Diplomatic friendships are tricky by design. Leaders are often thrust into defending the actions or statements of their ‘friends’ which they wouldn’t normally agree with. On this troubled island, no diplomatic friendship has been more important or more frustrating than that which we have with Britain.
This island, as it has been before, is at a crossroads.
The centenary of partition has seen unionism in turmoil, loyalist communities adrift, and the rumbling thunder of a border poll in the wake of the Brexit lightning bolt.
And, while we watch closely for the future, the past continues to dominate and Britain’s legacy in Northern Ireland is shoved most unwillingly under Westminster’s nose once more. Fifty years later, the families of those murdered in Ballymurphy received official word of what they had always known — that their loved ones were innocent, shot down with no justification, only to receive the most paltry of apologies.
Only a Conservative government which would renege on fragile agreements, propose an amnesty for their troops, and vote against their own interest in the name of ‘sovereignty' would deem it appropriate to insult the children of murdered parents and lie about the apology.
And so, into the breach, Taoiseach Micheál Martin travelled, like many before him, to shake the hand (or bump the elbow) with his opposite number — opposite being the operative word.
The thoughtful and analytical Cork man went to persuade the bombastic British prime minister that perhaps when it’s found your nation has unjustly killed its own citizens, it is best practice as a leader to acknowledge that finding.
Though Mr Martin tells us the British prime minister is “fully appraised” of the situation, he said, “I think he does understand it ... now.”
Mr Martin might be the perfect person to carry out this diplomatic wrestling match, as a teacher who has probably more than enough experience educating class clowns who already believe they know everything.
The post-Brexit relationship between Ireland and Britain has been strained and all moves towards repairing and ‘resetting’ as Martin labelled it, must be thoughtful and analytical too.
These meetings, though fewer than they used to be, will decide the fate of our nations, how our friends treat us in the future and should be seen as of the utmost importance.
As former taoiseach Sean Lemass, dead 50 years this week, once said: “A defeatist attitude now would surely lead to defeat ... We can’t opt out of the future.”