Friday, May 11, 2007


The war is over - the election isn't though...

It was a historic day today without question in County Meath as the DUP leader Ian Paisley and Taoiseach Bertie Ahern visited the Battle of the Boyne site, a conflict fought out in 1690 by William of Orange and the Catholic King James II.

That was a battle which, to a large extent, helped shape the future of Europe, and while today was a friendly meeting of the two traditions on this island, it is clear that Ahern was sending out a battle cry to the rest of the Irish parties as an election looms which, to a large extent, will shape the future of this island.

Both men were in good spirits as they viewed an exhibition on the battle at Oldbridge House, part of a multi-million pound restoration project by the Irish government. Said Ahern:

"This is of course a special place for the Protestant/unionist and loyalist people of this island and the government was deeply conscious of this when we acquired the site back in 2000.

"Since then we have launched a development programme which will see the completion of new visitor facilities next year, which will secure over 500 acres of beautiful countryside for future generations to enjoy."

Ian Paisley presented the Taoiseach with a musket in return for Mr Ahern's gift at the St Andrews talks of a walnut bowl made from a tree from the site. A tree was also planted in the grounds of Oldbridge House to mark the occasion.

'Bring on the Shinners!'

Paisley said he appreciated Mr Ahern's welcome and "what has been done here and you will have an invasion from Ulster on many occasions". He joked, "I trust you will not allow any of these weapons to be commissioned".

Ahern and Paisley also attended a reception for guests from north and south of the border. The guests included politicians, representatives of the Orange Order and other loyal orders, local authorities and others associated with the project to develop the site. The Tanaiste Michael McDowell and Minister for Foreign Affairs Dermot Ahern were also in attendance, along with newly appointed ministers from the Northern executive.

I'm aware that today was a very encouraging day for the people of Ireland. Despite that fact, people in this half of the island anyway should take note of the timing of this event.

As much as I oppose Ahern's policies and character, I'll give the devil his due and acknowledge that he is a master at manipulating the media to suit his own ends. He did it months ago when questions first arose about his finances when he tearfully appeared on RTE protesting his innocence and pleading to be understood (which many people lapped up). Now we have 'Bertie the conciliator' standing shoulder to shoulder with the man Irish republicans have long viewed as the Antichrist. I've no doubt many Irish people will lap this moment up too without reflecting on it in greater detail. I shan't be one of them.

Having said that, I don't wish to pour scorn on this moment as I recognise the significance of it. I commend Ian Paisley on taking this step and I'll leave the last words with him:

"Instead of reverberating to the roar of cannon fire and the charge of men the shot of musket or the clash of sword steel, today we have the tranquillity of still water where we can contemplate the past and look forward to the future."


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