Belfast Telegraph

David Cameron's stark message to our old folks on the hill

By Noel McAdam

David Cameron likes to show that he is down with the kids, always keen to demonstrate his ‘youth’ credentials.

But it is not young people the Conservative leader had in mind when responding to Alliance’s Naomi Long on this week’s exclusive Belfast Telegraph poll of young people.

It was instead those much older types up at Stormont.

While he shared a quip or two with Martin McGuinness at this week’s state banquet in London for Irish President Michael D Higgins, Mr Cameron has made no secret of his frustration at the failure of politicians on the hill to make progress since the Haass talks achieved breakdown rather than breakthrough just after Christmas. And he knows his coalition government’s economic ‘pact’ with the Stormont Executive is facing fierce tests in the run-up to the long-delayed decision over corporation tax this autumn.

Thus, in answer to the East Belfast MP flagging up the most worrying aspect of the LucidTalk poll — that two-thirds of 16 to 24-year-olds are contemplating a future elsewhere and even more (70%) say MLAs are not capable of agreeing a shared vision for the future — Mr Cameron flags up his own top priorities here.

“Above all” he says, building a shared future, taking down the peace walls and making sure that the economy can grow.

Yet cliched commentary from London is an easy option. Mr Cameron has himself come in for criticism over his failure to tackle the post-Haass political vacuum now infecting welfare reform, the stymied Education and Skills Authority and other issues.

Just take the peace walls for example.

He makes no acknowledgement that Belfast now has more of them than before the Good Friday Agreement. Or the painstaking work Justice Minister David Ford and others have been involved in in persuading some communities to start taking them down.

Or the real fears that make Mr McGuinness and Peter Robinson’s 10-year target date to remove the walls seem to many so unrealistic — with real fears that dismantling them could still make community relations worse.

This is the reality on the ground, not the pipe dreams in 10 Downing Street.

Time to roll up the sleeves, Prime Minister, and ‘get down’ with the MLAs...

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