Marty and Peter: Friends Again?

Last week they were at loggerheads over On the Runs. Peter threatened to resign because Marty had done a secret deal behind his back. Marty said Peter was causing a fuss about nothing and was just being silly.

This week Marty and Peter are in America and when they met some nice people from the telly they had their picture taken with them. Suddenly they were “Friends” again. martyandpeter

Jim and Jamie will not be happy with that. They say Marty is not a nice man and if they were photographed with him at all they would refuse to smile because you don’t do that kind of thing when bad men are around.

Welcome to the bewildering world of Northern Ireland politics where nothing is ever all that it seems – and the latest frenzy on social media is around First and Deputy First Ministers Peter Robinson and Martin McGuinness posing with Courteney Cox the Friends actress and her partner Johnny McDaid from Snow Patrol.

So how is it that Robinson and McGuinness who were in crisis melt down last week can now be so apparently relaxed together and about to watch some movies with A List celebrities?

That simply would not happen anywhere else. In Britain, for example, where political differences are actually quite small in these days of “grabbing the centre ground” hostilities are still maintained, at least outwardly. I can’t imagine for one moment Ed Miliband for example, going to the pictures with David Cameron, nor would Ed Balls go on a date with George Osborne, never mind commissioning a PR shot before doing so.

But this is Northern Ireland, remember, and our economy is, well let’s be kind and say weak. So we need our political leaders to show a united front and go out and do what is necessary to get trade and investment. So our leaders smile and pose together. We take our election posters down for the Giro d’Italia and paint our derelict shops so that they look like thriving businesses.

Full credit to them for all that. They are bringing in events and trade and business and that, of course is good and worthy of praise. And all those nice Americans will say to one another when they have gone: “Well they have their differences, and peace is a long, long road, but, my, do they work well together and when you meet them they are actually great craic! ”muppets

But then we think of home, where the only rule of the political game is tribal intransigence. And we are still reeling from the On The Runs letters controversy which has caused legitimate widespread hurt to victims.

It just seems so bizarre. We know the reality and, from whatever political perspective you come from, it doesn’t wash to be saying one thing at home and then delivering different messages, albeit via a photocall abroad.

We are worried about what the future holds, for those who have suffered and for those who have not, but just want a decent future, in an economy that works, and freed from the scourge of bitterness and hate and we are concerned about what will happen when they get home.

We see our politicians in all camps indulging in lowest common denominator politics because they believe we will always vote on strict tribal lines when it comes to elections. History is on their side on that debate.

But we do need jobs and investment. We need to deal with the past and learn to get on in the present. And we need both to stop fantasising about some mythical united Ireland when such an entity is an economic impossibility, and also stop pretending that Northern Ireland is as British as Finchley when the citizens of said borough think we are strange and alien and most certainly do not share that view.

Interestingly the Friends picture was not taken by a photographer employed by a newspaper but by a Belfast agency that was presumably directly commissioned for the purpose by the Northern Ireland government and accompanied a press release. So I presume it was officially sanctioned and signed off as such, much like the picture of the pair with the Muppets that caused so much hilarity a few years ago.

I have no problem with that. I just wish that the image so carefully cultivated for overseas audiences were to become a reality here. Soon.

The alternative is playing to the lowest common denominator, reprising the whataboutery politics in which we specialise, and drifting slowly, but inexorably, into a new era of conflict, mutual hatred and economic stagnation. No jobs, no hope, no future.

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