When the First and deputy First Minister arrived at 10 Downing Street last month, they had to wait outside for ‘the magic door’ to open. Inadvertent no doubt, but the downgrade it implies chimes with David Cameron’s determination to signal to all parties in Northern Ireland that all messes are their messes and it is they rather than the UK government to clear it up.
But as Mark Hennessy notes, there is a sense that much of the senior human capital that was built and developed in the effort to build the current peace settlement is being let drift, and institutional memory allowed to fade:
…the danger, or perhaps, more accurately, the fear, is that worse challenges will have to be faced in time by an unprepared Downing Street. Then, relationships and ties needed on such a day may not be there to be found.
Such ties had to be built once before from the early 1980s onwards – over drinks late at night at meetings of the British-Irish Association and a host of other venues – when work that led to the Anglo-Irish Agreement began.
Fear rather than danger. Internal summitry has replaced the swing door of the Blair age. That was appropriate to a process driven towards the closing of Mr Adams’ indigenous deal.
All politics that bind east and west (and north and south) after that must be composed of voluntary effort within the albeit limited channels set up and still developing under the terms of the Belfast Agreement. And when the need arises, more directly.
In the meantime, the message from Number 10 to OFMdFM ‘we’ll talk when we have mutual business, but until sort out the problems you were elected to solve‘.