NI peacemakers show the world how it is done
- 27 April 2012
- From the section N. Ireland Politics
Having spent too much time camped outside various stately homes waiting to find out whether the quarrelsome Northern Ireland parties had been able to resolve their latest argument, there was a certain novelty in being able to stroll freely into the majestic Royal Kilmainham Hospital in Dublin to listen to our local luminaries tell others just how it was done.
Influential figures from past negotiations, such as Martin Mansergh and Séan OhUiginn, wandered by.
But the gathering was also notable for those who weren't there - no David Trimble, no Seamus Mallon, no former British Labour ministers and no Bertie Ahern. (I wonder why?)
Delegates from places like Moldova and Kazakhstan, Egypt and Israel sat around the table, whilst simultaneous translators worked hard to interpret the peace process jargon.
Hillary Clinton appeared via a video message, paying particular tribute to the role of women as mediators during the troubles.
Peter Robinson told delegates it could be harder persuading your own side to take a step forward than brokering an agreement with your enemies.
Like a staged "noise off" Jim Allister (predictably not on the invitation list) declared there was nothing to celebrate in the Northern Ireland negotiations unless the "perversion of justice and democracy is your stock and trade (sic)".
Martin McGuinness took a crack at David Trimble for squandering the goodwill generated by the Good Friday Agreement (although he didn't add that the IRA's reluctance to destroy its guns made things tough for the former first minister).
He also claimed that a key minister in the current UK cabinet had opposed talking to Sinn Fein when John Major was prime minister (he didn't name him but you didn't need to engage in any secret contacts to work out he was talking about Kenneth Clarke).
Besides listening all the places visited by Stormont politicians, Mr McGuinness acknowledged the places which haven't taken the Northern Ireland example on board.
He expressed great disappointment that his visit to Sri Lanka hadn't assisted the Tamil Tigers and the government there to broker a Northern Ireland-style deal.
Instead the Sri Lankan army tried to finish the conflict there by force, leading to the deaths of tens of thousands of Tamils and the continued displacement of tens of thousands more in holding camps.
After the formal opening speeches, the press left the hall, so I can't give you a blow by blow account of what points the various foreign delegations raised (although one source suggested the Moldovans wanted to know how you could ensure the media toe the line!)
A line in Mr McGuinness's speech about the need for "making new compromises" led to more intense speculation that the deputy first minister will meet the Queen if she visits Northern Ireland during her Diamond Jubilee year (frankly it would be more of a surprise if he didn't after his very public pondering of the matter).
Meanwhile Peter Robinson said the development of the "Maze/Long Kesh prison site" peace building centre would send out a powerful signal to the rest of the world that Northern Ireland has moved beyond conflict.
Remember when a unionist would never say "Long Kesh"?
I'm not sure if the foreign delegates were aware, but on the radio a mother was talking about taking her son to an agreed place at an agreed time to have him shot in the legs.
Mr McGuinness said those responsible were oppressing the people of Derry and belonged in jail.
The coincidence of the diplomatic niceties in opulent surroundings in Dublin and the continuing barbarity in a back alley in Londonderry served to emphasise that whilst there's much to take pride in, ending violence in Northern Ireland remains a work in progress, one which may never reach a perfect conclusion.