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They've got a deal! Oh no they haven't! It's panto time again

Barack Obama was bouncing with excitement in the White House on Tuesday as word came in that Stormont had accepted the devolution of policing and justice.

"Thank God," he breathed to a shiny-eyed Michelle as they communed in silent prayer. "You had better go over, make an announcement to the West Wing," she murmured. "They have all been gathered."

The President had thought of little else since the dramatic events of February 4 when, he rather fancied, his own deft telephone diplomacy had proved the key factor in persuading DUP MLAs to give unanimous, late-night backing to the plan. What was it he'd said then? "An important step on the pathway to greater peace and prosperity for all communities on the island."

"An important step on the pathway to greater peace..." He liked that. Must make sure it's saved in the bon mot file.

The marines may be embroiled in an Afghan nightmare, the health plan crash-landed in Congress, the bank bail-out an unmitigated fiasco. But history would surely forgive all now that Davy Ford (below) was set fair to be told as much as he needs to know on a weekly basis by the PSNI chief constable.

Meanwhile, back at the ranch, George W Bush had been wakened from his nap. "Great news from Belfast, sir. Peter and Martin have won the day!"

"Mission accomplished!" the Skull and Bones alumnus instantly exulted.

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He sat suddenly upright, aglow with certitude of personal vindication. "I gotta call my daddy!" "No, no, sir," the attendant cautioned. "Please don't get out of bed. Juanita has just mopped the carpet."

The recovering president slumped back at this point, gabbling contentedly that his own last-minute intervention at the urgent behest of Obama, "phoning Donny Cameron to ask him to phone Sir Reg Humphrey and plead with him to call off the union militants'' appeared to have saved the day. "Me and Barry Cabama - what a team!"

Engagement with the minutiae of Northern politics has long been a bipartisan passion inside the Beltway; God, motherhood, apple pie and the Northern Ireland peace process recognised as the Cardinal Virtues of the contemporary world. Had not the stentorian Congressional statement of March 6 been signed by Peter King (New York), Richard E Neal (Massachusetts), Joseph Crowley (New York) and Tim Murphy (Pennsylvania) - two Democrats, two Republicans?

"The eyes of the world will be on Belfast and the Ulster Unionist Party . . . The First Minister, Peter Robinson, and the deputy First Minister, Martin McGuinness, have shown great courage and leadership . . . We call on the Conservative Party leader David Cameron to use his considerable influence with his election partners . . . These dissidents must be sent a clear and unambiguous message that the future of Northern Ireland is in the crucible of politics."

Unlike the future of Iraq, Somalia, Afghanistan, Colombia, Yemen and a dozen other dusty outposts of empire which Congressman King ("A great friend of Irish freedom" - G Adams) believes would be immeasurably improved if reduced to rubble by computer-gamers directing drones from a swivel seat 5,000 miles away.

"Secretary of State Hillary Clinton welcomed the [Hillsborough] accord," the four pointed out by way of a clincher. Indeed, she had called up the leaders of all four of the conservative parties, speaking to Sir Reg for a full 15 minutes. Ms Clinton is due particular appreciation, given her onerous workload arranging to "obliterate" (such a way with words she has!) Iran if the impudent Ahmadinejad continues to refuse to do what he's told. In a joint statement, President Obama and all members of both Houses of Congress declared that, "it would be intolerable if Sir Reg Empey and his party were to continue to meddle in the internal affairs of Northern Ireland."

What's to become of Sir Reg, then? It augurs ill that broadcast reporters covering the devolution drama were issued with licences on Tuesday morning entitling them to express incredulity on air at the Ulster Unionists opposing the devolution pact and to imply that the entire party had surely gone loopy and could be written off forthwith.

"We are all peace processors now," explained a spokesperson for the broadcasting organisations.

Meanwhile, a cynic inquired of man-of-the-moment Ford whether he would be willing to ski naked down Mount Everest with a carnation up his nose shouting, "how's about this then?" in return for a seat in the Executive.

"Oh no, I wouldn't," responded the Alliance leader.

"Oh yes, you would," chorused the entire population.

"A bit of a pantomime, right enough," observed a small boy perched up a tree in the grounds of Stormont, "especially when you consider that the DUP and Sinn Fein had enough MLAs to put the deal through even if the SDLP as well as the UUs had voted against. For weeks now, devolution of policing and justice has been a foregone conclusion, a done deal, a dead cert. What's all the fuss about?

"Could it be that the peace process cannot sail forward other than on a sea of simmering crisis and each leader who stays onside rewarded on a regular basis with belly-tickles from very important people altogether and the local citizenry marshalled by the media to hail them as trail-blazing heroes for contriving such a settlement as will not cause their betters any bother?" asked the boy. "Would not the implication of this be . . .."

But a sniper got him before he could say anything more.