Thursday 18 July 2019

Gerard O'Regan: 'Royals strengthen bonds here - while knives were sharpened across the water'

Charles and Camilla during a visit to Powerscourt House and Gardens in Enniskerry, Co Wicklow. Photo: Chris Jackson/PA Wire
Charles and Camilla during a visit to Powerscourt House and Gardens in Enniskerry, Co Wicklow. Photo: Chris Jackson/PA Wire

Gerard O'Regan

They call to see us at least once a year. They have the flavour of a slightly aged couple who would drop round for Sunday tea and some sponge cake in former days. Charles and Camilla are bonded by a time and tide that has endured.

They make up a familiar foursome when going out and about with Michael D and Sabina. Both couples exude a body language easy and familiar. The smiles, the handshakes, the hugs need not be forced for the television cameras. All have come to know one another rather well.

The royal love affair is now in its sunset years. Charles, we are told, has his indulged eccentric ways - the hallmark double-breasted suit speaks of a bygone era. In contrast, Camilla is dubbed as 'earthy'. Rather than agonising about the perils of climate change - as is the wont of her husband - she is more inclined to the pleasures of a cigarette laced with gin and tonic.

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All the while, Charles waits and waits. Will he ever become king? Will destiny be denied by the sheer longevity of his 93-year-old mother? Might Queen Elizabeth abdicate voluntarily and allow her son to become monarch before the public mood deems his time has passed?

And what of Camilla as potential queen? There are those who think her pedigree is somewhat suspect. She is famously a great-granddaughter of Alice Keppel. Alice made her way in the world as the most favoured mistress of King Edward VII. "This was a woman with the sexual morals of an alley cat," chides one biographer.

But all such musings were cast aside as the Charles and Camilla roadshow once again hit the Irish countryside. Early summer sunshine bathed the Fermanagh borderlands as unionists, nationalists and those oblivious to politics sampled the champagne and savouries. The harsh outside world - at least for a fleeting few hours - was put to one side.

However, all the while, skies were darkening over Westminster. Plot and counter-plot were hatched in secret murmurings. Ambition and ego were at full throttle. The scent of unrestrained blood-letting was in the air. Theresa May was finally done for as prime minister. The build-up to her tearful farewell was at fever pitch. The fight to succeed her will be without mercy.

Her demise is right up there with the great acts of political theatre. She tried might and main but eventually she was ground down by the sheer weight of events. The brutal reality is she failed to get any kind of Brexit deal over the line despite pleas, entreaties and threats, sometimes spiced with a hint of menace and brinkmanship.

On a personal basis it has been a shattering experience. Despite her well-practised verbal stridency, the prime minister looked increasingly shrunken and defeated by the enormity of the task at hand. The viciousness and vitriol coming from her own backbenchers must have been the hardest to take.

It is now clear her fate was sealed when she failed to secure a working majority after an ill-fated decision to call a general election, depending on DUP hard-liners for survival as Brexit-inspired divisiveness traumatised British life and made her task impossible.

From an Irish perspective we are back to the drawing board. It's not so much a question of who will replace Mrs May. Rather, how will they react when confronted by the same set of intractables once they enter Downing Street as prime minister? From that moment forward, he or she will find there are no easy choices when plotting a way out of the Brexit paradox.

There will be lots of promises from those jockeying in the succession stakes. Hopefully, much of it will be just the rhetoric of an election battle. But when the dust settles there will be a line in the sand.

Ireland must fight to preserve the backstop - our insurance against the wilful return of a Border on this island. The EU as a collective must back us in what will be another bout of brinkmanship.

However, despite everything, there are consolations. We have the bonding presence of Charles and Camilla when they sojourn here. Ever since the Queen visited Ireland in 2011, British royalty has signalled special good tidings for this country. That must count for something despite the dismal nature of the Brexit burden.

Irish Independent

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