Belfast Telegraph

Our politicians should heed Charles' words

Editor's viewpoint

We have become so accustomed to royal visits to both parts of this island that we no longer find them extraordinary. Certainly, those who meet royal visitors continue to be enchanted and even slightly in thrall, but the scaling down of evident security and the lifting of previous pre-visit news blackouts leave the public somewhat blasé.

Yet that is the very success of such visits, including this week's by Prince Charles and the Duchess of Cornwall. Their carefully choreographed itineraries and diligently nuanced speeches have made royal appearances in any part of this island a sign of normality, a thawing of centuries-old coldness and a salve to relationships.

The strength of royalty is that it is above politics, but not beyond it. Witness the speech of Prince Charles at the Seamus Heaney Homeplace on Tuesday when he told a diverse audience how our varied histories, voices and traditions can create the greater harmony when they come together. It is differences, he said, that make harmony possible.

And in language that would have been admired by Heaney, a man he forged a friendship with, Prince Charles spoke of how "it is after the rain that the blackbird's song is sweetest" and his wish that that would be the case for Northern Ireland, a place which has seen more than its fair share of rain.

It must be remembered that he and other members of the royal family have also suffered from the rain, particularly in the IRA murder of Lord Mountbatten. Yet they have reached out in reconciliation rather than in recrimination.

In all of this there is a message for our politicians who have frequently distorted the language, calling for equality when they really mean supremacy or triumphalism, and demanding respect but failing to reciprocate.

Too often politics here is a zero sum exercise, doing the other side down rather than doing the right thing. We remain prisoners of our history, with mistrust and suspicion trumping harmony.

Can we not, as Prince Charles said, see differences as opportunities for understanding and exchange rather than excuses for vitriol and denial?

Another potentially toxic election campaign is under way when any thoughts beyond party advantage are dismissed. Unlike the Prince, we find it difficult to accept the notion that it is the barriers which are overcome that make friendships all the stronger.

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