Belfast Telegraph

Why, even now, republicans just cannot help letting their true feelings about the royals show

Sinn Fein councillors who objected to HomePlace visit knew to expect a VIP couple. Who did they think was coming? Jedward?

By Eilis O'Hanlon

There was definitely something out of the ordinary about last week's visit of Prince Charles and Camilla to the Seamus Heaney HomePlace.

There they sat, signing the visitors' book underneath a huge photograph of the poet who, on being misdescribed as British by the authors of a literary anthology, famously wrote: "My passport's green. No glass of ours was ever raised to toast the Queen."

"Were you not listening?" those twinkling eyes seemed to be asking the assembled dignitaries.

But, of course, Heaney wouldn't see it that way. He himself was Irish, but he didn't feel the need to express that identity by threatening or belittling anyone else's.

He wouldn't have wanted the arts and literary centre that now bears his name in Bellaghy to be anything other than a welcoming venue for people of all traditions.

One can only imagine, therefore, what he would have made of Sinn Fein's efforts to thwart a civic reception for the royal couple when the proposal was put to a vote at Mid Ulster council last month.

Thankfully, it was overruled by unionist and SDLP councillors, allowing the visit to go ahead.

Sinn Fein insists that it had no idea who the VIP guests were going to be, and we'll have to take its word for that. For obvious reasons, the identity of the visitors was not being proclaimed from the rooftops.

But, come on, who did Sinn Fein really think it was going to be when, at a closed meeting, it was told by the council's chief executive that he wanted members' approval for a reception?

They were VIPs.

There would be two of them.

The names had to be kept confidential.

Security was going to be tight.

As David Frost used to say on Through The Keyhole: "The clues are there."

It couldn't have been that hard to put two and two together and come up with a very short shortlist of possible guests, all of whom were likely to be of royal blood.

It had to be either William and Kate, or Charles and Camilla.

Who else was it expecting to turn up on the day, after all? Ant and Dec? Eamonn Holmes and Ruth? Jedward?

"There was no attempt to block a royal visit," Sinn Fein continues to maintain, but there was an attempt to block a visit by certain VIPs.

Even if it didn't twig that it was the royal couple, why object to a reception for whoever was giving up their time to bring worldwide publicity to the HomePlace, given its importance to the region?

Does Sinn Fein really expect VIP guests visiting Northern Ireland to snatch a pork pie at a service station between events?

The party claims that the reason it objected to the request for a reception for the mystery couple was because of doubts about the "cost and purpose" of the visit - but what's a few thousand pounds compared to the millions that Sinn Fein wants spent on the Irish language, which is spoken by a tiny minority of people in Northern Ireland?

Seamus Heaney's poetry can be read and enjoyed by everyone.

This weekend there's to be a huge Irish language event taking place in Belfast, with a march starting on the Falls Road and culminating at City Hall.

Organisers promise it will be "colourful, loud, inclusive, diverse and positive". Expensive, too, one can only imagine.

What is the price-tag in terms of policing and other costs associated with disruption to trade and traffic?

Nor do Sinn Fein representatives seem overly worried about the burden on the public purse when MPs and MLAs are putting in claims for expenses, or bills for research of dubious worth by companies of whom few outside the party have ever heard.

Not to mention the £4.7m cost of having a second Assembly election in March, less than a year after the last one, for no good reason at all.

You could buy an awful lot of sausage rolls and cucumber sandwiches for any number of VIP guests for a fraction of that.

Whatever lay behind Sinn Fein's mean-spirited attitude, one can't help suspecting that the real reason it didn't want to fork out on a reception for the visiting couple is because there was nothing in it for the party.

If it can muscle in on a photo opportunity as a way of pretending it doesn't really think unionists are "b******s" (as Gerry Adams let out of the bag that time), then great. Spare no expense. Line up the cameras. Prepare those Press releases. Anything for a few extra votes.

If it's just a regular event, designed to help the community rather than Sinn Fein's electoral prospects, then forget it. Adams was happy to shake Prince Charles's hand when he also went to Dublin last week.

That visit was probably quite expensive, too.

Does money not matter as long as Sinn Fein gets centre-stage?

Republicans can't help letting their true feelings about the royal family show, while demanding that everyone else keep their true feelings about physical force republicans to themselves for the sake of the peace process.

It only gets its back up because it has failed miserably to understand the function which the royals perform.

From the Queen down, they don't circle the globe, drawing attention to good causes and economically fruitful ventures in the places they visit to satisfy their own self-importance.

They do it because it's their role to perform whatever duties are required of them in that particular time and place. If that means shaking Gerry's hand, so be it.

Personal preference doesn't come into it.

On his visit south of the border last week Charles paid tribute to all sides in the 1916 Rising, including rebels who took up arms to drive the British out of Ireland; he tried his hand at hurling; he commiserated with Adams on the death of Volunteer Martin McGuinness (it's okay to routinely call him this now, because he put it on his gravestone).

The royals do all this without complaint, because they realise that it's not all about them. They're part of a bigger picture. Ego gets parked at the door.

Sinn Fein should try it sometimes.

It might eventually realise that not everything that happens in Northern Ireland is about it. Not everything has to be related back to the "situation".

Sometimes, a visit to a cultural centre is just a visit to a cultural centre. There's no conspiracy or hidden agenda.

Until that penny drops, republicans will never have moved on as much as they'd like us to believe.

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