Posted By: April 09, 2014

Brian Feeney. Irish News ( Belfast). Wednesday, April 9, 204
FOR the second time within four weeks Peter Robinson was a gooseberry. Three weeks
ago he was the only man in Washington not wearing a green tie despite the millions
of ties in the Robinson collection. He sat through the interminable celebrations of
‘Oirishness’ and paddywhackery Irish-Americans put on in their efforts to portray
what they imagine Irish culture to be. Bad and all as it is for Irish visitors,
though harmless, it must be excruciating for Robinson. He must have thought, ‘here
we go again’, as he took his place unnoticed, unremarked at Windsor Castle as the
cameras flashed and whirred to capture Martin McGuinness’s arrival. There was no
symbolic nod towards the diminishing minority on the island that Robinson
represents. It would have been of great interest if there had been for perhaps we
would all have got a sample of what ‘Ar Kulchur’ [ our culture] is, as opposed to
the insanitary dump at the top of twaddell Avenue. A kick the pope band maybe? The
flags were already in plentiful supply at Windsor festooned with Union Jacks and
Tricolours side by side. Stormont’s future?

Robinson was a gooseberry for a different reason this time. The hard fact is that he
was stranger at a British-Irish occasion. All the talk is of McGuinness’s attendance
but at least he would have felt comfortable and at home making an important gesture
whereas Robinson was a spectator making up the numbers listening to speeches which
dwelt heavily on the connections between Britain and Ireland. Those speeches were
carefully drafted by senior government officials and vetted by both British and
Irish Cabinets since they displayed agreed Irish and British policy. Martin
McGuinness has been talking a load of diplomatic nonsense about Queen Elizabeth’s
role in the peace process. He claimed the state visit and his invitation “was
something that she wanted to do, that this wasn’t something that she was told to do
by the government”.

Rubbish. This is a state visit so Queen Elizabeth does exactly what she’s told. The
same goes for the invitation list to the banquet given by the Lord Mayor of the City
of London. Diplomats draw it up. During her long reign Queen Elizabeth has sat down
with a long list of men and women successive British governments have pursued or
jailed because of their struggle for independence. Since the British have been
booted out of most of the countries they invaded (and we’re told there were only 22
on earth they didn’t invade) McGuinness is likely to be the last of the line.

President Michael D Higgins was able in inject a personal tone about British victims
of the troubles in his speech because he has form in skirting close to politics in
his remarks on previous occasions. Then again, he is elected and since President
Mary Robinson’s time Irish presidents have been sailing close to the constitutional
wind in defiance of taoisigh. Queen Elizabeth, however, knows her place.

Nonetheless, as far as Northern nationalists are concerned it was McGuinness’s
moment. A historic moment because it was the first time since partition that
northern nationalists have been included and given an equal place at the table with
the rest of the Irish people here and in Britain. It was formal recognition that
northern nationalists administer the north on a par with unionists, that the north
is no longer a unionist state.

It’s also striking that in the context of these historic events Peter Robinson chose
to pick a fight with Sinn Fein about welfare reform. Perhaps it was a deliberate
attempt to distract attention from these historic events. You will notice Robinson
has had absolutely nothing to say about the events. No chance of rising to the
occasion with a big speech before he headed to London, no analysis of unionism’s new
much-reduced position in these islands as evidenced by the close relations between
Britain and Ireland north and south.

On the other hand, perhaps Robinson chose this moment to major on welfare reform and
the size of the hill of beans it amounts to because he’s such a visionary thinker.
At least he didn’t have to think about the colour of his tie this week.