So - President Michael D Higgins is to visit Britain and call in on the British head of state for a chin-wag. Well, more than that, really. This is the first time the Irish head of state has made an official visit to Britain. Aren’t you excited?
Much was being made of it this morning on BBC Raidio Uladh/Radio Ulster and on RTÉ. Conor Bradford talked about the visit “closing the final chapter” in relations between the two countries, and on RTÉ Ming Campbell was talking about how the cordial coming together of Michael D and Elizabeth II would reflect the closeness that exists between the two populations.
There’s truth in that. We do share interests - sport, literature, language, media - with our nearest neighbour. But how is it that umpteen commentators at the time of QE2’s visit to the south and now commentators on Michael D’s visit to Britain will talk about the event in all sorts of ways, talk about the improvement in relations (we were reminded this morning how overjoyed the nation was when QE2 said the cupla focal and Mary McAleese mouthed ‘Wow!’) and yet no one will dare mention the one thing that has marred relations between Britain and Ireland for near a century now: the north. We were even told the civil war was fought, not over partition but over the oath to the British monarch.
Maybe it’s like the point that was raised at that Strabane debate on Thursday last: now would be a very bad time to have a border poll because it might inflame loyalists. Is that why the core matter - Britain’s claim to jurisdiction here - is avoided: it might upset the loyalists? I get very worried when I hear people talking about closing the final chapter with a presidential visit. It’s like looking at a great six-inch stab-wound and saying “Ach here, sure I’ve a bit of sticking plaster, no problem”.
Maybe I’m naive. Maybe it’s all about softly-softly. Maybe Basil McCrea’s urging of the right to raise taxes here is, whether he realises it or not, another tiptoe step towards Irish people finally running Irish affairs. But Michael D’s visit still has a whiff of Basil Fawlty to it: don’t mention the border.