As an exercise in sycophancy and cretinism the visit by Ian Paisley and Martin McGuinness to the US plumbs new depths (even by Irish standards). They resembled a pair of wide eyed first century provincial peasants who suddenly find themselves in Imperial Rome. Given the relationship between the US and Ireland, this is a very appropriate analogy.
The ostensible purpose of the trip was to drum up support for an investment conference that is to take place in Belfast early next year. This mission was therefore very much in line with the current economy strategy of the Executive which identifies foreign capital (particularly US) as the main engine of development. As a means of attracting US companies to the north the Executive is busy diverting funds from the health and housing budgets to create incentives (publically funded handouts) for them to locate here. All this is summed up in the breezy phrase “Northern Ireland is open for business”; a phrase regularly repeated by various minsters.
This is the essential message that Paisley and McGuiness brought to the New York Stock Exchange as they addressed an audience of company chief executives at its Wall St headquarters. Paisley tried to ingratiate himself by describing himself as “a businessman of God.” However, he was soon turning his attention to more worldly matters in a meeting with billionaire property developer Donald Trump about locating a golf course on the Antrim coast. This came on the back of Aberdeenshire Council rejecting a similar proposal for the west coast of Scotland. Trump’s plans to rip up a stretch of the coastline to create a Disneyland style had provoked understandable hostility from locals. However, no such objections crossed the mind of Paisley, he was all for it. Such enthusiasm should not be surprising given his associations with north coast property developers. Maybe he envisaged Trump linking up with Seymour Sweeney to create a course that incorporated the Giants Causeway! More likely Trump was playing him for a patsy to put pressure on the Scottish Executive to overturn the local planning decision and approve his proposal.
That Trump’s golf course was the main talking point of the visit to New York demonstrates the lack of substance to the mission. They won no firm investment commitments from any US companies’ only promises to attend a conference. Yet the conference itself is actually a cover for the lack of investment that has taken place. For the promised economic peace dividend, which envisaged billions of dollars of investment flowing into the north, has not materialised. There has actually been a flow of capital out of the north, with foreign owned companies such as Seagate moving to even lower cost economies. With the US economy now on the edge of a recession the prospect of major investment is even more remote.
Having paid homage at the seat of economic power Paisley and McGuinness rounded off their trip with a visit to Washington DC- the seat of political power. Here they were granted an audience with Emperor (President) Bush. They also managed to fit in a photo opportunity with Hillary Clinton; no doubt designed to boost her flagging presidential campaign. Paisley and McGuinness were at their most obsequious when meeting Bush, laughing at his lame jokes and praising him to the heavens. Paisley thanked the President and said that he looked “forward to good dealings between our little country and yours”. Not to be outdone in the crawling stakes McGuinness said he was “delighted and overjoyed” to meet Bush and expressed his “deepest thanks and appreciation to you and your administration”. They should have just prostrated themselves on the floor before Bush.
This was a truly sick making performance from the pair. In fawning over Bush they were lending credibility to a political leader loathed by people all over the world, including in the US itself, for waging war, destroying civil rights, whipping up racism and attacking the poor. They even offered support for the war in Iraq with Paisley mentioning that Royal Irish Regiment soldiers were stationed there, and McGuinness agreeing to take part in further talks with Iraqi leaders to sell the US plan for the pacification of the country. For his part Bush got to wash his hands in the cleansing waters of the Irish peace process.
It should come as no surprise that Ian Paisley should engage in kow towing to Bush. After all Paisley is a pro-imperialist, right wing bigot; he and Bush are political bedfellows. The most severe condemnation must be reserved for Martin McGuinness and Sinn Fein who are still claiming to be of “the left” and “anti-imperialist”. How empty such rhetoric appears when set against the images of McGuinness with Bush and the neo-liberal polices being pursued by the Stormont Executive. The more they get integrated into the settlement the more right wing Sinn Fein become. That this settlement now has the endorsement of Bush is surely a clear indicator of its rottenness.