Belfast Telegraph

Mark Bain: Breakfast served and already Boris Johnson proving quite hard to swallow

Mark Bain

By Mark Bain

It's never easy to set a meal on the table that satisfies all tastes in the family. Someone always complains.

Such is the political complexity of Northern Ireland and, if he was ever in doubt of the different flavours of wants, needs and opinions this country throws up, yesterday at Stormont would have served Boris Johnson with a taste of what lies ahead.

After breakfast meetings with our political parties, the Prime Minister will now know that finding the ingredients to produce a recipe for success will take all the culinary skills of a Michelin star chef.

One by one the parties filed in, and you suspect Mr Johnson would have needed to serve a different breakfast each time.

Then one by one the parties filed out, gave their verdicts and drew their same old battle lines - stuck in the routine of going to a restaurant and ordering the same thing, time after time. If ever Northern Ireland needed to tempt the palate with a flavour of something different, surely it's now.

The issue is whether the new ingredient of Boris Johnson is going to be to everyone's, or anyone's, taste.

Battles over Brexit, backstops, the blockages in attempting to reignite Stormont, Irish border issues, an Irish Language Act and, most pressing, the future of Harland & Wolff all vie for position on an ever-bulging menu.

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Should the new Prime Minister have been blind to the dominant issues facing Northern Ireland's political scene, he was treated to an eyeful as he was driven through the gates towards the statue of Edward Carson around 8am yesterday.

It's been some time since Stormont saw such action.

Workers from Harland & Wolff took the opportunity to press their case for government intervention to save their company. Indeed, for a brief moment, protesters were in harmony, a short glimpse of what can be achieved. Under the guidance of Irish unity supporters, shipyard employees began to chant 'Save Our Shipyard' in Irish.

Co-operation, it seems, is actually possible.

But judging by the initial reactions, some in the political sphere are going to find what Boris Johnson brings to the table a little hard to swallow.

After her party's meeting with the Prime Minister, SDLP deputy leader Nichola Mallon wasn't convinced Mr Johnson had read the Northern Ireland menu any further than the starters.

"It was clear he doesn't understand the dangers and fragilities of Northern Ireland," she said. "He views the situation here through the eyes of the DUP."

How much of that was coloured by Mr Johnson's dinner date with the DUP the evening before is open for debate. While the DUP dismissed a suggestion from Sinn Fein president Mary Lou McDonald that they have Boris as their 'gopher', it seems some thought he should have chosen his dinner guests more wisely.

Ms McDonald said: "We were invited for breakfast. We won't quibble over the size of a meal." But the issue was raised.

"It wasn't the best way to introduce yourself to Northern Ireland," said Alliance Party leader Naomi Long.

"We're not mollycoddled by anyone," was DUP leader Arlene Foster's response - a business dinner with a Conservative leader, a party which the DUP has a confidence-and-supply arrangement with, nothing more.

Tongues, though, were wagging.

The pessimist would say a new Prime Minister and a new Secretary of State provides no more than a new chance to listen to the same old stories.

The optimist would say Boris Johnson could be just the sort of Prime Minister to stir the pot and maybe breathe new life into a tired old menu.

For starters, the DUP might have found the menu to their taste more than anyone else.

The thinly-veiled suspicion emanating from others is that they hold the keys to the larder as well.

But the time for dancing around the table is fast coming to an end.

If nothing else a new businesslike approach was in the air. Stormont felt alive, if only for a few hours.

An appetiser has been served, and the knives are being sharpened for the main course to come.

As for Boris Johnson?

Not yet ready to copy what the best chefs do and appear from the kitchen and greet his clientele.

Taking one brief question before the meetings commenced, he was whisked away afterwards without a word.

No photocall yet holding a hot chicken dinner, but the oven has been turned to a higher setting and it's starting to warm up.

Belfast Telegraph

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