IT'S a sign of the fraught times when a deputy leader of the Republic has to seek sanctuary north of the Border in the hopes of getting a bit of peace and a respite from the escalating conflict over abortion legislation raging in Dublin.
Eamon Gilmore was in Belfast yesterday to mark the 15 years since the signing of the Good Friday Agreement, and his first port of call was a breakfast meeting in the impressive Metropolitan Arts Centre in the city centre.
The Tanaiste and the North's Secretary of State Theresa Villiers addressed a group of young folk from schools and community groups. Eamon and Theresa fielded questions from the room. The most pointed question came from Fintan, who told the Secretary of State that his area of Ardoyne had experienced paramilitary activity, sectarian violence, no opportunity for work, poor housing, policing problems and poverty. "How do you suggest that the Good Friday Agreement has impacted on our lives?" he asked her.
Theresa's reply wouldn't have filled Fintan with much confidence, being long on platitudes such as the necessity of "mutual understanding" and "respect for the law", and short of ideas on the pressing problem of the North's politicians' inability and/or reluctance to reconnect with alienated communities.
Eamon was more direct. The agreement has made a "huge difference", he said. "The level of violence and killing and injury, which was so much a feature of North's life, has changed. Before the agreement, this building was just a hole in the ground," he added. "But there are still deep divisions, there are still too many walls, both physical and in our minds, and we have to work to bring those down."
Afterwards, when asked by the press about the forthcoming abortion legislation, the Tanaiste indicated that there would be no surrender by his party over the issue of including a suicide clause.
"The Government had already decided on an approach to this issue and we're pursuing that approach. We've been consistent on it from the very beginning," he stated firmly.
The chances of peace breaking out in Government any time soon over abortion seem remote. To borrow Eamon's own words, there are still deep divisions, there are still too many walls.