Belfast is a dirty slum which reeks of decay and dereliction - Jake O’Kane

The city’s councillors need to waken up and smell the stink

Jake O'Kane

Jake O'Kane

Jake is a comic, columnist and contrarian.

Belfast Shaftesbury Square. Run down. derelict dirty old town
Shaftesbury Square is an example of Belfast city centre's ugly decline (Mal McCann)

I hate people who say, ‘I told you so’, as they invariably turn out to be narcissistic bores. I’d ever say such a thing, no, I would however point out that in past columns I’ve been uncannily prescient, which of course is another way of saying, ‘I told you so’.

Such an example was last Friday which was International Women’s Day and was marked in Belfast with the unveiling of statues to two local women of note.

One was of Mary Ann McCracken, sister of 1798 rebellion leader Henry Joy McCracken, who during her life was a social reformer and anti-slave campaigner. The second was of Winifred Carney a suffragist and trade unionist.

On February 13 2021 I devoted a column to the amazing story of Mary Ann McCracken and it’s heartening that our civic leaders have finally recognised her life and achievements.

Also, in this column on June 27 2020 I highlighted the fact Belfast was disgracefully devoid of statues of notable women. I said at the time: “I suggest we erect more statues, but not of politicians – we’ve enough of them. Instead, let’s erect statues of individuals who’ve excelled in other fields, especially if they originate from minorities seldom memorialised, such as women.”

I suggested another suitable candidate in the shape of Dame Susan Jocelyn Bell Burnell. As an undergraduate astrophysicist she discovered the first pulsar, and while her professors were awarded a Nobel Prize her contribution went unrecognised. It would be nice to correct that injustice with a statue, whilst Dame Jocelyn is still alive rather than waiting 158 years, as in the case of Mary Ann McCracken.

Another issue I’d previously commented on was highlighted last week by Belfast tailor Chris Suitor who has lamented the state of Belfast city centre and its continuing slide into dereliction.

Could removing the rates discount and exemption for empty and derelict properties help improve Belfast city centre?
Large parts of Belfast city centre have been allowed to slide into decay

On November 5 2022 I’d written, “the north of the city centre, which Belfast City Council handed to property developers to become the ridiculously named ‘Tribeca’ district, exhibits a dereliction and decay even worse that during the height of the conflict”. Murmurings that the council is now seeking to take back control from the ‘Tribeca’ non-developers would indicate it’s finally accepted that their brilliant deal wasn’t so brilliant after all.

On July 22 2023 I also commented on tourists’ confusion at Belfast’s ludicrous Sunday opening hours saying, “bewildered, they wander vainly in search of an open coffee shop much less a bar, ignorant of the fact that Belfast maintains Victorian Sunday opening hours, where it’s easier to get a hit of heroin than a latte”.

Belfast’s rampant drug problem continues to be a curse with its attendant mortalities. I won’t bore you with the number of times I’ve argued in this column for the adoption of a safe consumption room which would stop inadvertent overdoses and discarded syringes.

Belfast is ill served by those we’ve elected to serve. Due to our troubled past many councillors running Ireland’s second city wouldn’t make it onto a school board anywhere else

Tragically I suspect it will take years before our council finally adopts what most rational people recognise as an obvious way to end these avoidable deaths.

I don’t believe my predictions are down to the possession of a higher-than-average IQ; quite the opposite, I believe most people could have made them, but seemingly not Belfast’s councillors.

For the common denominator stretching over all these issues, be it female statues, the rundown of the city centre or a safe consumption room is the ineptitude of our elected civic representatives.

I’d argue Belfast is ill served by those we’ve elected to serve. Due to our troubled past many councillors running Ireland’s second city wouldn’t make it onto a school board anywhere else. And I don’t care what flag they fly nor anthem they sing - they should be judged on their actions not their loyalties, words nor promises.

So, I won’t mince my words: Central Belfast is a dirty slum, it reeks of decay and dereliction and is an embarrassment to all but the self-deluded. I take no pleasure in saying this. Belfast is my city; it’s the city I’ve chosen to call home and where I’ve lived all my life and intend never to leave.

But our local politicians need to waken up and smell the stink. We desperately need them to start taking hard decisions based not on pleasing their own political base but in the interests of all the city’s citizens.

Unless they have this shift in mentality my generation could end up reminiscing about Belfast in the good old days... during the Troubles. And God forbid, but if that does happen, don’t forget, I told you so.