A chronic theme of the Northern Ireland troubles has been the desperate shortage of gifted leaders — With one or two honorable exceptions, the order of the day for all sides, especially the government, has been mediocrity, limited vision and playing to a sectional home crowd.
Real leadership has been emergent — who could have guessed, even comparatively recently, that Ian Paisley would be first minster, and Gerry Adams his deputy? Yet they have been the people who cared enough and had the stickability to come out ahead... perhaps.
Here are 5 colleagues' or historians' assessments of NI political leaders since 1943:
- "A very limited and extremely wooden man... far out of his depth."
- "With a small coterie of advisers, his administration sometimes resembled a medieval court, and the roots of his personal power are perilously shallow."
- "A massive intelligence, only partly in gear, which moved sideways towards the problem like a crab, and then scuttled back into its hole without actually coming to grips with it."
- "a good, kind and able minister who became trapped by his office, and was too exhausted to realise he had little more to offer..." "I don't mind him wrestling with his conscience for ages over every issue. What I mind is the result always seems to be a draw."
- "His semidetached style of government, which had allowed him plenty of time for running his estate in Fermanagh, the indulgence of his beloved fishing and shooting, and occasional long winter cruises in sunnier climates, was increasingly seen as dangerously anachronistic. He became the butt of an effective NILP campaign against "part time" or "amateur" government"
- [A] Reginald Maudling, Home Secretary, 1970-2 (minister responsible for Bloody Sunday)
- [B] Basil Brooke, NI PM, 1943-63
- [C] Captain Terence O'Neil, NI PM, 1963-9
- [D] Major James Chichester-Clark, NI PM 1969-71
- [E] Merlyn Rees, NI Secretary of State, 1974-6
Finally, as a bonus, there's a supplementary competition "What was he smoking?" One of these five leaders did have a Greater Vision. He realised how small and isolated the six counties would increasingly become in Ireland, and hatched a characteristically barren scheme to drain Lough Neagh and turn it into a seventh county. But which one?