|Northern Ireland constantly wrestles with identity. Whether that identity is national, political, sectarian or age-related, our people display their wares openly. This is why we see kerbstones painted, murals dedicated and flags flying; the insecurity around identity causes peacock-like behaviour. Only by building our bowers can we be sure to stamp our individual and community identity on the world. This is why the kerb painting happens at interface areas; places where the insecure feel most need to assert themselves. It’s the show of silent strength, a warning and a sign of virility.|
My work involves the whole of Northern Ireland. I live in Bangor. Most of my work is around Belfast. A lesser amount around Derry. And even smaller amounts around the rest of Northern Ireland. And most of that is simply due to the population distribution and the critical mass needed to establish a viable business in this sector. But my work is in Northern Ireland. It bothers me to see small regions within this small province to so fiercely state their parochial identity that it causes the message to be lost. I had to advise a company to not describe themselves as “Ulster-based” because no-one, outside of the few people who care about such things, would even know where Ulster was. And none of them were the target audience. Similary, I spoke to NI Screen late in 2011 about making sure that their press releases regarding some film shoots refer to Northern Ireland because I saw some referring to Belfast when I know the shoots took place all over our wee province. An outsider won’t realise that the great company she saw from “Ulster” is even in the same town as the one which proudly describes itself as from “Derry” and they can’t be merely 70 miles from the third which is “Belfast-based”. We need to think carefully about the messages we send out and work on masking our insecurities.
I would ask that we not refer to Belfast, or Derry, or Newry or Cullybackey in our press releases. Have solidarity with your countryfolk. Respect them for where they come from, be it “Legenderry” or “Limavegas” and support them in their endeavours and remember that the whole of Northern Ireland is a tiny place. We’re never more than an hour from the sea. Never more than 30 minutes from a large body of water. We are alone on this small rock, an outpost of the United Kingdom (whether you like that or not, it won’t change it). Unlike the rest of the UK, we have a land border with a foreign country using a different currency with more lenient tax laws. We are very much isolated and we only have ourselves to rely on.
And because we are the underdog, we need to work harder at this. To work and establish that Belfast and Derry mean more than “The Troubles”. To make the province famous for more than sinkable ships and drunken footballers. And time travelling but ultimately failed cars.
When a story broke about a scam involving a local self-proclaimed venture capitalist, it crossed the world in hours but when we have good stories about Northern Ireland, we can barely get the time of day from the media. We have to change that too. It’s more than just releasing press releases, we need to start working on the message and preparing Northern Ireland for the market.
This isn’t really about the foreign companies which have invested in Northern Ireland; Nortel, Citi, Northgate, Allstate, Oracle to mention just a few. This is about the rise in indigenous talent, companies wholly owned by Northern Irish entrepreneurs. Companies like AirPOS, Planzai, Rumble Labs, Ecliptic Labs, Outsider Games, Troll Inc, Black Market Games, The Creativity Hub, The Design Zoo, Black North, Sixteen South, Waddellmedia, FRONT, Frank, Paperjam Design, Learning Pool, Kainos, RepKnight, Astute Labs, Conquest Dynamics, Purple Guerrilla and hundreds of others I can’t even fit in here. They’re the next source of wealth out there – and if you don’t believe me, look at STC (which was bought by Nortel), CEM (which eventually became the NI branch of Northgate), Meridio (sold to Autonomy), Wombat (which was bought by NYSE Euronext), ATG (bought by Oracle), Singularity (recently bought by Kofax), Lagan (recently purchased by Kana) and the most recent, World Desk (bought earlier this week by Desk Stream).
So, for the future, I don’t want to hear about Belfast or Derry or Newry or Cullybackey. I just want to hear about Northern Ireland. We need to make plans for the “Big Hub”, realising that every part of Northern Ireland is part of the digital vision for the province.