Belfast Telegraph

Saturday 19 April 2014

DebateNI home of Northern Ireland politics

The Queen is more popular than Peter Robinson - but what is Her Majesty's secret?

Queen Elizabeth II outside St. Macartin's Cathedral in Enniskillen, County Fermanagh, during a two-day visit to Northern Ireland as part of the 2012 Diamond Jubilee tour.

I'm delighted to find I'm in agreement with public opinion in its estimation of how Matt Baggott, Peter Robinson, Theresa Villiers, Martin McGuinness, Irish president Michael D Higgins and Queen Elizabeth are doing their jobs. I can't promise that our reasons are necessarily the same, but for what they're worth, here are mine.

The unfortunate Matt Baggott is at the bottom of the Belfast Telegraph/LucidTalk poll – deservedly I'm afraid, though it pains me to say so.

(Mind you, I always feel that any outsider wanting to become Chief Constable of the PSNI should be reminded of Groucho Marx's wise remark that he didn't want to belong to any club that would have him as a member and then hurriedly withdraw his application.)

Baggot got the job because he appealed to all political parties in his enthusiasm for community policing and because as a colleague once said, he is "the shiny, pleasant kind of Christian, a genuinely nice man" who "exudes a nice, warm glow".

Unfortunately, the people of Northern Ireland are worried about the ugly glow of arson and bonfires and bombs, as well as riots and protests and general mayhem and fear that nice Mr Baggott is way, way out of his depth.

Peter Robinson is second from the bottom and so he should be. Principled unionists who left the UUP for the DUP because they felt too many concessions were being given to Sinn Fein, are revolted by the cynical way in which the DUP and Sinn Fein are happily carving Northern Ireland into separate fiefdoms.

Loyalists feel snubbed and ignored by his party and are certain that, without their pressure over flags and parades, he wouldn't have backed down on the Maze peace centre.

And discovering that the DUP's Ian Paisley and Jim Shannon claimed more in expenses (£232,042.33 and £220,198.15) than any other MPs will confirm suspicions about DUP greed.

Next comes Theresa Villiers, whom I've always thought was appointed to sort out Northern Ireland's finances in the interests of the Treasury. She may succeed in that.

What she'll never succeed in I fear is giving the impression she understands, or likes, being Secretary of State, a job Owen Paterson adored.

Say what you like about Martin McGuinness – and I do, I do – but he makes his foot-soldiers work and his personal snout isn't in the trough.

Having said that, he still puts party before country and tribal interests before those of the community as a whole. I have two problems with President Higgins, who is diligent and pleasant. One is that he never shuts up and the other is that he lets his politics shine through in public much too often.

For instance, when Hugo Chavez (who was undermining Venezualan democracy and wrecking its economy) died, Higgins was distraught. When Margaret Thatcher died, he was barely civil.

And, finally, there's Queen Elizabeth, top of the performance chart and the only one on the list with a positive score.

Of course, she has hardcore fans among unionists, who value the monarchy more highly than almost any other section of British society. But she couldn't have scored so highly without nationalist support, which she earned in her 2011 visit to the Republic.

The Queen came, she saw and she conquered. Having been reminded that her husband's uncle, Lord Mountbatten, who loved Ireland, was murdered in Sligo by the IRA, the Irish people were stunned to see her bowing her head respectfully in the Garden of Remembrance, which celebrates fighters against British rule.

They watched the indomitable little 85-year-old sail through a state visit that would have taxed someone half her age.

They were delighted that, at last, she was able to fulfil a lifetime ambition to visit an Irish stud farm and realised, as the thinking British do, that she inherited a job she didn't want and has done it dutifully, selflessly and with grace.

Throughout the visit, her clothes (designed by her senior dresser, Liverpool-Irish Angela Kelly) employed shades and fabrics and jewellery with an Irish resonance. And she charmed with the sentence in Irish at the banquet and the brilliant speech.

Which brings me to Sinn Fein who, having made a bad and ungenerous call in opposing the Queen's visit, were left with their noses pressed to the window.

It was a measure of her triumph that we had the McGuinnness-Queen handshake when she next visited Northern Ireland.

More than that, they're now quoting her. Sinn Fein chairperson Declan Kearney, who seems to have inherited from Mitchell McLaughlin the role of the canary that tests for methane in mines, wrote in this newspaper – a propos the need for reconciliation – that "many things happened which we may all wish had been done differently, or not at all" – a direct steal from the Dublin speech.

They'll be singing God Save The Queen next.

 

Follow the latest updates and reaction to this story on Storify:

View the story "Belfast Telegraph/LucidTalk Poll 2013" on Storify