Belfast Telegraph

Tuesday 29 July 2014

DebateNI home of Northern Ireland politics

Royal birth can't eclipse our king-sized problems

Future tense: Duke and Duchess of Cambridge with baby George
Schoolgirl Hannah Nelson who spoke alongside Barack Obama at the Waterfront Hall

A Scot wins Wimbledon. The British and Irish Lions sweep to victory Down Under. The Tour de France yellow jersey is in English hands. Australia's cricketers are being thrashed for the Ashes. And, to cap it all, baby George Alexander Louis Mountbatten-Windsor is wrapped in his swaddling clothes blissfully unaware of his future kingdom basking in another golden summer.

Meanwhile, in Northern Ireland, the World Police and Fire Games are about to start, the UK City of Culture is in full flow and, by all accounts, the 25,000 people who attended the Bruce Springsteen concert at the King's Hall had the time of their lives.

Anyone who might doubt that the monarchy is still of immense public and global interest only had to read, view, or listen to the media in the past week.

The banks of photographers outside St Mary's Hospital said it all, as William and Kate emerged with their newborn son.

Of course, people here have deeply divided constitutional views, but I suspect even anti-monarchists identified with the parental joy of the royal couple and thought for a moment, as I did, about the children and grandchildren in their own family circle.

The future King George's day will come long after many of ours have gone, but the birth of a child is a reminder that looking forward is just as important as looking back, whether it be the Mountbatten-Windsors, or any other family.

Indeed, if people in Northern Ireland thought of the future as much as they do of the past, perhaps the society which their children and grandchildren will inherit would be all the better for it.

That was certainly the message which emanated from young Hannah Nelson in the Waterfront Hall during the presidential visit of Barack Obama last month.

Hannah spoke as a 16-year-old, but, as July 2013 comes to an end, the riotous events since the Twelfth suggest her words fell on far too many deaf ears in Belfast.

The past month of exceptional sun will be remembered, regrettably, for the high temperature generated by contentious parades.

Thankfully, the political heatwave has eased, the folks on the hill have gone on holiday and a calmer atmosphere seems to be prevailing in Belfast after so much tension and trouble.

July has proved another trying time for Belfast. Every step forward in the city seems to be accompanied by more steps back.

It happened before Christmas with the flags protest, which left businesses and traders in despair, and it has happened again, with the disputed parade in Ardoyne dragging down the image of Northern Ireland.

Let no-one be in any doubt at home that the impact has registered abroad. While the arrival of the royal baby wiped everything, from Syria to Egypt, from the headlines, it did not come soon enough to overshadow the post-Twelfth newsreels from here.

When I met old acquaintances last week, on holiday from Sweden, France, Norway, England and Canada, every one of them mentioned the trouble in Belfast.

The outside world cannot fathom why flags and parades lead to disputes in a supposedly civilised country in the 21st century.

Once again, the questions are asked as to whether the Troubles are over. There remains beyond these shores a lingering doubt about the stability of our peace.

We are all the losers – not least many of those who were on the streets creating the images of more disorder and division, from whatever side of the sectarian and political fence.

Despairingly, these are the very people who lack jobs, whose neighbourhoods need revival and many of whose futures look bleak.

Invest Northern Ireland must be congratulated on helping to achieve a 40% increase in overseas investment against such odds.

Remember Hannah Nelson's words: "I have been thinking about an important question. How do you make peace permanent in Northern Ireland? As a 16-year-old, I don't want to live in the past. I want to live for the future."

When the new royal prince celebrates his first, his 10th, or any birthday in the future on July 23, will we in Northern Ireland be reflecting wearily on yet another summer month of discontent?

Is that the only future we can construct, knowing, as we all do, that our children and grandchildren will not thank us for it?

COMMENT RULES: Comments that are judged to be defamatory, abusive or in bad taste are not acceptable and contributors who consistently fall below certain criteria will be permanently blacklisted. The moderator will not enter into debate with individual contributors and the moderator’s decision is final. It is Belfast Telegraph policy to close comments on court cases, tribunals and active legal investigations. We may also close comments on articles which are being targeted for abuse. Problems with commenting? customercare@belfasttelegraph.co.uk