A new tourist attraction based on the Titanic in Belfast, where the ship was built, has been hit by a controversy following accusations that it is perpetuating the class divide with which the ship is synonymous.
Built at a cost of one hundred million pounds and opened amid a major international marketing campaign, locals have queued up for a look inside the gleaming ship-shaped construction.
But visitors have expressed disappointment that the expensive tour -- £13.50 ($21.50) per ticket -- does not include the building’s main attraction, the staircase which recreates the signature element of the ship’s internal design and which features prominently in films and documentaries of the Titanic tragedy.
The project is British government’s latest attempt to create jobs in Protestant east Belfast. It has now been come embroiled in scandal after it was revealed that the feature staircase is being made available -- but only to a tiny number of “first class” guests.
Only celebrities, senior politicians and those attending exclusive banquets at the venue will be able to view the photogenic staircase, it has emerged.
The feature is situated in the top-floor banquet hall, which is normally closed off to paying customers, who are instead directed through a more mundane “steerage” tour of historical artefacts and audiovisual displays.
The issue became controversial this week when two young pop-band celebrities, JLS frontman Marvin Humes and his fiance Rochelle Wiseman from The Saturdays, tweeted a photo of themselves on the staircase.
The pair posed for their ‘Jack and Rose’ moment on Friday, recreating the famous scene from epic 1997 film ‘Titanic’ by James Cameron.
Locals have hit out at the centre for allowing celebrities the chance to pose on the iconic staircase while paying visitors cannot.
The staircase, situated in the conference and banqueting suite of the building, does not permit the public to view it on the usual tour — a decision that has already prompted expressions of anger.
One said: “It’s ridiculous that the staircase is being used to promote this attraction when it isn’t included in the tour. False advertising methinks. Nice to see the class system lives on!”
While certain areas of the north’s economy have enjoyed significant British grants, the broader population is currently suffering a Tory-imposed austerity program of cuts in public services and the divide between rich and poor has increased in recent years.
Anger over growing poverty has not been helped by a recent decision of the Stormont Assembly to award themselves a pay increase of over ten percent.
The Belfast Titanic project is the largest in a special investment area in Belfast known as the ‘Titanic Quarter’ which is intended to evolve into “a new-model futuristic hi-technology village”, including a waterfront development and a riverside entertainment district. The full cost of the ambitious regeneration project around the defunct Harland & Wolff shipyard is estimated at just under a billion dollars.
Responding to the furore, the operators of the ‘Titanic’ attraction have said they plan to open the replica staircase to the public on special ‘Staircase Sundays’.
But public disappointment at the tour has ignited fears that the project could become another scandal-plagued ‘white elephant’ of the kind for which the publicly-funded Six County economy is infamous.
A previous attempt by the British government to generate employment in Protestant areas saw it inject $156 million in grants and loans in 1979 in return for US industrialist John DeLorean locating the his sportscar manufacturing factory from Michigan to Dunmurry in south Belfast.
Within three years the factory was in receivership, and John de Lorean himself was subsequently arrested for taking part in an international drug-smuggling scheme.