Political slow learners are reflected clearly in Ireland's tale of two logos


Today the Taoiseach, Mr Ahern, meets the man he hopes can foresee himself as prime minister of a new Northern Ireland legislature, the Ulster Unionist leader, David Trimble. Mr Ahern has not abandoned the aspiration of Fianna Fail in favour of an "internal settlement". Rather, he recognises that an institutionalised relationship between North and South, out of which Irish unity might evolve, requires autonomous institutions to provide the northern end of the bridge (to coin a phrase). In this, he is in the tradition of Sean Lemass's overtures to the then Stormont prime minister, Terence O'Neill.

Mr Trimble, however, has quite another agenda from these illustrious predecessors. In the minimalist devolution he envisages, power will mostly remain with what he calls the "fiscal centre" - London. And North-South relationships will be much less important than "east-west". The UUP leader will focus on the Republic's territorial claim, and here his demands are maximalist.

Rendering the "reintegration of the national territory" in Article 3 of Bunreacht na hEireann subject to Northern consent - as the all-party Oireachtas committee effectively recommended in 1967 - is wholly insufficient for him. As he told last Saturday's News Letter, he wants the claim removed - implying redefinition of the "national territory" in Article 2, as 26 counties.

This is clearly not a runner. Indeed, the undertow of Northern nationalist traditionalism created by the 1990s "peace process" has left even reform of Article 3 - the bottom line for any unionist - highly contentious in the Republic. According to the pollsters - having commanded nearly a two-to-one majority in 1990 (the year of the election of Mary Robinson, supporter of reform) there is now a narrow majority against, in the year of her successor, Mary McAleese. Ditches are being dug, not bridges built.

Fianna Fail figures don't come much more northern and traditionalist than Jim McDaid, the Minister for Tourism. Mr Ahern said this summer his new government was keen to flesh out the Framework Document agreed between Dublin and London in 1995, "so that concrete proposals can be put forward". Of three key areas, he suggested, this would include a more detailed approach to North-South institutions. Nowhere is this task less controversial than in tourism. And in no other policy domain did Fianna Fail return to power with an already agreed rapprochement.

Yet even in this most conducive domain the devil in the detail for Fianna Fail was not long appearing. The party has never faced up to the tension between its mutually contradictory emphases on securing a united Ireland and a unique Ireland. The former requires embrace of the diversity of identities within modern Ireland, the better to accommodate them, whereas the latter implies affirming homogeneity and difference from the world outside. And if the President represents Ireland to the world, tourism represents the Ireland the world is invited to see.

A year ago, Bord Failte and the Northern Ireland Tourist Board unveiled a new, all-Ireland, marketing strategy, with £3 million to be spent on promotional material alone. The aim was to market Ireland as a single destination, building on its clean, green and "emotional" image, with an international television advertising campaign, an internet site and a new logo.

Now Ulster unionist paranoia about all-Ireland anything normally knows no bounds. Addressing the Institute of Directors in Dublin in May last year, Mr Trimble attacked the idea of a joint tourism authority. "It is important to unionists that an all-Ireland, essentially Gaelic image of shamrocks, Irish music and Guinness is not slowly imposed on Northern Ireland, which has a range of different traditions," he said. Six months later, however, his deputy, John Taylor, welcomed the all-Ireland marketing strategy, which he said would be beneficial to Northern Ireland.

In reality, the imaginative logo of the two dancers, the tiny shamrock and the red flash - indicating North and South as partners - had the potential to disarm even the most stony-faced unionist. As the NITB's marketing consultant put it, "The diversity of Ireland is, I think, represented and Ireland is not just monochrome - it is a combination of Ulster Scots, Munster Irish and everything else in between. Ireland is Northern Ireland and the Republic and maybe we in the Northern Ireland Tourist Board have for too long rejected that key positioning."

Well, it turned out that, for Fianna Fail Ireland - as Eamon de Valera once said - will still be Ireland without the North. Enter Dr McDaid demanding that the dethroned shamrock be restored. The result? A logo described by a design consultant as portraying Ireland as "deeply religious and backward-looking".

Brian Boylan, chair of the London-based consultant, Wolff Olins - whose portfolio has included AIB and Irish Life - must have made the Minister wince when he compared the shamrock to the Union flag, suggesting both stood for a country "more of the past than of the future". The two tourist boards in Ireland were "disastrously apart", he said. Quite so. The NITB - which had committed £500,000 to the campaign as originally conceived - was not even consulted about the change. One of the most senior Catholic civil servants in the North took the opportunity of a recent high-level conference to volunteer his annoyance. The Irish News said of Dr McDaid: "At a sweep, he has destroyed a small but potent symbol of a new Ireland based on partnership."

The irony of all this is that the NITB continues to deploy the old logo, taking the all-Ireland view - while partitionism is alive and well in Government Buildings. Just as well for the Minister that no North-South body prevented his unilateral action. The SDLP deputy leader, Seamus Mallon, likes to refer to any talks settlement as "Sunningdale for slow learners". With a settlement still slated for next May by a naive British government, the tale of two tourism logos reminds us there are a lot more slow learners in the political class in Ireland than those of whom Mr Mallon may have been speaking.

Robin Wilson is the director of Democratic Dialogue