If you were looking for a reason why the Good Friday Agreement hasn’t worked nearly as well as it should, you’d have found it on BBC Radio Four’s Today programme this morning. Mishal Husain interviewed two Irishmen, and the contrast between the two couldn’t have been sharper.
The first person she interviewed was David Trimble – or ‘Lord Trimble’ as he was referred to throughout. Husain was asking the good Lord about the meeting today of the British-Irish Intergovernmental Conference, and whether it might help re-establish Stormont. “I have to correct you there” Trimble told her, informing her she’d implied that the south’s government could contribute to events in the north. They couldn’t – the Good Friday Agreement forbade any such interference in the internal affairs of the north. His tone of irritated academic continued throughout the interview, with the good Lord pointing out the limitation of the British-Irish Intergovernmental Conference and Husain trying to find positive possibilities.
About an hour later Mishal Husain interviewed Simon Coveney, the south’s Minister for Foreign Affairs. (No, Virginia, we will not discuss that ‘Foreign’ word- another time perhaps.) Coveney didn’t correct Husain on anything. When she offered a viewpoint on things that he disagreed with, he suggested that this was not accurate or helpful, but always in a pleasant, polite manner. He emphasized how the south of Ireland and Britain were co-guarantors of the Good Friday Agreement, he assured her that the south of Ireland wanted a smooth Brexit for Britain, that the south would support the notion of an extension to the EU talks deadline if that looked likely to result in a positive outcome for all. In short, Coveney was sure-footed, agreeable and positive in his approach. The good Lord Trimble was the opposite.
But then Trimble (sorry, I can’t keep this ‘good Lord’ stuff going) always was a difficult man. If you read reports from those involved in the discussions leading up to the Good Friday Agreement, Trimble always was the one who threw a hissy-fit, who lectured the assembled group, who broke off conversations and strode away. And when the Good Friday Agreement was signed, his first words were that it would mean no infringement of the union between Britain and the north.
David Trimble is a difficult man: hard to like, prissy and nit-picking. Simon Coveney, in contrast, comes across as diplomatic, pleasant and positive. I disagree with most of the politics of both men, but I know which I’d prefer to be trapped in a pub with.