Blair puts the writing on the wall


David Trimble was back in his element. After Tuesday's brief flirtation with rock stardom, he had his jacket back on last night, and the hand he was shaking on a public stage was the more familiar one of his friend, Mr Tony Blair.

The British Prime Minister was in Coleraine to calm unionist nerves, unveiling five pledges in his own handwriting to sweeten the parts of the Belfast Agreement they still find hard to swallow.

Indeed, even the choice of the University of Ulster - famously located in a unionist heartland over the competing claims of nationalist Derry - might have been chosen for reassurance.

There were few if any No posters visible near the campus, supporting DUP claims that Coleraine had been "sanitised" for the Blair visit. With Mr Blair's pledges writ large behind the stage from which he was due to speak, the international media contingent had a chance to analyse his handwriting before he arrived. But although the word "pledge" was underlined and the promises appeared to include one that the Prime Minister "would continue to wash for stability and prosperity", there were no clues to his mind set.

In his short address, he spoke passionately, as he does about almost everything. He accused opponents of the agreement of taking the easy option, compared with the UUP leader. "What that man did," he said, pointing at Mr Trimble, "is a sign of true political leadership."

The audience included a number of senior Orangemen, among whom Mr David McNarry pronounced himself pleased with Mr Blair's "reassuring words". But it was the effect of the pledges on those outside the walls that was being guessed at.

Before the Prime Minister left, he and Mr Trimble paused on a university balcony and surveyed the hills around Coleraine, where the first silage of the year has just been harvested. They might have been two prosperous farmers, discussing crops. No doubt both were hoping it keeps dry tomorrow.