Belfast Telegraph

Sunday 20 April 2014

DebateNI home of Northern Ireland politics

Peter Robinson and Martin McGuinness cover up soured relationship to unite Northern Ireland's youth

The event came under the heading of the First Minister and Deputy First Minister’s ‘united youth’ plan to tackle sectarianism.

But it was at least as much about Peter Robinson and Martin McGuinness putting on a united front - despite their recent personal and political difficulties.

And while they arrived in different vehicles, the DUP leader and senior Sinn Fein figure were inseparable as they walked together through the Waterfront Hall and conducted the function.

The atmosphere between them was business-like and even good-humoured at times, even if they are at daggers drawn politically.

Then afterwards, as they chatted about football, Van Morrisons’ dinner shows at the Culloden and their forthcoming investment trip to the United States, the air much more about amiable than animosity.

Mr Robinson was asked if he was concerned about giving young people attending the event a false impression.

The First Minister said he thought it was a good thing, and a sign of a strengthening society, if he and Mr McGuinness could show that despite differences between them, they can still work together.

"I think that is a good message to give to young people," he added.

The 10,000 additional training places they envisage under the ‘United Youth’ programme are a central plank of their ‘Building a United Community’ strategy.

Mr McGuinness pointed out that more than a third of the province’s population is under 25. “...we want them to have a better future with greater opportunities,” he said.

Though no doubt the 250 participants from a range of youth organisations were well aware that relations between Stormont’s top two - in the aftermath of the Haass talks failure - have considerably soured.