmentally-friendly criteria such as permanently leaving pastures unploughed.

Many small farmers believe these regulations will put their families out of business, stressed Joe Byrne, SDLP – West Tyrone.

“The current negotiations on CAP reform are crucial for Northern Ireland agriculture in particular and indeed, the Northern Ireland regional economy,” said Byrne whose party has been pro-Europe for decades.

“We are lucky at this stage that Ireland has started the six months hosting of the Presidency and hopefully the negotiations can go in favour of our interests.”

Byrne said the Single Farm Payment subsidy is crucial for farmers and many are dependent on it – especially those in higher elevations and less productive land. 

“This CAP support needs to be tailored and tweaked in the interests of the Northern Ireland farming community as a whole across the region.”

“Agriculture contributes £378 million directly into our local economy – worth double the UK GDP average for the region. Nearly 47,000 people are employed directly in agriculture,” said Byrne.

“The agri-food sector is central to this economy. It is the biggest contributor to our local economy. The agri-food industry overall totals £4 billion.”

Northern Ireland Rail speeding towards a bright future.

Courtesy of Translink and NIR
Coleraine Bus and Rail Station, courtesy of Translink and NIR

Just as the train line between Londonderry and Coleraine is set to re-open on the 24th March, one week ahead of schedule, Mr Mal McGreevy updated Coleraine Borough Council on Translink’s recent achievements.

The Derry-Coleraine track has been closed for major engineering works since July 2012. Since then Mr McGreevy reported that services between Coleraine and Belfast have increased by 70% with a service running every hour since January 6th when the new timetables were introduced.

He said there has been, “tremendous growth in terms of people who are using the transport” with a 10-15% increase in the amount of people using the rail services. Mr McGreevy said he was “Grateful for the custom”.

On Translink’s website, Catherine Mason, Translink Group Chief Executive issued a statement saying, “We are delighted to be reopening this line in time for the Easter holiday period and hope many people will take the opportunity to travel on this very scenic part of our network.”

Mayor Samuel Cole, who described the train journey along the Derry line as “beautiful”, thanked and congratulated Translink on their achievements and welcomed the re-opening of the Derry-Coleraine line.

Councillor David McClarty said the service had been “totally resurrected… [I am] looking forward to the reopening of the line and everyone should be supporting Translink.”

The current cost of maintaining the service is £25-30 million per year. Mr McGreevy told the council there is the potential to expand the Belfast to Coleraine service. He said one way of doing this would be to possibly increase the amount of cars from the current 3-4 up to 6, which would be capable of carrying more people. The current 3 car trains have the capability to hold 216 passengers. Mr McGreevy rounded off his update by urging the council to encourage people to invest in Translink.

Your time, our place. Your money?

By Niamh Ferguson

This year, Belfast looks set to become a major tourist destination with the launch of “ni2012.” This campaign introduced by the Northern Ireland Tourist Board is dedicated to showing what Northern Ireland can offer on a world stage level.

With the Titanic centenary celebrations, the return of the Irish Open to Royal Portrush and many other exciting events scheduled throughout the year, the “ni2012” campaign is expected to boost the number of visitors to the country.

Arlene Foster, Minster for the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Investment, has claimed: “This is the time to welcome the world to our place and show them why we’re proud of it.” The Northern Ireland Executive is committed to bringing tourism to the country and many of these attractions and events are publicly funded.

Receiving much media coverage, Titanic Belfast opened its doors earlier in the year to coincide with the centenary of the ship’s sinking, creating a buzz throughout the city and gaining much attention from overseas. Many visitors were met with disappointment during the initial weeks of opening to discover that tickets were sold out until April 16 however, with the 100th year landmark now passed and the attraction inevitably no longer selling out for days at a time, will the considerable sum of public money spent on its construction (£60 million) be seen as a worthy investment in years to come?

On this issue, I spoke to Minister of Finance, Sammy Wilson: “On the general point I believe that there is considerable scope for development of the Northern Ireland economy through events which promote tourism either appealing to the home market or to the foreign market.

“Obviously events like the Irish Open and Titanic which are very strong worldwide brands have huge potential to bring in people from outside Northern Ireland and to result in considerable expenditure in the Northern Ireland economy creating jobs and increasing our GDP.

“For these reasons the Northern Ireland Executive have decided to put some public money into the Titanic Signature Project and also the promotion of the Irish Open. I believe that money will create a return which will show it to be a worthwhile investment.”

According to The Department of Enterprise, Trade and Investment, in 2011 1.8 million tourists visited Northern Ireland, generating £368 million in revenue, an increase of 20% compared to 2010. With more reasons to visit Northern Ireland in “our year”, it is not unreasonable to assume that the quantity of tourists and revenue may increase, however will the initial investments be sustainable beyond 2012?

The Titanic building has been described as Northern Ireland’s Eiffel Tower or Guggenheim museum and Claire Bradshaw, the centre’s marketing manager maintains that Titanic Belfast will be appealing to visitors, even after the centenary celebrations have finished. “What we say is come down, go through the experience and I promise you will not be disappointed.”

The project is being funded in part by the Department of Enterprise and Belfast City Council as well as the Belfast Harbour Commission and Titanic Quarter Ltd. The £92 million which is being spent on the “experience” is not only the iconic building but on opening the Harland and Wolff drawing offices to the public and the renovation of the SS Nomadic, serving as extra attractions for tourists. It has been suggested that the centre needs 290,000 visitors a year just to break even. It is hoped that all these extra attractions will increase numbers and revenue.

It is not only the Titanic Signature Project which has created interest in the country. Royal Portrush Golf Club is set to host the Irish Open for the first time since 1947 at the end of June. The prize for winning this event will be €2 million and the Northern Ireland Executive is expected to give a minimum of £2 million to this cause. With tickets selling fast and golf fans set to visit from all over the world surely this investment will be worth it.

I spoke to the professional of the club, Gary McNeill, about what he thinks the event will do for the North Coast.

“The Irish Open will do a lot of promoting for the area and for Royal Portrush. It’s our chance to showcase the area; it’ll bring tourists in not just this year or next year but I imagine for the next ten years. We have inquiries coming in everyday from across the water and I know a lot of people will be coming from England, Scotland and Wales. There will be a lot coming up from the Republic of Ireland. Just from the sounds of things and by ticket sales already I’d say most of Northern Ireland will be here as well.”

This is a one off event, which may return to the famous golf club in the coming years. It will be up to the North Coast to indeed showcase itself as a reason for people to visit.

With Derry adopting the title of “UK City of Culture” next year, and with Belfast continuing its popular annual events such as The Cathedral Quarter Arts Festival, the internationally acclaimed Festival of Fools and Queen’s Belfast Festival amongst others in 2013, we may see tourists visiting the attractions and venues that made 2012 “your time” and “our place”.

Follow the #ni2012 campaign on Twitter – www.twitter.com/DiscoverNI

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UhOEkN7ZTIc