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14 February 2008 Edition

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The Mary Nelis Column

Sectarian stain on the tourist trail  

IT WAS the second attack within weeks, though you would never have guessed it judging by the reaction of the Six-County Tourist Board (NITB).
The Paddywagon, the distinctive green, hugely popular tourist bus, was burned out last weekend, in the University area of South Belfast.
The bus, which had been carrying tourists from Canada and Australia on the first day of their tour of Belfast and Derry, was left a charred wreck but no one witnessed it, just as no one saw the other attacks some weeks ago or the attacks on any bus painted green or with Irish symbols or writing or even with Southern registration plates.
It’s not the first (and no doubt it will not be the last) attack on these buses and, as one Canadian passenger stated, “It was a kind of scary situation to wake up to,” and she believes that such incidents will put people off returning to Belfast.
You would imagine that the NITB would be out of the starting blocks straightaway, condemning the incident and contacting the tour operators who, despite the previous bus-burning incidents, were prepared to take their losses – some £60,000 – on the chin and continue to showcase the Six Counties as a place of beauty, entertainment and great hospitality to visitors.
Not only did the NITB fail to make any attempt to liaise with the owners of Paddywagon Tours, they even failed to contact the shocked passengers. The NITB’s spokesperson was dismissive of the incident, explaining that this is “not the experience of the vast majority of visitors” and it is “hugely regrettable that one such incident should put people off coming back”. Translate “hugely regrettable” for ‘green-painted buses should not be parked in South Belfast’.
Well it was not one such incident but the latest in a series of long-running sectarian attacks on buses, vehicles, buildings or people in certain areas of South Belfast, no matter what assurances are given by the representatives of the various loyalist factions, who, tongue-in-cheek, stated that there is “no organised hostility towards the company”. What about unorganised hostility to green or to Irish symbols such as rainbows and leprechauns.
It is common knowledge that nothing happens in South Belfast without the knowledge of the unionist paramilitaries and the NITB know this.
It’s not so long ago that the NITB’s list of top tourist attractions was Pickie Pool in Bangor, a puddle of water with a toy train and a donkey. Derry and its walls, the oldest intact walled city in Europe, were omitted.
Things have moved on since then and the NITB home page on the web is now much more inclusive. But being inclusive is not enough. If they are to discharge their responsibilities to really make the North – all of it -– a totally safe, secure and welcoming destination, they must face down the sectarianism, blatantly anti-Irish, anti-Catholic, ‘Taigs Out’ mentality that is synonymous with South Belfast. The silence of unionist politicians and the DUP Minister of Culture, Arts and Leisure in the face of such sectarianism is deafening.
Incidentally, one would have thought that the PSNI would have endeavoured to protect Paddywagons, whatever the colour. After all, the ‘Paddywagon’ was the name given to the mode of transport used by the police in days gone by to transport the Irish to jail.

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