Fake shop fronts hide N.Ireland economic woes before G8
By Cathal McNaughtan
BELCOO, Northern Ireland (Reuters) - Local councils in Northern Ireland have painted fake shop fronts and covered derelict buildings with huge billboards to hide the economic hardship being felt in towns and villages near the golf resort where G8 leaders will meet this month.
Northern Ireland's government has spent 2 million pounds tackling dereliction over the past two years, the province's environment department said, demolishing some buildings and giving others a facelift in a bid to make areas more attractive.
Almost a quarter of so-called dereliction funds were freed up for local councilors in the county of Fermanagh in anticipation of Britain hosting the annual Group of Eight leaders summit there on June 17-18. More than 100 properties have been spruced up.
In the one-street town of Belcoo, the changes are merely cosmetic. At a former butcher's shop, stickers applied to the windows show a packed meat counter and give the impression that business is booming.
Across the street, another empty unit has been given a makeover to look like a thriving office supply shop. Locals are unimpressed.
"The shop fronts are cosmetic surgery for serious wounds. They are looking after the banks instead of saving good businesses," said Kevin Maguire, 62, an unemployed man who has lived all his life in Belcoo.
"Where would you see a shop front in Northern Ireland like this anyway? It's more like something you'd find in Belgravia or Chelsea," he said, referring to elite districts of London.
The fakes are not the first of their kind in Northern Ireland, a province recovering from three decades of sectarian violence that was largely ended by a peace deal 15 years ago. Continued...