Dear Belfast exiles

For those who left Northern Ireland because of the Troubles, now is the time to return home - not just for the good of the old country, but also for the good life it offers
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Indy Lifestyle Online
It really is time for you to come back to Northern Ireland - once the land of terrorism, now the land of rising house prices. The bombings have now stopped, and although you may find the politics of decommissioning wearisome, there are a great many compensations.

The Government is actually looking for you at the moment, promising showers of gold if you come up with an idea for starting a business with an export plan.

Here's the come-on from Baroness Denton, the junior industry minister with the cash to spare: "A returnee with an export business plan could expect up to pounds 40,000, including a maximum of pounds 4,000 for each job created and additional development assistance, isolated from the main package, of up to pounds 35,000." (That's the way junior industry ministers talk.)

But don't come because of the beckoning baroness, or because of the schmaltzy Van Morrison television commercials with their soft-focus shots of the north Antrim coast. Come back because your country does actually need you; and because you'll find what's quite possibly the best middle-class lifestyle in the Western world.

When I've written that in the past, I've had people here saying hush, don't tell the English, it's our secret; the role of the British is to pay for it, not to hear all about it. But there it is: the plain fact is that, so long as you're not trapped in a ghetto, so long as you have a good job, then you live better in Northern Ireland than probably anywhere else in the UK.

You have a real contribution to make back here. To begin with, you are, statistically, probably Protestant, part of the steady brain drain of middle-class Protestants who have left over the past 25 years. You may well have gone to an English or Scottish university, got your degree, glanced home at the Troubles, then decided to stay away. This has been symptomatic of Protestant demoralisation.

Now is the time to end this process and to decide that Protestant and Catholic, Unionist and nationalist, can together make a go of it.

That's the political bit. The social and economic attraction includes the fact that the green countryside is still only 15 minutes away from anywhere in Belfast, and is as unspoilt as ever. Belfast has its traffic jams, but they are minuscule compared with those of London, or even Glasgow. The grammar schools are among the finest in the UK - and they're free.

Visiting businessmen rave about the standard and availability of the golf courses and other facilities. You and your business contacts can dine out at Roscoff's restaurant, which has a Michelin star and is probably the best eatery in Ireland. For pounds 80,000 you can buy a comfortable suburban bungalow; pounds 300,000 will get you a wonderful Victorian pile with six bedrooms and a sauna.

The Troubles are almost certainly over: your return, particularly if you bring jobs with you, will help to guarantee the peace. Returning home will bring you many material advantages and will help out the old country at the same time. There never was a better time for it.

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