Saturday, April 23, 2022

My part in its downfall ...

(with apologies to Spike Milligan RIP)

Wilton Park, February 1996
Click on the image for a larger version

As this conference took place under Chatham House rules, I am not allowed to tell you who said what. For once this is very convenient as I can't remember a single word of who said what at this remove.

I have also been told that I can't tell you who was there, but that's me in the third row from the front with the photographer's flash reflecting in my glasses.

I can tell you that there are seven people who were there who aren't there.

So thanks to Chatham House I am able to present you with a mystery that not even Monsieur Poirot could solve.

However, I'll put you partly out of your misery by filling in a little of the background.

The theme of the conferene at this UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office (as it was then) Centre was:
Their Future in a Changing Europe

and everybody almost who was anybody in this area was there, government officials, press correspondents, university reasearchers, representatives of important institutes, and a whack more.

There was even one member of the Irish Seanad (Senate), whom I cannot name, but who was actually a neighbour of mine some years earlier. I'm not sure we were both living in the same place at the same time then, but if we were she was on my paper run. A most civilised lady.

Anyway, we were not long arrived at the conference centre on the first night when reality struck a deadly blow.

This was 1996 and the IRA ceasefire had been in force since 1994, at which time all sorts of momentum had picked up for cooperation between the two camps within Northern Ireland, between the North and the South, and between Ireland and the UK (which we used to call England).

The bolt from the blue that night was the breaking of the IRA ceasefire with a massive bomb in London's Canary Wharf (or close by).

The attendance was stunned when this came across on the television. Even an on-screen Gerry Adams looked a bit put out.

There was an immediate, and slightly undignified, rush for the door by a small but select number of very senior government officials from both sides of the Irish sea. Ministers to be briefed etc.

The reason I was there was that I was about to inherit the EU Northern Ireland Peace Programme and the EU Irish INTERREG programmes in the Irish Department (Ministry) of Finance.

And what a start that was, with lots more excitement to follow over the following five years until I was unceremoniously plucked from this area of work to man the blade of one of the Department's financial axes as it fell on the "outside" Departments allocated to my benign control.


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