The Queen’s visit means politics is catching up with the people’s interests

The dissident republican threat may be a factor in  producing a confusing response to the Queen’s visit from Gerry Adams. In the Examiner he ‘d seemed to cast aside SinnFein’s former reservations to welcoming it grumpily, seeing it as an opportunity for “much fuller discussion” about the British-Irish relationship. This would allow him to write its significance into the republican narrative rather than leave it for the various rejectionist IRAs to capture. Later under questioming he went back to calling it “premature,” which undermines his article, adding the doublethink that is position is “very very clear” – a sure sign that it’s anything but. Well anyway we get the gist, Gerry wants the best of both worlds as ever.

Security blitz is the inevitable Sunday lead. While the visit is of course historic and memorable etc. and may even have its electric moment at the 1916 Garden of Remembrance (don’t forget all those dead squaddies in Mount St and the hundreds of Dublin citizens killed too) – the formalities  and protocol  somehow fail to express the  interwoven nature of the relationship.  Enda Kenny, decent man, has just been on the Andrew Marr show talking rather stiffly about “new era, mutual respect between our two countries.. normalised relationship,  trade…etc” almost as if the President of Mexico was about to arrive.

In fact the politics involved, like the achievement of full devolution, and the easier diplomacy after the replacement of Articles 2 and 3, have lagged behind the human realities for decades. The last to benefit and now with the most to gain is the unionist tradition, after the full and mutual recognition of the consent principle and the new found warmth with which it was enacted in the Republic. Once, few southerners ventured north and that has changed.  But still, vestiges over the unionist boycott of the south remain – out of old habits probably – and should be removed.

In my case the border was drawn four miles from my front door and it was farcical to think my relatives as foreigners. We can now return to  enjoying the Puckoon character of the differences.  I have a Donegal friend who used to say she was going up to shop in NATO. I in turn was leaving the Commonwealth and entering the Eurozone. The border is now marked with the EU symbol and a welcome in French from Donegal County Council. More seriously it’s good news that people will soon no longer have to make the 250 km round trip to stay in DublIn overnight for radiotherapy when they can have it in two hours in Altnagelvin.  Good call, Executive.

For me, we are one of another on terms both states accept. We Northerners have always enjoyed joint citizenship in one form or another.   But Britain and Ireland go together in ways over and above the definition of the nation state. Some prefer to keep their distance as is their right.

My hope is that the remarkably few rough edges remaining are smoothed out without challenge beyond the odd pedantic and pretty harmless row.  We have at last picked up the momentum of the mid sixties when for a moment the trend of better relationships all round seemed so obvious. Despite the passage of nearly 50 years and over 3000 violent deaths, the trend is an obvious as ever.

Former BBC journalist and manager in Belfast, Manchester and London, Editor Spolight; Political Editor BBC NI; Current Affairs Commissioning editor BBC Radio 4; Editor Political and Parliamentary Programmes, BBC Westminster; former London Editor Belfast Telegraph. Hon Senior Research Fellow, The Constitution Unit, Univ Coll. London

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