The doors of the public buildings in Belfast are paneled in one-way glass. You don't see the security guards inside as you aproach: You only see yourself in the mirrored sheen.
The glass, like the barbed wire and the street-corner soldiers, is simply one more response to the well-known sectarian-based but politicaly motivated campaign of terrorism now in its tenth year and euphemistically known as "the troubles."
Yet the glass is also a symbol. For Belfast, capital of the six northeastern counties of the Emerald Isle which constitute Northern Ireland, or (not so accurately) Ulster, is an excellent mirror: It reflects back whatever image the visitor brings to it.
To those who come primed with news media accounts of bombings and snipings, this city of 400,000 is a grisly derelict. Blasted buildings, chain-link fences , helicopters, and police checkpoints are never far from view. The last remaining major downtown hotel, the Europa, offers its friendly and comfortable accommodations within a fenced compound where guards with explosive-sniffers frisk incoming guests.
Within view are other accommodations. The Divis Flats, not 15 years old and already a high-rise planner's nightmare, dotted with plywood-covered windows and graffiti, are set in a wasteland of discarded boots and broken bricks. They stand near what is called (also euphemistically) the "peace line," where Roman Catholic West Belfast butts up against the equally grim landscape of its Protestant neighbor, amid the nettles of sectarian violence. Low buildings here have barbed wire looping along their roof edges. Tall ones have garish orange flood- lights bathing the empty streets beneath.
But visitors primed with information about industrial development see another face in the glass. Here, they are told, is a region making a mighty and not unsuccessful effort to draw investment from Western Europe and America. Here are the kinds of financial incentives businessmen find hard to refuse: an amiable and disciplined work force eager to reduce the country's 11.5 percent unemployment, a well-developed infrastructure of roads and ports, ample power and water, new factories awaiting occupancy, and a government falling over itself to provide businesses with grants, loans, rent-free premises, and training programs.
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