A recent trip to Belfast showed us in the Republic how the North of Ireland is really beginning to modernise. Property development in the city centre seems quite widespread and resembles the Dublin of a few years ago. A decade ago, they say, there were no big cranes over Belfast but now there are several.

New office blocks are being constructed and also hotels in what is a renewing of the city.

Similar developments have taken place in Northern England in the Nineties in places like Leeds and Manchester but Belfast was left behind. More shopping has accompanied this positive trend and more visitors are coming providing excellent business for cafes, restaurants and hotels.

The hotel we stayed in could have been even bigger, said the staff, as demand was underestimated and they wee actually turning people away. It certainly looks like the end of the troubles has meant better times and more jobs.

However, a visit to the Belfast working area heartlands revealed a picture that is not as bright. Like in Dublin, there are still deprived areas that show lack of advantage especially where education levels are low and unemployment is high. Incentives are there to keep youngsters at school until they are seventeen with a payment of £30 sterling a week. Social problems could lead youngsters to find an alternative life of crime or, as in previous times, terrorism and intimidation. Getting work for these young people must be one of the biggest objectives for the authorities. The need to inject American capital into the province is a big goal for the authorities and there is a need to put effort in getting people who feel disenfranchised into regular employment.

Can farmers go into alternative enterprises

While in Northern Ireland, we learned that one in ten farmers now has other alternative businesses to farming. In the Republic, many worked in factories and building and did farming part time but, with the slowdown in building more pronounced with every passing week, farmers now have to maximise farm income or seek alternative enterprises.

Could the government encourage more alternative farming enterprises through educational and development? The Leader Partnership was available to encourage farmers to go into alternatives. In Northern Ireland, the range of businesses varies from farm shops to guest houses, riding centres and matters related to the horse industry.

Local specially produced foods like cheese or ham is another area but the regulations can be stringent. Another interesting one we learned about was farm-based boarding kennels for cats or dogs. Keeping horses for people in the city is another good earner. This may require a small amount of investment but could be worthwhile if properly marketed. Model farms were also a part of the Northern scene where people could go and pay for a farm visit. This sector is popular in England and is catching on here. For instance, there is a special visitor farm in Fenor where they can even entertain children’s parties and show off the various farm animals in a special enterprise. This is all in the name of diversification and is encouraged.

Energy crops and leasing out the land for energy production is happening in Europe with farms having solar energy fields. Here in County Waterford, farmers are also getting involved in wind energy and leasing land for turbines. The growing of maize or corn for ethanol is another activity that is big overseas and will happen here. Forestry is another slow burn activity where income can be derived from poor land. More entrepreneurship will be required in the years ahead for the farmer so that they are not totally dependent on farm products.