It seems not many politicians in the north of Ireland have a good word to say about the Tony Blair that emerges in his so-fresh-they’re-hot memoirs. That bit about how he sometimes stretched truth to bring about agreement here – uh-uh. Deceptive. Devious. Not what our straight-talking, good-living politicians here like at all. The DUP managed to sound morally disapproving and at the same time worldy and hard-headed in their response. They never believed half of what he said, Gregory Campbell says – they insisted on action all the way, not words. Reg Empey said his party never believed a word of the St Andrew’s Agreement promises and so didn’t sign up to them. Mark Durkan says…Pay attention at the back, please, no nodding off…Mark Durkan says Blair “decided to concentrate on a two-party process involving the parties that were stuck on either side of the decommissioning question – the unionists and Sinn Féin”. Which, for those of you still awake, means Durkan thinks Blair done wrong.
It’s a laugh, really. Deeds, not words, Gregory? That’s why Agreements are constructed the way they are. If a party does X, Y will follow. Action and consequence. Deed and result. Day followed by night. Any politician who’d settle for less would be less not-hard-headed and more very soft-headed indeed. And the fact that Gregory the Great pats himself on the back for not being soft-headed suggests that actually he…Oh never mind.
As for Reg and how canny he and his party were to keep clear of the St Andrew’s Agreement: the reason the St Andrew’s Agreement was seen as necessary was because he and his party, having put their names to the Good Friday Agreement, spent the next several years pulling back from it and clicking their tongues and rolling their eyes and sucking in their breath in a way that showed their heart was very, very far from in it. Besides, if Reg’s party were so awfy clever, how come the electorate promptly did to them what a 90mph car windscreen does to an insect?
Personally, the bit I found most interesting was where Tony said he got fonder of Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness than he really should have. What’s all that about? He doesn’t say he got fonder of Ian Paisley than he should have. He got fond of Paisley just the right amount; but with Gerry and Martin, it was bigger than that, not spiritual at all, in fact Tony says he got kind of, ehm, you know, carried away. On a wave. Of affection.
Here, Blair. Less of the Mills and Boon language, if you don’t mind. There’s only one place that sort of talk ends and that’s in tears. Or a twin bedroom. Ask William Hague.
Well it doesn't need to be said about Big Ian does it? How could you get 'close' to big Ian? I mean, if he had said that, I'd have been even more shocked. Martin looks a touch like a Chucky toy that's been re-called and softened up a bit because the children were a tad upset; but at least he does have a touch of softness now that his toys of horror have been replaced by a rather neat little crew sweater. Who can blame honest 'Tone for getting close to such an adorable rogue?
My guess is that the electorate did to Reg's crowd the exact same they did to Mark's. The people who thunk it right to support the mainstream and moderate in the face of unimaginable enmity, violence and reprisal no longer felt the need to make such a statement and promptly hung up their Electoral Register voting cards (if you'll excuse the mixed metaphor).
It seems to me that change freaks us out just a wee bit in Northern Ireland (sorry! The north of Ireland. I know that's a hugely important, and not at all pedantic, point) and that things seemed to be moving at a little too fast a pace. So, being the stoic, blood-stained, self-deprecating, mutually traumatised people we Northern Irelanders are, the electorate slammed the brakes, shifted to the extremes and set up camp once again for a long winter of political siege warfare. So out with Mark and Reg (and anyone else who espouse some degree of moderate thinking) and in with 'them that'll fight yer corner, cos them other boys'll not give anything away'.
Northern Ireland's just a little bit like all those wee odd jobs around your home or workplace that need doing. There's always plenty around who could mend that leak, or fix that latch, but you wouldn't really want to do it and let the other guy get away without doing it. You know what I'm talking about. Eventually it gets done. We just want to draw massive great fuss to the fact that we are (a) not going to do it unless you do something first and (b) the other guy should really be doing it anyway because as far as we're concerned he broke it and we're doing him a favour by even thinking about it. What's more, I'll punch you in the face if you're not careful!
We'll get around to it. Even if it takes us years. Decades. We're a hardy lot. It's what separates us from those in Britain and those in the Republic. It's what they'll never understand. It's why none of them will really be our true 'countrymen'. In so many ways it's divisive to have faced so many odds and so much tragedy. But, you know, isn't it just a little galvanising to know that 'they' (from outside this six-county Province/country/by any other name would smell as sweet) will never really know what it means to be Northern Irish (north of Irish). That not only did we come through it, head bloody but unbowed, but we ALL did it. The green and the orange. We did it at odds. But by God didn't we damn well do it together.