Belfast Telegraph

Friday 19 September 2014

Bush knows how to get things done, but now ball's in our court

Bush on his visit to Belfast City

So, our wee province has been in the headlines again this week. But thankfully not for a terrifying round of pointless sectarian murders of innocent young men and women.

No, this week we were honoured with a fleeting visit from US President George 'Dubya' Bush, jetting into Belfast on Air Force One as part of his farewell tour. Yes, the traffic was disrupted as the President's massive entourage came sailing through our beloved city but I, for one, am proud of how Belfast looks these days. And dare I say it, almost feeling smug that the images of Bush's visit will feature a clean, modern city with landscaped green areas, stylish apartments and world-class shopping facilities.

I'll be the first to admit I have no idea what the war in Iraq is for or how it will end or if anything will change in the Middle East when the troops eventually pack up and go home.

But an official state visit is not the time for a rowdy protest. To the American people, George Bush is a figurehead akin to the UK's Queen Elizabeth, and as a small nation who have been helped enormously in our struggle to find peace by the American's can-do attitude, it is only right that we show this state visit some respect.

The sun is shining, most of the litter seems to have vanished from Royal Avenue and the last time I looked, Belfast was buzzing. So, if nothing else, we can show the rest of the world that it is possible to pull back from the brink. And recover relatively quickly from 'a conflict situation'.

Brought up to be resolutely working class, I'm glad I wasn't on the VIP invitation list: stuffy occasions give me palpitations.

But I was happy for our MLAs and various dignitaries to go along and shake hands in the splendour of whatever posh venue has been chosen for the meet-and-greet. It's nice to see our hard-liners turn out in their fancy threads and attempt to mingle with the millionaires.

Bush isn't famed for his intellect or his charm or indeed anything much, but boy does he represent what all the rest of us would give our eyeteeth for: more money than you can shake a stick at.

Bush and people like him may not have the common touch but they're good at making money and they get things done.

They get trade moving and they get factories built. They know how to dress and how to make small talk and how to put on a show. And we, here in Ulster, could do with a few lessons in designer diplomacy.

It's time the young people here grew up with a sense of pride in where they were born.

Not like my generation that grew accustomed to other customers in English bars checking under our seats when we left the building. In my day, you just accepted the fact that when you left school or university you would have to emigrate to find work. All that is now changing: in no small way thanks to Bill Clinton and the glamour brigade who elbowed our stubborn leaders into doing a deal for peace.

It wasn't all that long ago that half the women in this place couldn't sleep at night for worrying about their sons being shot on the way to work. Let's not forget that.

So yes, we might not agree with everything that Bush has done during his reign as president. Yes, we might smile at some of the sillier off-the-cuff comments he has made.

And who will forget the stunned expression on Bush's face when they first told him about 9/11?

But for what we have received from the Americans, let us be truly thankful. And let us now step up to the plate and start showing the rest of the world what we can do.

Let's show them how we can get along with one another despite our long-held cultural beliefs and differences. Let's find clean and renewable ways to make the economy work and let's continue to lead the way in terms of talent and charisma.

After all, this is the country that produced CS Lewis, Liam Neeson, Van the Man, Snow Patrol and James Nesbitt.

For a wee small place that had nothing going for it just a few short years ago, we haven't done too badly. We've come a long way, baby.

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