Irish Independent
Saturday January 14 2012

Dear oh dear. There was no way that yesterday’s British-Irish Council pow-wow in Dublin Castle would be snidely dismissed as an irrelevant talking-shop of geezers from Guernsey, Joe Soaps from Jersey and whatdyecallim from Wales.

No siree. Not after Scotland’s First Minister Alex Salmond came over all Braveheart on ‘Morning Ireland’ just hours before the meeting, when he fired off a fusillade of arrows across the bow of Blighty.

Hot on the heels of his declaration this week that Scotland would hold a referendum in 2014 on splitting from the UK, Alex let fly on the Irish airwaves.

“What we have seen over the last week is a most extraordinary attempt to bully and intimidate Scotland by Westminster politicians,” he thundered, before placing Nick Clegg firmly in this deplorable category.

And so the stage was promptly set for a showdown between Scotland’s first minister and Britain’s deputy prime minister, who were both in Dublin for the summit which was being hosted/refereed by the Taoiseach.

And sitting in the big chair at the British Irish Council press conference, poor Enda was clearly torn.

One half of him was determined not to get dragged into the first public skirmish in what promises to be a long and possibly bitter turf war — after all, in historical chronology it’s only about five minutes since peace broke out over our border.

But the other half of Enda was secretly chuffed that this scrap would occupy the larger and more attentive-than-usual posse of press gathered in the room, and he wouldn’t be plagued with pesky questions about bailouts and job losses.

Instead, the Taoiseach was doing his utmost to jolly everyone along; as the delegation gathered outside the room, Enda moved to dispel any awkward silences by chattily pointing to the large portrait hanging on the wall beside them.

Interestingly, or ominously, the imposing figure glowering over them was that of King George III — the last British monarch to bear the separate title of King of Ireland before the 1801 Act of Union which renamed his domain as the ‘United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland’.

And now a sabre-rattling Scot is causing trouble for the kingdom. But instead of striding into Dublin sporting blue paint on his ample visage, a la William Wallace, Alex Salmond contented himself with pointedly wearing a red-and-green tartan tie. And surely it was pure coincidence that sitting on the other side of Enda were Nick Clegg in a red tie and Peter Robinson in one of white and blue?

Inevitably the first question from the media was about whether the jig was up for Scotland. “Why did I assume the first question was going to be about the council?” half-joked Enda.

Alex wouldn’t be pacified.

“We have a mandate to hold a referendum on the constitution and it is important that we can take forward these plans so that the people of Scotland can determine their future,” he reiterated, although he extended a small olive-branch in the form of an invitation to Nick and David Cameron to attend talks in Edinburgh or London.

But Nick Clegg felt a bit feisty himself. “I wasn’t aware that Alex had said that the British government is somehow bullying, but, look, I don’t think Alex should be so jumpy,” he retorted, before questioning just why the Scottish minister was up in arms in the first place.

“That’s why we have actually — far from intimidating or bullying anybody — we have actually said we will give to the Scottish government, to clarify any legal ambiguities, the power to hold a referendum,” he said, flashing a smile in the direction of the Scot.

But then Nick fired the first shot for the Sassenachs, adding: “People want to know answers to some basic questions — what does independence for Scotland mean for themselves, their children, their families, their communities, their jobs? What does it mean for their currency?

“What does it mean for debt? What does it mean for banks which are in distress? What does it mean for defence bases?” he said, none-too subtly.

The others wisely stayed out of the fray.

“I think if what we’ve seen over the last few days is a trailer of things to come, unless we like seeing the sight of our own blood, we might want to stand back somewhat,” observed the North’s First Minister Peter Robinson, while the Taoiseach was even more blunt.

“Believe you me, I’ve no intention of getting involved in what are the responsibilities and the rights of other parliaments and other people,” he dodged. Phew.

The North’s deputy first minister saw an opening for a bit of devilment. “Peter Robinson and I have a castle in Belfast and I’m sure we would be able to make it available for peace talks between Britain and Scotland,” he grinned.

Good grief. The world is upside down for sure when Martin McGuinness is offering the Brits and the Scots the loan of the hall in Stormont for peace-talks. Outside the room, there was a faint whirring sound. It was King George III, revolving in his grave.

Advertisements