“Many journalists have fallen for the conspiracy theory of government. I do assure you that they would produce more accurate work if they adhered to the cock-up theory.” Thatcher’s former press secretary Bernard Ingham.
I’ve been ‘doing’ the Washington, D.C. St. Patrick’s
Day Week circuit more on than off for most of the last ten years. A relatively egalitarian atmosphere with people laughing, meeting and talking (and not that thin-lipped smile – “so what did you say you do?” thing that regularly passes for interaction at events with “dignitaries” on the list), the Irish and Irish-America throw a pretty unique and enjoyable extended party that leaves other smaller nations’ diplomats with good reason to turn a little green with envy.
Picture a few tight rooms, well stocked, over a few consecutive evenings, correspondents from Ireland’s dominant media, Irish and American politicians and staffers, plus a decent cross-section of the diaspora, and you can see why this week provides a decent annual pulse-reading of recent and pending events across the shore.
Having approached this year’s get-together with a
knawing gnawing sense of atrophy regarding matters back in the north, a few days later my pessimism has crystalized into no little concern.
Here’s the thing: On the Washington stage, speaker after speaker could do no better than measuring “Northern Ireland’s progress” against the apparently inconceivable possibility of “returning to the dark days” of conflict and regular shootings.
But look: Just because we’re not condemned to repeat the past does not guarantee a secure future. A banal observation to a point, yes, but I fear people are keeping score a little too complacently. Dozens of new potential causes of collapse lay in wait. Moreover, as the last 10 months have illustrated, many of the greatest sources of stress and potential instability are actively percolated by some of the very politicians who have enjoyed accumulating record air miles stamped “peace process speaker”. Yet as Stormont drifts and flaffs, the stock ‘we’ve come so far’ speech wears a little thinner each year.
If 2013 is not the time for new speeches, new priorities pursued with a fresh new urgency and, let’s be honest, a few new faces then this is only because that time already passed – it was 2006 after the St Andrews Agreement.
The echo this week (the halls are a little emptier each year now) of the First and Deputy First Minister seeking applause for nothing more than sharing a foreign stage with one another is worse than weak. It’s worrying.
If it is unfair to present OFMDFM as Northern Ireland’s main problem it is more than fair to ask what solutions they have to offer? Whatever about Washington, where are OFMDFM’s united fronts and joint statements of substance in Belfast where and when they’re needed most?
I asked more than one local representative these past few days where they see Northern Ireland five years from now. I would like to have written about their answers but, other than interpreting my question through the prism of their respective party’s electoral prospects, few got further than passively commentating on their frustrations with the present.
Happy St Patrick’s Day.
Strategic Communications Consultant, located in Washington, D.C.