Quite often our insularity is our biggest enemy here. In recent years I visited Alcatraz in San Francisco Bay. The amount of time we waited to gain access was outrageous but we still felt compelled to visit that infamous gaol. What was overwhelming was the tourist attraction Alcatraz is for that region. Through using an iPod or earpiece we learned so much about life inside the island gaol and gained such insights into ‘Birdman’ ‘ Machine Gun Kelly’ and ‘Al Capone’ and all their attempts at escaping.
All the time I was in Alcatraz my mind kept flashing back to the Maze Prison as we were planning to ‘raise it to the ground.’ I said to myself and my company on that day “we are crazy.” For my children’s generation the Hunger Strike of 1981 has little or no resonance today. In another decade the rawness of that period will be practically erased from the memories of a whole generation.
I came to realise just how insular we are. On returning to Parliament Buildings I engaged an Executive Minister on this subject. He later came back to me to inform me he had been to Alcatraz and understood precisely my point. His party didn’t. The Maze was toppled and with that ‘ a pot of gold’ was melted. We have to end this myopia and see the ‘big picture’ in all our interests. We don’t travel to different locations just for the sake of going there. We go there for reasons. Thousands of people flock to Northern Spain to visit to Frank Gehry’s creation The Guggenheim Museum. Bilbao is a ‘must see.’ We must have ‘must see’ reasons for people to come to spend time and money with us. We have Heaney, Hewitt, Moore, Morrison, Muldoon, Galway, Lewis, Best etc. Where is our Hall of Fame? We couldn’t even secure, for the people, the home of one of the greatest footballers of all time George Best. More gold melting in this short-sighted city of ours!