At a hotel dwarfed by the giant rollercoaster looming beyond, two men met in Blackpool in a bid to rekindle their relationship after well-known “ups and downs”.
And the friendliness and personal warmth of Micheál Martin and Rishi Sunak suggested that the days of sudden jerks and screaming steep drops might soon be behind us.
Mr Sunak ignored press questions about the Northern Ireland Protocol as he met the Taoiseach for a handshake photo-op half an hour before talks. But there was clear movement behind closed doors.
The public small talk and smiles conveyed that British-Irish relations are finally back on level ground, with the wintry gloom of a dark English seaside resort likely to eventually give way to sunny Highlands.
Blackpool Tower on a November night is a far cry from the glare of Sharm el-Sheikh, where the two men first met last week. But new beginnings often have mundane origins.
And following his meeting, the Taoiseach was more optimistic than ever about the prospects for Northern Ireland.
As evening fell over the windswept piers and the Irish Sea took on a mutinous aspect, it seems that the ghost train of Liz Truss’ legislation repealing the Protocol is now on a siding.
Mr Martin believes, as Margaret Thatcher said of Mikhail Gorbachev, that this is a man he can do business with – even if he himself will soon be out of power and the reins will be handed over to Leo Varadkar. Incidentally, that’s the only transfer pact he’s interested in keeping.
Mr Martin said there is an opportunity now. Indeed, some of the Irish press had been left outside the venue by bureaucratic bungling and could have used an open one as an opportunity to get inside – but of course he spoke about protocol.
He then talked about putting meat on the bones, of course, before sitting down to an extensive dinner with people from the Highlands and Islands while Rishi hurried back to Downing Street. No doubt Nicola Sturgeon was all ears for Micheál’s account of Rishi’s kindness and newfound accessibility. She has skin in a similar game.
The two prime ministers had met in an upstairs room of a seaside hotel where the water was choppy outside. Here it seemed instead that everything was sweet and light.
The Taoiseach told Mr Sunak he had been to Manchester and met Denis Irwin, the legendary full-back, who said he was a Manchester United fan. Mr Sunak replied that he supported Southampton. After all the sins of past British governments, the saints appear to be invading.
Rishi even said the British Irish Council meeting is “particularly important as we approach the 25th anniversary of the Good Friday Agreement next April”, showing he is attentive to its details and the equal role it gives to the Irish government one of their joint guarantors – whatever the DUP may think.
Mr. Martin also mentioned that he had met Brian, Jimmy Barry Murphy’s son, a fact which Mr. Sunak may not have been charged with, but which he feigned genuine delight at.
Afterwards, Mr. Martin said he and Denis were both with Scoil Chríost Rí, while there was also a connection with Fin Barre. He marveled that Denis had gotten a junior GAA medal while at school, unaware that he had also won a European Cup.
Ah, Denis Irwin in the morning and Rishi in the evening. For the shepherd of an Irish flock it doesn’t get much better than that, especially with a protocol Christmas present now firmly in the offing.
Blackpool provided some lighting.
https://www.independent.ie/irish-news/politics/taoiseach-and-new-british-pm-get-british-irish-relations-back-on-track-in-blackpool-after-protocol-rollercoaster-ride-42135323.html The Taoiseach and new British Prime Minister relaunch Anglo-Irish relations in Blackpool after protocol roller-coaster ride