Northern Ireland

New Titanic Belfast complex opens

Titanic Belfast
Image caption The Titanic Belfast project is opening to the public

The new Titanic Belfast tourism project has opened to the public.

It was officially opened in a ribbon-cutting ceremony by the first and deputy first ministers.

Also attending is a 105-year-old Cyril Quigley who saw the Titanic being launched as a young child in 1911.

A limited number of on-the-day tickets are being sold and a queue of several dozen people waited for the opportunity to purchase. Most tickets have been sold online in advance.

Performing the ribbon-cutting, First Minister Peter Robinson said the complex was "a must-see attraction up with the best in the world" and was a symbol of a new era in Northern Ireland.

About 60 journalists from around the world attended the opening.

The complex cost £77m to construct - with most of the funding (£60m) coming from the public purse.

Based on projected visitor numbers, it is one of the most expensive buildings of its kind in Europe.

Visitors will be guided through nine exhibitions, spread over four storeys, charting the history of the Titanic from its construction in the nearby Harland & Wolff shipyard to its final resting place at the bottom of the Atlantic.

One thing tourists will not see though is the replica of the ship's famous staircase. It has been incorporated into the banqueting hall on the upper floors and is not part of the tour.

It will only be on view to the more business-type guests who will attend sit-down functions on the two upper decks.

Entrance fees are £13.50 for an adult and £6.75 for a child. A family of four gets in for £34 and a family of five will pay £40.75. Parking is extra.

World leader

On Friday, First Minister Peter Robinson said the building was a celebration of the workmanship that led to Belfast being a world leader in shipbuilding.

Image caption The splendour of a first class cabin is recreated in the complex

Mr Robinson was asked on BBC Radio Ulster's Evening Extra programme about the significance of Martin McGuinness standing beside him in shipyard surroundings that many Catholics previously regarded as hostile.

"I think it further demonstrates that we are indeed in a new era," he said.

"There's a new spirit in Northern Ireland, there's a strong confidence for the people of Northern Ireland that they can move forward, that they can work towards prosperity.

"So I think it's a sign of the times that people in Northern Ireland have now left the Troubles behind and they are wanting to see a bright future."

Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness said: "It's an absolutely stunning building and as I predicted in the United States last week, this would be a world news story and it certainly has been in the course of the last couple of days.

"At the time when we were taking our decision at the executive to pour something like £40m into this, some questions were asked, because of the history of it, if we should be doing this.

"I have to say I was always very much in favour of this, because this is our attempt to write a new history, to move forward in a positive and constructive way, a very inclusive way."

Mr McGuinness said he had a "great stake" in the weekend's events because his father's uncle, Hugh Rooney, worked in the shipyard as a carpenter-joiner and helped with fitting out the Titanic in 1911.

"I'm very proud of that and I'm very proud of our family's association with that event at that time," he said.

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