Belfast Telegraph

How Niall's made Lord Mayor's show of himself...again

By Gail Walker

At 25, Niall O Donnghaile is Belfast's youngest ever Lord Mayor. Pity he has the heart of a 75-year-old diehard, a head stuffed with voices from the graveyard.

This newspaper has revealed that he intends to cap an embarrassing year by abandoning office a week early in order to avoid meeting the Queen - a decision that is not just a snub to Her Majesty but also to the majority of his city's citizens.

Of course, now the heat is on, O Donnghaile is denying the snub, claiming that he will have already served a year by the time the date comes round. Oh, and he would decide who to meet on a case by case basis, and when the story broke last week he was off sick, and the dog ate his homework ...

Look Niall, just say you'd be happy to meet the Queen and stop hedging your bets.

But, no. Instead, 20 years after the ceasefires we are still enduring the never ending psychodrama of The Individual Republican Conscience.

Last year Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness said that he would have no problem meeting the Queen if he was elected President of Ireland.

The Sinn Fein Mayor of Cashel, the late Michael Browne, actually shook hands with HM during her groundbreaking visit - and didn't burst into flames while he did so.

But they are slatternly pragmatists in O Donnghaile's eyes.

When he is directing his own episodes of IRC, they are packed full of incident...

Episode I: Straight after having his first cup of tea in the Lord Mayor's parlour, he removed a portrait of the Queen Mum hanging there, replacing it with the 1916 Proclamation. This blunder is tidied up by old-hands.

Episode II: Filled with the Spirit of (Irish) Christmas Pasts, Niall manages to get himself in all of a tangle over presenting a Duke of Edinburgh award certificate to a 14-year-old Army cadet (member of the British war machine blah blah blah).

Episode III: the all-too-predictable climax. The Lord Mayor (how does he live with that monicker 'Lord', as in given by the Queen?), spectacularly snubs British royalty.

All this is stupid, gesture politics. Taken to their absurd conclusion, they always end with guns coming out. Under the new dispensation, all of us (not just unionists) have to live with things that go against the grain. For many unionists, the very idea of a SF Lord Mayor is an affront to all those murdered by the IRA.

But there you go. The Belfast Agreement means that we all have to hold our noses and get on with the business of getting on.

That means you shake your political opponent's hand, the Queen's hand, the President of Ireland's hand; you go to that GAA match; that football match; you turn up to a local feis or that Ulster Scots poetry evening.

If you're in public life that's what you do. Real politics is about dealing with things as they are, not how we would like them to be.

And it is about living in the modern world. We are racing up the table of cities to visit because of the Titanic Quarter, Victoria Square, the revamped Ulster Museum, the new Lyric Theatre, the MAC - not because tourists want to watch Niall and his ilk wrestle common sense to the ground.

Most of us prefer to live in Cappuccino Belfast rather than Hunger Striker Belfast, Shankill Butcher Belfast, bloody-atrocity-this-day-or-that-day Belfast.

A sensible 25-year-old would have sent a cheeky request to Her Majesty to bring Kate along. But not here. Here, a 25-year-old teaches an 86-year-old woman how to be hidebound to tradition and a stick-in-the-mud.

O Donnghaile's 'principle' is dangerous politics. W.B. Yeats warned of the dangers of the daydreams of fanatics and diehards becoming the currency and language of politics: 'We had fed the heart on fantasies/The heart's grown brutal from the fare ... '

Maybe Niall's too young to remember but hard hearts here led to 30 years of murder, carnage and the kind of acts which are the stuff of nightmares and visions of hell.

We don't need to go there ever again, your Mayorship.

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