I read with interest reports of a study suggesting that Belfast is the most dangerous city in Europe in terms of terrorist threat (you can read about it yourself here). Whenever I come across misleading negativity regarding my adopted city, I feel the need to put the record straight.
The study was apparently carried out by a ‘global risk analytics company’, who compiled details of every terrorist attack around the world in the five-year period to March 2015, along with longer term attack records, in order to rank cities around the world based on the dangers posed by terrorism. Unsurprisingly, Baghdad came out top. I’ve never been to Baghdad, but I’m sure their findings are basically sound on that one.
However, whatever methodology the firm quoted in the article used to come up with their results, I feel that they don’t represent the reality on the ground here in Belfast. This, of course, is not a political blog, and I don’t intend to get into a political discussion of any kind, but I’m not going to pretend that everything is fine here now and that nothing ever happens. There is indeed a considerable risk to the security forces in Northern Ireland. And wherever attacks of any kind take place, there’s no point pretending that members of the public, or even tourists, couldn’t, in theory, find themselves caught up.
However – and this needs to be stated in the strongest possible terms – the reality is that the threat to ordinary people, and in particular to tourists visiting Belfast and Northern Ireland, is minimal. Indeed, Northern Ireland is regularly cited as one of the safest places to be a tourist in the industrialised world. Petty crime rates are relatively low. Belfast’s streets are free of the pickpocketing menace that blights major tourist spots the world over.
Only yesterday, I took an early evening stroll past City Hall and along Royal Avenue in the very heart of the city. Milling around on the streets surrounding the building was a throng of tourists taking pictures or just gazing in wonder at this architectural masterpiece. As they chatted in what I suspect was Spanish, not one of them looked as if they sensed danger or felt any kind of threat to their person. Of course, indiscriminate terrorist violence often strikes when people are at their least suspecting, but my point is that, whatever the political situation in Belfast, it offers a safe and friendly tourist experience.
The picture I have chosen to illustrate this entry was taken during the start of the 2014 Giro d’Italia bike race – the Italian version of the Tour de France. It was a sign of real confidence in Belfast and Northern Ireland that the organisers of the Giro opted to begin the race here, even if the weather didn’t play ball! I feel the image at the top of this post demonstrates Belfast at its best – welcoming, vibrant, increasingly cosmopolitan and on a forward track. Again, I can only ask – does anybody in the picture look like they’re about to hunker down in fear at the prospect of a terrorist attack?
My biggest fear is that studies like the one quoted, with their simplistic narratives, set back the incredible hard work that the likes of Discover Northern Ireland and Visit Belfast do to try and improve the visitor experience here and to encourage people to visit. Those who do visit are rewarded by a beautiful and friendly country with a fascinating (if tragic) history and an increasingly exciting future. Belfast itself offers plenty of interesting sights – and it’s especially worth coming at this stage, before it’s truly discovered and the tourist traps become like every other tourist trap around the world.