Cameron should take a greater interest in N Ireland – time Robinson and McGuinness were invited to country supper
Posted on 29 June 2012 | 8:06am
It used to raise a few eyebrows when I said ‘I really like Martin McGuinness’, but now that The Queen has shaken him by the hand, with a big smile across her face, I feel less isolated in my view.
He certainly did a few bad things in his time, and even if The Queen has forgiven the murder of Lord Mountbatten, I know others whose families were wiped out by the IRA who will take a little longer.
But the fact is that McGuinness was once a terrorist and now he is a politician, and a pretty canny one at that, as Sinn Fein’s driving of the choreography of the recent handshake illustrated.
He is in the media today as a politician, complaining that David Cameron is not sufficiently engaged in the Northern Ireland peace process, pointing out that he and First Minister Peter Robinson have seen Barack Obama more often than they have the UK Prime Minister.
His complaint is one I have heard from others in Northern Ireland, who are far closer to Mr Cameron’s politics than McGuinness. The same people complain that the Northern Ireland Secretary Owen Paterson lacks the clout and the judgement with regard to some of the trickier situations that still crop up.
The recent meeting between McGuinness and the head of the State he was determined to destroy risks giving people the impression that everything is now sorted. It is a lot more sorted than it was, but it will still take time for the peace to become settled and – statement of the obvious – enduring.
Cameron’s disengagement is a worry. Because it means that when the crisis moments do come, he will lack the relationships and the insights he will need.
It is five years since Tony Blair stopped being Prime Minister, and whenever people try to tell me that Iraq is all he will be remembered for, I often cite Northern Ireland as one of the many reasons why that statement can be challenged. Looking back, and now seeing how far we have come, people might imagine it was easy, straight-forward, a linear process heading inexorably to an obvious and better place.
But, as his predecessor John Major also knows, it was always hard and there were always things that could go wrong, and pressure points that could become near crisis moments. It required real focus and determination.
Mr Cameron may think that things cannot really go wrong, and I hope he is right. But it is nonetheless an important part of the country he leads and he ought to take a much bigger interest than he does.
Someone should point out to him that single fact – Obama has seen Robinson and McGuinness more often than he has – and ask him if he shouldn’t perhaps call them in for a country supper. It could be time well spent in addressing problems yet to arise.