06 April 2006

Historic setting for vision of the future

Belfast Telegraph

Navan Fort was the setting today for the latest attempt to restore the Assembly

06 April 2006

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Prime Minister Tony Blair and Taoiseach Bertie Ahern today travelled to one of Northern Ireland's most troubled attractions - in the hope of reviving another.

But initially their mission statement seemed likely instead to attract more trouble - on the political front.

The symbolism of their joint visit to Navan Fort just three miles outside Armagh, however, was hard to escape.

Like the suspended Assembly, Navan Fort had been shut down for a considerable period of time.

But the Iron Age settlement with its fabulous hilltop setting into which the centre has been built has fought back, and is due to open in May.

Just like the Assembly, if the two premiers have their way.

Armagh City and District Council bought the mothballed Navan Centre after a lengthy legal process and hope to use it to revitalise tourism.

Today, still amid another lengthy process, two Prime Ministers were using it to unveil plans which could revitalise the prospects for devolution and local control over much more than just tourism.

The £4m centre - seat of the ancient kings of Ulster - crashed in 1991 due to poor visitor numbers and the withdrawal of Government funding.

If no political progress has been made by November, Stormont could have even poorer visitor numbers and an even more dramatic Government withdrawal of funding.

But Armagh is also the base for the North-South Ministerial Council, whose work through the cross-border bodies has been quietly continuing.

The location is also therefore a warning to unionists that the North-South work will go on regardless of what happens on the other hill.

Armagh is also, of course, the ecclesiastical capital of Ireland and who's to say Messrs Blair and Ahern won't be hoping for a little divine inspiration?

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