Belfast Telegraph

Friday 26 December 2014

First ministers could show a united front here

The First and Deputy First Ministers set off today for an important business trip to the USA, where they will present Northern Ireland as an attractive place for inward investment.

However, they continue to paint a different picture within Northern Ireland itself. Last night, speaking about the on-going OTR controversy, Peter Robinson accused Sinn Fein of stepping back from "the tentative forward steps that were beginning to emerge".

He told his party faithful at a Londonderry dinner that Sinn Fein's stance is "disappointing. It's a retrograde step and a failure of leadership." Such language is predictable at an annual dinner of DUP supporters, at which the First Minister also rounded upon other unionist parties, in the run-up to the European elections.

Even allowing for such rhetoric, there is no doubt that political relationships at the top have been strained by the long-running Union flag dispute, and more recently by the failure of the Haass talks and the still-bitter OTR controversy. Against such a background it is hard to judge whether the divisions at the top are as bad as they sometimes seem to be. There is no doubt that Peter Robinson and Martin McGuinness will display a united front abroad. They are making an important visit to Los Angeles, the centre of the film industry to which Northern Ireland has already been making a significant local input.

They are also visiting San Francisco for the opening of a new office for Invest NI, and the importance of our political leaders working together to attract inward investment is incalculable. So too will be their presence in Washington jointly to celebrate St Patrick's Day.

Such symbolism is important, and the presence of Robinson and McGuinness in the corridors of US power cannot be overlooked, despite the failure of the Haass talks.

The people of Northern Ireland are used to such wheeling and dealing, but the ordinary voters here know their own politicians all too well. They could be forgiven for asking that a little more of this overseas unity is made more apparent back home.

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