by Richard Buckley, Editor, Business Eye

The Brexit process seems to have reached the stage now where, even when something supposedly momentous happens, most of us shrug our shoulders and carry on regardless. This week was a case in point.


Over in Brussels, the gormless looking David Davis and his EU counterpart Monsieur Barnier were grinning dementedly at having, they said, reached an agreement for the first part of the inexorable Brexit process.

But when the tedious details were announced, it was more than a bit hard to understand what they had actually achieved.

And didn’t they announce it in style? Who told them that putting up a Powerpoint of loads of pages with some highlighter markings on them was a powerful way of communicating……?

Whatever it was that they achieved, what they didn’t achieve was any progress on the issue that worries us most in this part of the world, the Irish border. And the notional Irish Sea border, for that matter. Both were hidden away like the booze bottles when the religious relatives come calling.

But the clear lack of any coherent progress on the border issue didn’t stop the cheerleaders of the DUP from urging the Tory government onwards and, as they see it, upwards.

Ah well, why not celebrate the fact that we’re no further on?

Ideas…..They’re Always Welcome

We’d hate to give the impression that we’re always down on our friends at the DUP. Nothing could be further from the truth…..

So let’s give this week’s honourable mention to Emma Little Pengelly. The South Belfast MP kicked off her Paddy’s Day weekend by taking the unusual, and very welcome, step of wishing everyone a happy St. Patrick’s Day in Irish.

It raised a few eyebrows, and it’s hard to imagine Nigel Dodds or Sammy Wilson doing anything similar, and it’s a small move. But it’s a small move that should be warmly welcomed by everyone….including her political opponents around South Belfast, who were conspicuous by their silence.

And, on a completely different point, Emma also asked the Secretary of State to consider the idea of a formal and regular Business Forum to continue maximising opportunities for Northern Ireland.

Some might scoff at the idea. In fact, they probably have. But, given the fact that Stormont isn’t coming back in the foreseeable future, it might not do any harm.

Meanwhile, we couldn’t help but notice David Gavaghan’s tweet the other day about how the whole Metro Mayor idea is helping to boost economic growth in the UK’s regions. Under a devolution agreement with Westminster, several UK city regions have elected mayors for the first time. The directly elected Metro Mayers are chairs of combined authorities.

Could it work here? It’s hard to see it, to be perfectly honest. But, given the fact that our local authorities continue to work and work well while Stormont doesn’t, maybe it should give us food for thought.

All a bit creative, probably, for our Secretary of State. She’s called this week for the resumption of talks at Stormont after Easter.

Sure, Karen. Why not? And let’s keep on paying the feckers as well.

Leadership & Learning

It was John F. Kennedy who said that leadership and learning are indispensable to each other. It’s a quote that might have come into our mind last week at the Merchant Hotel launch of the IoD’s Northern Ireland Academy…..it didn’t, but it might have!

It’s well worth noting, though, that this is the only IoD Academy outside of London, so we’re ahead of the game. And the range of management courses that it will offer provide another alternative for those of us in the business community who like a spot of professional development.

All the details are accessible via www.iod.com/academyni or you can call 028 9091 2829.

On a broader note, it’s great to see how the IoD here in Northern Ireland seems to be benefitting from the leadership of Kirsty McManus and a young and energetic team that includes the likes of Dr. Elaine O’Neill and Emma-Jayne Mawhinney.

We even managed to make it along to not one but two IoD events within a week. The second, sponsored by BDO, brought the world’s most famous rugby referee, Nigel Owens, to the Kingspan Stadium where he talked to the BBC’s Stephen Watson and answered questions from an audience of rugby fans still in high spirits on the back of Ireland’s Grand Slam victory last Saturday at Twickenham.

Given that Nigel is not unused to breaking up fights on the pitch, could we give him at job up at Stormont? Maybe not.

Down By The Waterfront

Whilst we don’t want to reinforce the clearly mistaken impression that we’re always out at some function or other, we did make it along to Titanic Belfast last week for the opening of the venue’s latest event space.

It’s called Hickson’s Point and it’s a separate building right on the quayside in the shadow of the main Titanic Belfast structure. And it’s been fitted out as a 1900’s style Belfast pub, complete with a decent-sized bar, wooden walls, authentic-looking tables and – apparently – a menu offering based around the Belfast theme. The good folks at Titanic can even lay on some traditional music to help set the scene even further.

It’s a great space, ideal – we would imagine – for small business events, private parties, and especially suited for anyone wanting to impress visitors to our fair city. What better place to entertain them than a building on the edge of the Titanic slipway?

And the name? It’s a nod to Belfast’s shipbuilding heritage. Robert Hickson’s was one of a number of smaller shipyards dotted around the Lagan in the 1800’s. Apparently two of the senior men at Hickson’s back in the day were Edward Harland, who went on to buy the place over, and one Gustav Wolff.

The rest, as they say, is history.

It’s Official….Ballyhackamore Is Best

We’ve known it for years, but we’re delighted that it’s now official. Ballyhackamore in East Belfast is Northern Ireland’s Best Place To Live for 2018, beating off stern but ultimately fruitless competition from the likes of Holywood, Newcastle, Portrush and Strangford.

The annual survey was organised by The Sunday Times, with the results published in a special supplement that come with the paper last weekend.

Here’s what the paper had to say about Ballyhack…….

There’s nowhere most appealing to settle down and bring up the kids than Ballyhackamore, a once unheralded corner east of the city centre. Or Ballysnackamore, as it’s known (is it?) thanks to the brunching, dining, and sipping of cocktails enjoyed along the Upper Newtownards Road…..”

Indeed, we’re often to be found sipping a banana daiquiri in Stoker’s Halt while watching the world go by.

But let’s be magnanimous here. It’s a pity that the previously hip and trendy Lisburn Road area didn’t get a look in. That had us crying into our almond milk latte.

Still, the well-heeled residents of Holywood needn’t despair. They also won a coveted title recently, Holywood was named as the ‘Town Most Up It’s Own Hole’ by the satirical website The Ulster Fry.

Bet they’re delighted!

The Rub Of The Green

On the sporting front, last weekend couldn’t have gone much better. At Twickers on Saturday afternoon, the chariots were barely swinging at all as the mighty Irish took control right from the start and completed their Grand Slam with an emphatic victory over the English.

And didn’t it give us all the chance to enjoy a blizzard of social media jokes at the expense of England’s hapless Aussie coach Eddie Jones…..a man who now understands a bit more about England, Irish and Welsh rivalries than he used to do?

Having celebrating that one, and the leadership of Rory Best, the other famous Rory from this part of the world sprang back into life on Sunday in Florida, when Rory McIlroy won the big Arnold Palmer Invitational….just a couple of weeks before the US Masters at Augusta.

Meanwhile, our potentially lucrative bet didn’t quite some in. Jacob Stockdale did his bit by scoring a try for Ireland against England, but Killultagh Vic in the Cheltenham Gold Cup didn’t cut the mustard. He seemed to have forgotten how to jump…….

Ah well, back to the drawing board.

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