Prime Minister David Cameron was in Northern Ireland today, as part of a UK-wide tour to promote the Olympics. But despite their recent complaints, neither the NI First and deputy First Ministers appear to have been able to schedule a meeting. According to Martina Purdy,
The first and deputy first ministers were not on hand to meet the prime minister as both are on holiday.
[Both!? At the same time? - Ed] Indeed. And, as I said in slightly different circumstances, that’s why you have junior ministers, guys.
The NI Tourism Minister, the DUP’s Arlene Foster, was available to meet David Cameron at the controversial Giants’ Causeway Interpretive Centre.
And, perhaps tellingly, here’s what Martina Purdy notes on his visit
The prime minister insisted this visit – the first in just over a year – was proof of his engagement.
“I don’t accept I’m not engaged,” he said. “In the middle of the Olympics I’ve chosen to come here to Northern Ireland to emphasise how important it is we all get behind the United Kingdom athletes including those from Northern Ireland.”
Mr Cameron said it was a welcome trend that the prime minister did not need to meet the local parties for crisis talks – and also correct that their point of contact was the Secretary of State Owen Paterson. [added emphasis]
Mr Paterson’s recent expression of disappointment that there was not more progress on the community relations strategy led to a public spat with the first and deputy first ministers. But his view clearly resonated with the prime minister.
Mr Cameron was pointed in his desire to see progress here in Northern Ireland, particularly on a “shared future, not a shared-out future – it’s local politicians who have to deliver on that”.
[Obviously he didn't hear the Queens' speech... - Ed] Possibly…
I would just point out, however, that it wasn’t Dean Jonathan Swift who was responsible for the Giants’ Causeway “not worth going to see” quote, it was Samuel Johnson.
ANYhoo.. A Belfast Telegraph report adds
[David Cameron] also confirmed politicians and Treasury officials will meet again in September or October to discuss the devolution of corporation tax powers to Stormont.
There are claims that difficulties have emerged over the issue of lowering the rate in Northern Ireland to help it compete with the Irish Republic.
Mr Cameron said: “There are difficult issues that have to be hammered out. But I am in no doubt that we need to do more to encourage the private sector and growth in the private sector in the Northern Irish economy.”
Back to Martina Purdy for a comment on that
[The DUP's Arlene Foster] welcomed his remarks that he was committed to working through difficulties on the issue of corporation tax being lowered here.
All this optimism on the issue is at odds with the private pessimism on the issue.
“It’s dead,” one insider told me recently.
[Just the blame game left then? - Ed] Indeed.