Message is clear: stop squabbling and get on with it

British PM stresses a ‘tiny minority’ of dissidents would not disrupt progess

First Minister Peter Robinson: “Sometimes the news agenda works against you.” Photograph: Eric Luke

First Minister Peter Robinson: “Sometimes the news agenda works against you.” Photograph: Eric Luke

Sat, Oct 12, 2013, 01:00

Crisis? What crisis? That was the line the British prime minister David Cameron took yesterday during his jobs investment visit to Belfast.

Some Northern politicians may be talking up tensions between the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) and Sinn Féin but he wasn’t hugely interested. Even the murderous dissidents shouldn’t be allowed derail Northern Ireland’s journey to normality.

Perhaps he felt the sense of frustration that is evident among people who are trying to bring jobs and international investment to the North.

Here was an occasion when new jobs were being announced; when there was potential for many hundreds more jobs to come; and when international companies who had set up operations in the North were effectively saying to prospective new international investors: come to Northern Ireland, it’s a good place to work, live and play – a line endorsed by Jay Roewe of HBO, which makes Game of Thrones in Northern Ireland.

Why spoil it by focusing on the negative?

News agenda
But as First Minister Peter Robinson observed a short time earlier in the Titanic Belfast visitor centre, “Sometimes the news agenda works against you.”

And such was the case: the conference was happening at a time when senior Sinn Féin politicians such as Gerry Adams and Gerry Kelly were talking about a “crisis” in the political process. We’ve had nearly three weeks of it now, chiefly because of Robinson’s decision to withdraw support for the peace and reconciliation centre at the old Maze prison site.

We’re not quite sure where it will all lead, possibly to political stasis, possibly to worse if the warnings of a potential collapse of the Northern Assembly by Gerry Adams’s friend Danny Morrison are anything to go by. Or Sinn Féin and the DUP might just kiss and make up.

The killings in Belfast and Derry renewed the focus on the dissident threat – though it seems the killing of Barry McCrory in Derry on Thursday may be linked more to regular criminality than to paramilitary criminality – and that could galvanise Robinson and Martin McGuinness to seek a workable compromise.

Certainly Cameron accentuated the positive. The security battle against the dissidents would continue, he said, and a “tiny minority” would not be allowed to bring the place backwards. “We do need to look at the big picture here,” he said. Companies, he believed, found Northern Ireland one of the safest countries in which to invest.

The investors generally kept their counsel on the dissidents but nonetheless the impression was that Cameron had a point: they seemed to be hard- headed people who – if the grants were right and the workers were there – might set up in Northern Ireland.

The British prime minister acknowledged the difficulties between the First Minister and Deputy First Minister but said overall they “were working well together” and were “committed to taking Northern Ireland forward”.

“So I don’t accept the language of crisis.”

The message was clear from Cameron: the dissidents can be managed; there is investor goodwill and opportunities to improve the economy; Robinson and McGuinness should stop squabbling and just get on with it.