Friday, 20 June 2008

Bush visit fails to excite

Are we all finally tiring of the big set-piece photo opportunities? Have there simply been too many US Presidential visits, too many Prime Ministerial summits and too many grimacing photo calls by Party Leaders? Judging from the low key response to visit by US President Bush and First Lady Laura Bush it appears the media and the public have become bored with such events.
There was an attempt to create a fuss about Caitriona Ruane’s absence from a school visit by the President but no one really seemed that bothered. Similarly attempts to draw attention to the fact that Martin McGuinness was ‘glad-handing’ President Bush at Stormont while other Sinn Féin MLAs were verbally attacking the President’s foreign policy record failed to ignite much interest.

European confusion

The media North and South and further afield spent a lot of time debating the consequences of the No vote in the Irish Republic on the Lisbon Treaty. It is very unclear how the situation can be resolved. Most European governments and the Commission seem determined to press on. Should they fail to make radical alterations to the Treaty I have a hunch that any ‘Repeat Referendum’ could produce a massive No vote from an irritated electorate.

Could Stuart Wheeler’s court action in London save the day? This story will run and run.

Peter Robinson in Narnia

Many of our politicians seem on occasion to inhabit their own personal land of make believe. A world were all ills are cured by asking the Fairy Government for more money even if on occasions you have to travel to a far away land to a Palace called Westminster and walk through a special room called the ‘Division Lobby’ in order to make your wish. In this land ‘deals’ are never made but wishes really do come true – just wait and see.

The DUP, who visited this magical kingdom recently have heard stories that the Palace may be taken over in a couple of years by someone else but they have decided to keep believing in their Fairy Godmother Gordon.

The new First Minster strained all day on Monday not to smile when in the vicinity of the Deputy First Minister. Later in the week he couldn’t contain himself any more. He was photographed with babe in arms in front of a mural in honour of C S Lewis the creator of Narnia beaming from ear to ear.

The fact that the mural displaced one in honour of paramilitaries is surely a sign of progress. Hopefully the child in Robinson’s arms will one day wonder at the crazy idea that anyone would put up pictures in memory of the perpetrators of violence.

Irish Language ‘row’

The News Letter, which seems to wish to focus more and more on an exclusively Ulster Protestant/Loyalist readership, worked itself into a lather about the fact that Gordon Brown had agreed to give £6milion to the Irish Language Broadcast Fund. The newspaper’s headline said that there was ‘Fury’ at the announcement.

According to the News Letter, Ulster Unionist peer Lord Laird ‘blasted news of the pledge as “disgusting and despicable”.’ There is little evidence that the vast bulk of the population took any notice at all of the announcement. Nelson McCausland – who is not adverse to the odd provocative sound bite, seemed remarkably relaxed describing it as a ‘fig-leaf’ for Sinn Féin in light of their failure to deliver an Irish Language Act.

One thing is for sure, it has further politicised the issue of the Irish language – if that was possible. The £6 million was given at Sinn Féin’s request so voters are invited to draw the conclusion that if you want to advance the Irish language agenda you should vote SF not SDLP or any other party. In reality, this approach puts off any possibility of movement on the issue.

It is worth noting that the Welsh Language Act of 1993 was introduced by the Conservatives and the issue has cross party support in Wales – it is hard to envisage that happening in Northern Ireland.

Titanic problems

This week say the unveiling of a proposal to build a hotel reflecting the glories of the famous liner the Titanic. It is proposed as a signature project in the Titanic Quarter in Belfast’s former shipyard area. The previous proposal hit the rocks because no one would cough up the huge sums of public money it required. This project may have a better chance of plain sailing as it appears to have much more private sector backing. The design – reminiscent of a ship - is certainly striking.