I wonder did Bertie Ahern and Peter Robinson get a chance to have a chat at Glencree the other day. They were, of course, only bit players, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern to the Prince, in this case Prince Charles. We know that President Higgins and his wife Sabina got an extended chin-wag with the Prince and his second wife Camilla, and Charles addressed all of those assembled in his customary loveable-old-buffer style: “I must say you are always so incredibly kind and welcoming here in Ireland, and to put up with us yet again as we attempt to cover all the counties [in the south of Ireland] before we finally disintegrate completely.” Yerrah Charles boy, it’s just the instinctive desire of some of us Irish to go all knee-trembly in the presence of royalty, combined with a hang-over guilt for what happened to your uncle.
I mentnion Bertie and Peter because both are men who have tasted power and no longer enjoy it. Men with a hankering for a mission, especially Bertie, who turns up at a remarkable number of events (yes indeed, Virginia: including my book launch in Dublin last year). Peter hangs around the fringes too. Both men associate themselves with peace and reconciliation, although Bertie plainly takes to it more naturally than Peter.
What might they have spoken of if they did chat? Who can tell for sure. But what about this: both men could have exchanged words about the planning and creation of a new Ireland.
Bertie always has been something of a united Irelander, although like St Augustine not just yet; Peter has been increasingly aware of the need to take out insurance in case the House of Unionism should catch fire.
There are those who detest both men. When I invited a mild-mannered friend to attended that book-launch which Bertie guested for me, he (the mild-mannered one) emailed me an untypically robust reply, declaring he would never enter a room containing “that scoundrel Ahern.” And of course the DUP got rid of Peter and his wife, the latter because she linked the DUP with Sin, the former because he spoke out loud about the approaching demographic thunderstorm and what unionists should do.
But most people feel reasonably well-disposed towards both men, despite their flaws. Which is why they may become – perhaps already are – involved in the initial stages of a very necessary national conversation about the coming Ireland and how it might look. People like Niall Murtphy and Prof Colin Harvey have publicly rolled up their sleeves and got started (which is why, in Harvey’s case, some right-wing unionists have called for Queen’s University to gag him). Ahern and Robinson may be acting less publicly, but can you think of two men more suited to the task of preparing the ground for the border poll that Colin Harvey says should happen inside the next four years?