THE symbolism could not have been more striking as the Prince of Wales, clutching a cup and saucer, had a brief and public exchange with Sinn Fein president Gerry Adams on the first day of his state visit to Ireland before more substantive private talks.
This gesture of goodwill could not have been foreseen in 1979 when the Queen’s cousin Lord Mountbatten, a father figure to Prince Charles, was assassinated by the IRA when his fishing boat was blown up at sea off the tranquil coastal village of Mullaghmore.
As such, the poignancy will be palpable today when the Duke and Duchess of Cornwall visit the County Sligo resort to meet those who were involved in the fateful rescue operation. Security will be tight. For, despite Mr Adams following the lead of his longstanding deputy Martin McGuinness, who has now met senior Royals, including the Queen, on several occasions as part of a wider commitment to the Northern Ireland Peace Process, a significant number of Irish republicans despise Prince Charles for his role as commander-in-chief of the Parachute Regiment which often found itself at the epicentre of the Troubles.
However the Ireland of today is very different to that of 1995 and 2002 when Charles crossed the Irish Sea in a spirit of reconciliation which paved the way for the Queen’s visit to the Emerald Isle four years ago. Then the Peace Process was still in its infancy. Now it is entrenched, despite the political tensions at Stormont that are an inevitable consequence of sworn enemies like the Democratic Unionist Party and Sinn Fein governing in tandem. Given the concessions that all sides have made, it was right that the Prince of Wales – and Mr Adams – demonstrated just how far Britain and Ireland have come in the three-and-a-half decades since Lord Mountbatten’s murder. It is why the clock must never be turned back.
Unease over 24-hour licensing
TODAY’S CRITIQUE of licensing laws by the Institute of Economic Affairs, a leading right-wing think-tank, is at odds with those who contend that it was wrong for Labour to pave the way 10 years ago for pubs, bars and nightclubs to open round-the-clock. Even senior Ministers at the time now have misgivings – Andy Burnham, the Shadow Health Secretary and new favourite for the Labour leadership, now contends that the policy was a “mistake”.
However the context is important. For, while the IEA is right to highlight the significant – and welcome – reduction in incidents of violent crime perpetuated by alcohol, it would be remiss not to overlook the social and health consequences of the increased number of people who drink to excess in their own home after succumbing to those supermarket promotions that sell beer, wine and spirits sold at heavily discounted prices.
And it would be wrong
for this report to downplay the impact of extending opening hours on those
town and city centre locations across Yorkshire where there are a preponderance of licensed premises taking advantage of the relaxed laws – and creating additional pressures for the emergency services. As such, these findings reiterate the need for local authorities to have the freedom to keep matters under review and to review licences immediately if disruption to the wider public threatens to spiral
out of control.
Time to lower drink-drive limit
EVEN THOUGH Scotland has always enjoyed autonomy on judicial matters, it is still part of the United Kingdom and laws – where possible – should be applied equally to all. This point is particularly pertinent when it comes to drink-driving limits and the legal threshold north of the border being lower than elsewhere.
This is one instance where England and Wales should not be afraid to follow Scotland’s lead. Despite social attitudes towards drink-driving being very different today to the 1970s, a hard core number of motorists are still prepared to endanger their safety – and the lives of others – by taking to the roads while under the influence of alcohol. The consequence has been a rise in convictions at a time when many police forces have been forced to scale back patrols – and breathalyser tests – owing to cuts. Not only does the issue of road safety need to be revisited, starting with Home Secretary Theresa May’s address to the Police Federation today, but the time has come for the legal limit to be lowered across the whole of the UK in order to send out a powerful message that people should not drink and drive under any circumstances.