Belfast Telegraph

Was this St Patrick's Day our last chance in Washington before limelight fades?

By Liam Clarke

It is a milestone of sorts that this is the first year when neither BBC Northern Ireland nor UTV sent anyone out to Washington to help focus the annual St Patrick's Day spotlight on Northern Ireland's peace process.

In fact we are lucky to have St Patrick's spotlight at all this year, for as far as the rest of the world is concerned, it's time we got over our peace process and started the rest of our lives.

This may be our last chance in America to change our image and let's hope our politicians grab it with both hands.

Enterprise zone, not war zone, is the theme we need to develop. The decision of Peter Robinson and Martin McGuinness not to fire the UUP and SDLP out of office, as they probably could have done if they had gone a legal route, for opposing the budget was a straw in the wind. So too was the decision of the UUP and SDLP ministers not to resign.

The threatened meltdown was kept within the containment vessel at Stormont, just as the Japanese aim to do with their nuclear reactors.

No toxins leaked out at levels high enough to alarm American business and political leaders. It would have been a wasted opportunity if, at today's events, the main topic had been a Stormont crisis, the mention of instability and a bout of mutual recrimination on the lawn of the White House.

Putting the lid on that little local difficulty was part of the choreography aimed at allowing Barack Obama to pat Peter and Martin on the shoulder and say "good work, guys" or words to that effect.

A more positive theme was added when "senior Treasury sources" told Andrew Neil of the BBC that we may indeed get corporation tax varying powers next year. It wasn't a revelation to us, but the way it was pushed into the news cycle at this point was useful.

It will give Declan Kelly, the US economic envoy to Ireland, a conversational ice breaker at his briefing for business leaders. It is called Northern Ireland Economic Update: New Opportunities For Transatlantic Trade and Investment - not something about emerging from conflict, fights for justice or truth recovery which used to be a staple of Irish American events.

Even Congressman Peter King has now emerged as a hammer of terrorism in his new role as chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee.

He was once an open supporter of the IRA, "those brave men and women who this very moment are carrying forth the struggle against British imperialism in the streets of Belfast and Derry", but now the Troubles are bathed in a warm green glow.

At least the IRA never killed an American, he ventured recently. Probably nobody will picket this morning's business breakfast to remind them of Kenneth Salvesen, the Chicago businessman who died in the Harrods bombing.

Ironies abound, and there are debating points we could make; but it is time to move on, not score points. International attention is fading; we need to use the last of it to project a positive image.

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