Belfast Telegraph

Sunday 21 September 2014

How First Ministers narrowly avoided scoring an own goal

First Ministers Peter Robinson and Martin McGuinness
First Ministers Peter Robinson and Martin McGuinness
Fans at the World Cup in Brazil
A scene from the Twelfth last year

A senior politician says he is astonished the First Minister ever contemplated going to Brazil during the most volatile period of the marching season.

Television images of our political leaders at the World Cup final while there was the potential for chaos back home would have been hugely damaging to both, it was claimed.

The showpiece match at Rio's Maracana stadium takes place on the day after the Twelfth.

Peter Robinson this week changed his mind about the trip, announcing he would not be going due to fears of trouble. Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness said he, too, would be declining the invitation.

SDLP MLA Alban Maginness, whose North Belfast constituency suffered serious violence last summer, told the Belfast Telegraph he was stunned Mr Robinson initially planned to fly out to South America.

"The television image of Peter Robinson and Martin McGuinness attending the World Cup final in Brazil would not go down well publicly here," he said. "Given the tensions that are already palpable in relation to the Twelfth, I don't understand why, knowing the seriousness of the situation, it was even contemplated.

"It would have been wiser, if the trip was necessary for economic reasons, to agree to go at a later date. So it's perplexing he decided in the first place to go."

Mr McGuinness said he would not be attending the final either after Mr Robinson said on Wednesday he would be staying in Northern Ireland in case trouble flared.

Both are concerned for the potential of a repeat of last summer's scenes when the marching season turned into one of the most violent in recent years.

The worst trouble was in north Belfast, when loyalists attacked police for several nights around the Twelfth following the blocking of an Orange parade on the Crumlin Road.

Talks aimed at reaching a resolution ahead of this year's parade past Ardoyne on the same day broke down without agreement.

The Parades Commission again ruled marchers were not permitted to return from the Twelfth march along the contested stretch of the Crumlin Road.

It had been felt by the DUP and Sinn Fein, as well as civil servants, the Brazil trip would have been a good opportunity to promote the province.

Though, had trouble erupted, both men risked heavy criticism if pictured attending the final.

"I just think things are so serious that to be out of Northern Ireland at this time would be entirely wrong," Mr Robinson said.

He added yesterday: "It is an accurate reflection of what the reality is on the ground.

"I can't ignore the fact there are very real dangers over the next number of weeks and it would be wrong for me to be out of the country over that period of time."

Sinn Fein sources said Mr McGuinness had never accepted the invitation to go.

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