Visit takes on biblical proportions, complete with chapter and verse

 

Stopping just short of speaking in tongues, Mrs Clinton’s oratory appealed to one and all, writes DAN KEENAN, Northern News Editor

POLITICAL THEATRE is rarely staged better than this. The Stormont setting was awash with October sunshine. The production was immaculate, the leading lady sure-footed, her tone convincing.

Her script reflected a diplomatic craft that allowed just about everyone present to hear exactly what they wanted to hear.

For unionists, deeply suspicious of outside interference, Mrs Clinton’s writing on the wall read as a cast-iron promise not to meddle. “I want to be clear that when it comes to the important issue of devolution of policing and justice, that is a decision for this Assembly to make,” she told the Assembly.

From this reporter’s perch in the worst seat in the overhead press gallery, a DUP grunt of “hear, hear” was clear and unmistakable.

For nationalists sitting opposite, well-versed in reading between the lines on the wall, there was this declaration on the contentious transfer of justice powers: “My hope is that you will achieve what you have set out to do, to complete the process of devolution.” These words could have been drafted in Government Buildings, Dublin, or, just as likely, in 10 Downing Street. London, so closely did they reflect the intent and tone of British-Irish policy.

Was this qualified, diplomatic meddling therefore? She sympathised with those (mostly nationalists) whose “peace journey” was often blocked at every turn and for whom there frequently seemed nowhere to turn.

In her next breath she comforted others (mostly unionists) by turning to the Good Book. “As Scripture urges us, ‘Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up’.” Never before in the history of high-ranking US political visits to Northern Ireland have government policy and the Letter to the Galatians been so intertwined.

St Paul himself clearly wanted Stormont to have its own justice department with cross-party support. But that backing may not be handed over on a plate by one and all. The rapid departure from the applause-filled chamber afterwards by Willie McCrea and Gregory Campbell – two of the DUP’s doubting Thomases – smelled of dissent.

Dissident republicans were addressed in dark terms normally associated with the Angel of Death. They were unseen and Satanic and ready to pounce on those democrats in the Assembly at any “signs of uncertainty or internal agreement”.

However, salvation was always available to those who sought it.

“Moving ahead together with the process will leave them stranded on the wrong side of history,” she promised.

From the steps of Stormont Castle to the podium in the Assembly, and from the Great Hall at Queen’s University to the magnificently renovated City Hall, the message was unbending – always supportive, frequently biblical and infused with optimism.

This was visit number seven for Mrs Clinton, who repeatedly made clear her, and her husband’s, personal commitment to this place.

But she also made clear there was a quid pro quo. The US-sponsored process was now internationally recognised as “a model for conflict resolution and reconciliation around the world”, she said. “People who are determined to chose peace and progress over violence and division look to you and I am here today to send a strong message that the Obama administration and the United States are committed to supporting you.”

To those tired of long years of peace-processing, it was like an answer to prayer.