The last few weeks have set a high standard in showcasing Belfast as a modern city with a range of events to appeal to all tastes. We had the use of popular Ravenhill Rugby grounds last Friday night for a major rock concert. Just a few weekends ago there was a hugely successful weekend of free top-of-the-range entertainment for all comers in the newly-opened public space of Custom House Square.
Restaurants, cafes and clubs open apace and I am informed by those who know, that the standard of cuisine in the better eateries rivals and indeed surpasses the best elsewhere. Open topped buses filled with interested tourists, once a slightly surreal sight on our dour streets, are now commonplace. Indeed Belfast is beginning to appear regularly in the travel journals as a must visit, hidden gem of a city.
And if you want to get out of the city, less than an hour from Belfast on all points of the compass there are rolling hills and beautiful lakes and coastlines to satisfy the most demanding appetites.
The latest Northern Ireland Life and Times study conducted by Ark, the joint research institute of the two universities, confirms that the upbeat ambience of downtown Belfast reflects generally the feeling of people living in Northern Ireland. For example 56 per cent of people felt that relationships between Catholics and Protestants had improved and even more people believed that they would keep on improving.
In fact there is a suggestion that more people view potential racial discrimination as a bigger problem than sectarianism. Indeed some groups, easy with their own culture and welcoming of other people's, have already started proactive events designed to listen to, enjoy and explore the possibilities of music making by different races and cultures. Armagh Festival of Traditional and Folk Song last Saturday night provided such an opportunity an event that surely will promote good relations with the ethnic minorities in the area.
But then wherever you were at the weekend there was a wide range of events whether it was the St George's Church, High Street, Belfast reunion of 21 years of choristers, with their music teachers a formidable range of musically talented young people flying in from all over the UK to reminisce and enjoy themselves. Or maybe you enjoyed buskers in Banbridge or one of the many local carnivals. All these events filled by people at ease with themselves and happy to enjoy the quality of life here and the luxury of sunshine and blue sky.
Except for one area of course an area predictable for its trouble, a place where one set of people go out of their way to cause offence and another set of people go out of their way to be offended. I am, of course referring to the Orange Order parade and the trouble consequent to it, in the Ardoyne area of north Belfast last Friday night.
The vast number of people who turned on the television or read the news that evening or the next morning on hearing about the inevitable injuries, the inevitable tit-for-tat squabble about who started it and who provoked whom will have thought, "Why don't they just get over it and get on with their lives".
Harsh though it may be, more and more people don't want to know about these recurring trouble spots and the people in them and at them mostly young people who irrespective of which side they are on seem to come out on to the streets determined to pick a fight. The fact is that the most disappointing thing that could happen to the Orangemen and their supporters is to find that their march through other people's territory is greeted with blithe indifference boredom even. And that instead of the local youth supplying adrenaline-raising opportunities and the prospect of a juicy confrontation for both sides, the Orange march passes by empty and disinterested streets. Wouldn't it be wonderful if these young people were to take themselves off for the night to sample the delights of downtown Belfast thereby removing their need to be offended and removing the possibility of confrontation. To follow this course of action is not defeat. It is victory.