The choice of the Lough Erne golf resort as next year’s G8 summit venue carries a bold double message. One, that overstretched investment in property need not always be fatal (the venue once worth £30 million is now priced at £10m in administration) . And two, there’s always the familiar one about the exportable peace process. Qualifications and reservations about both messages will rightly be muted in the welcome for the highly imaginative idea that came apparently from David Cameron personally.
The immediate mood music is much what you’d expect. The political symbolism for the Union of the British Prime Minister playing host to a gathering of world leaders in Northern Ireland will linger but will be accepted as non-threatening by Irish nationalism north and south and even by Sinn Fein. The old carping note has all but disappeared. Throughout the island, we’ve all grown accustomed to visits from on high from popes, presidents and prime ministers without them transforming our world. At supranational level they’re a symbol of interdependence. At a local level if we’re lucky, they encourage a pattern of continuing contacts, commercial, social, recreational and cultural.
Dublin will no doubt be welcome to poke its head round the corner and claim a slice of the PR action. The regional establishment well know they can benefit from inclusion in the projection of Irish identity and interests. Northern Ireland’s place in British interests has ironically been far less clear. But now, the choice of summit venue and events such as UK City of Culture encourage British opinion to treat it more as a normal part of a nation which is already diverse, and not narrowly “as British as Finchley” . That suggests a relationship which is warming up. We should take that message on board. Northern Ireland can only benefit from the attention of both States. And we will benefit even more if we leave old fashioned political point scoring aside.
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