Posted By: June 24, 2014

Irish News ( Belfast). Tuesday, June 24, 2014


ANOTHER opening of another show, though in fact it’s the same show here as ran in London, and two years ago in the Lyric.


But the Lyric was meant to be a special performance with guest Michael D Higgins, president of Ireland. Then London was meant to be entirely the president’s show, admittedly with her now acclaimed reconciliatory turn from Queen Elizabeth the Second, giving Judi Dench real competition in her 88th year. (Which makes her, it should be remembered, a fortnight younger than the Reverend Ian Paisley, now retired and finally, presumably, silent.)


This is the polite approach. Lots of fun to be had about monarchs, wealth looted from far and near over centuries, snobbery, daft deference. But it would all be beside the point. The elderly couple whose programme includes being paraded through a Game of Thrones set and the decommissioned Crum to a British Legion ceremony in Coleraine started in Hillsborough with two guys who have an inert political process in their variously capable hands. Politeness is required. Politeness is good politics. T


he former IRA leader gets by on good manners, but the lifetime politician has a fitful sense of decency.


For the sake of decorum and in the spirit of the week let us say that visiting royals can always expect a more consistent performance from Peter Robinson than people who arrive from other cultures to live and work here. For the Hillsborough handshake the First Minister was entirely likely to behave, and save any barbs welling up in him for later. The deputy First was bound to crinkle up his eyes and smile like a warm-blooded human being.


That’s what does it. Martin McGuinness irks unionists by being natural, and winning. That he wins media attention and hearts by being natural is unacceptable because he should wear a tail and horns and be perpetually unforgiven. In turn that leaves his job-sharer at a loss for how to behave.


To judge by his public performances, the DUP leader is bereft of sensible guidance from family and advisers, presumably in receipt of nothing from inside his party but the sourness that lingers in his own community. To be a first minister for all would be unthinkable, a vote-loser.


To call posters demanding housing for locals only racist was beyond him.


To criticise the protesters outside the modest single-storey house allocated to Michael Abiona might cost the DUP votes in the Garnerville estate next year.


And the Twelfth is just over the cloudy horizon. Unionist leaders hear the drums and gear up, though for some little enough gearing is required.


When they trooped in last week to see the Parades Commission about this year’s determination on Ardoyne, were Robinson, Mike Nesbitt and Jim Allister chiefly mindful about the cost and the inflammatory nature of the illegal camp on that piece of publicly-owned ground at Twaddell?


The PUP and UDA-front group the UPRG were represented in the room as well, so the entire range of unionist opinion was there.


A sense of responsibility could have broken through. It seems unlikely. Loyalist expert Barney Rowan said sources in the meeting called it robust and intense. The once-hard men will have had to do no more than flex shoulders. Mike will have been watching Peter and Peter will have watched Jim.


Next week the party leaders are meant to return to the bogged-down issues that Richard Haass and Meghan O’Sullivan left behind, with Gerry Adams calling for British-Irish-American pressure to in effect shift unionism. In the mouth of the Twelfth, the best hope is courtesy on the public stage.


You could just not look at this week’s performances and say nothing to do with me, waste of space and time. Though it must have come to your ears that in the show so far Martin has been a scene-stealer. Maybe the only reconciliation you would accept from Betty Windsor, as Adams used to call her, would be an announcement that she is handing Northern Ireland back as of now, with a major cash injection for the damages. For some that wouldn’t wash. Prosecutions plus reparations over a few centuries would be a more likely demand.

But well in advance the deputy first minister said he would be meeting the Queen “as a representative of all our people, to demonstrate mutual respect and to further build on the process of reconciliation”. That will do for many. Even – or perhaps because – the word “reconciliation” seems to freeze unionist minds.