Belfast Telegraph

Punters keener on seeing celebs than in celebrating Good Friday Agreement

Tony Blair and Bill Clinton
Tony Blair and Bill Clinton
Back row from left, Jonathan Powell, Lord John Alderdice, Lord David Trimble, Sir Reg Empey, Lord Paul Murphy of Torfaen. Front row from left, Professor Monica McWilliams, Seamus Mallon, former Taoiseach Bertie Ahern, Senator George Mitchell, Gerry Adams, at an event to mark the 20th anniversary of the Good Friday Agreement, at Queen's University Belfast
Lord John Alderdice (left) and Peter Robinson
Northern Ireland Secretary of State Karen Bradley and Ireland's Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney TD
Former Taoiseach Bertie Ahern and Senator George Mitchell
DUP Leader Arlene Foster
Arlene Foster's tweeted picture of her chat with Bill Clinton
Sinn Fein's Mary Lou McDonald and Michelle O'Neill

By Jim McDowell

"Yer man, yer man, y'know, George what's-his-name, was standin' there, just in front of us, just two feet away, just two minutes ago.

"He was givin' an interview on TV."

'Yer man' was the venerated and celebrated US Senator George Mitchell.

Yer (Belfast) man standing next to me was a what the Yanks call a rubbernecker.

One of about 200 standing single file, like a necklace, along the knee-high wall outside Queen's University, Belfast yesterday.

They were, of course, only partially interested in the main man who had, in the late David Ervine's favourite word, 'choreographed' the Good Friday Agreement.

They were there to see the main players and take pictures on their iPhones and iPads.

Presumably, for posterity, if not for posting on Facebook and YouTube last night.

Clinton and Blair, were the stars. The rest - the REAL architects of the Agreement (David Trimble, Seamus Mallon), were the bit-part players.

To the rubberneckers, at least.

I know. I was one of them yesterday.

A rubbernecker.

Once I would have been, as on that historic Easter Friday 20 years ago, a Press insider.

Now, I was on the outside. Outside that knee-high brown brick wall at Queen's.

Looking in.

Marvelling at Gerry Adams lining up for the prime movers' photo-shoot under the arched entrance of a university named after a Queen of England.

Founded in 1845.

Just as the Irish potato famine sank its teeth into this country and began to bite and blight the people of Ireland: all of Ireland, North and South.

Still, history can be relegated to the hip pocket when it comes to high-fiving with the High Kings of the international political hierarchy. Especially those from the US of A.

But perhaps the most significant difference between the pomp and ceremony anniversary of the GFA at Queen's yesterday was its sober marking, rather than at its birth, the irate mob's mocking of it.

No Paisley-led bullhorn protest.

No 'sell-out', no 'Ulster Says No' proclamations and placards.

Just a placatory plethora of ordinary punters strung out on the pavements, more interested in celeb-spotting than celebrating a pivotal historical accord.

Except for Jim Allister and a gaggle of his supporters taking up squatting rights on the steps of the Whitla Hall, handing out leaflets to the guests going in.

The tailor-suited TUV leader a political opportunist?

'Never, Never, Never...'

Still, his protest was muted, rather than mob-handed.

And as for a sentiment which summed up the whole day at Queen's?

Well, a giant billboard which would have done justice to any 'signs of the times' in New York's Times Square.

The imposing and regal façade of the university is getting a facelift at the moment.

And as the political procession snaked its sober-suited and stately way from the main entrance to the main event in the Whitla Hall, the billboard above their now ageing and greying heads pronounced: "The University is undertaking a comprehensive restoration project carrying out renovation work."

Beside it, another sign, in bold capital letters, stated: 'SHARING A BETTER WORLD'.

The latter is what the Good Friday Agreement was meant to provide for all the people of this island who signed up to it.

No doubt, 'yer man', George Mitchell, and all of those who helped choreograph it, thought so, too.

As yer other man, the one standing beside me, aptly observed: "That oul' Agreement now needs a bit of renovation and restoration itself."

Let's hope, within the cloisters of Queen's itself, and out of the public eye, the once-main players who fired up the Agreement were able to rekindle the flame of hope it represented all of those years ago.

Especially as it's only a flicker of that fame which is still burning at Stormont because of the stalemate there.

Belfast Telegraph

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