Northern Ireland can be promoted as a distinct brand

News Letter editorial
News Letter editorial

A row has flared up between Willie Frazer and Belfast International Airport, over the latter’s alleged failure to sell Northern Ireland goods.

The victims campaigner sees a bid to remove any Northern Irish identity.

The airport dismisses this as an “outlandish slur”.

Mr Frazer is right to think that there are some people in the tourist world who would let a specific Northern Irish tourism or symbolism vanish within an all-island context, in which Antrim is as indistinguishably Irish as Cork.

But he has chosen the wrong target. This newspaper is a strong supporter of Belfast International Airport and fully accept its claim that it has “a central role in ‘NI plc’”.

Aldergrove is geographically and culturally in the heart of Northern Ireland. It is a place through which millions of people have passed as they arrive (perhaps for the first time) in the Province or depart it.

It opened daily during the Troubles. It is the place locals have been happy to see, as a trip away gets near, but also when the desire to get back home returns.

But while Mr Frazer is wrong to see a conspiracy in which the airport is involved, he raises a reasonable overall point. Even in Belfast tourist shops often seem to be dominated by classically ‘Irish’ items such as toy leprechauns.

There is no harm or surprise in this, given that even visitors from Great Britain often think that they are visiting ‘Ireland’, with little sense of a border.

There is scope, however, in all tourist centres for pushing the Northern Ireland brand. This might be the sale of the football team’s top or the sort of Harland and Wolff souvenirs that the airport insists it already sells.

When the G8 came to Fermanagh tourist chiefs wisely bussed journalists to Castle Coole, where fine Ulster produce was served. Be it in hotels, shops or transport hubs, stands could do the same, stocking produce such as Bushmills, under a map of NI and images of its countryside.