But then … nothing. The wedding was off, at least for the time being. The groom was left at the altar. The bride had bolted.
The arranged marriage of a decidedly odd couple had been scheduled. The DUP leader, Ian Paisley, and the Sinn Fein president, Gerry Adams, were supposed to talk for the first time in their leadership roles at a “Program for Government” meeting.
At the last moment, however, a problem arose over the “dowry” – the pledge of office that Sinn Fein’s Martin McGuinness is expected to make on, or before, his nomination as deputy first minister.
Paisley insisted the British prime minister, Tony Blair, had promised the pledge would be re-written to include a binding commitment to support the police and abide by the letter of the law.
Blair, said Paisley, had reneged on the dowry. The deal was off. No wedding today.
The guests in the Great Hall waited patiently for an explanation and, eventually, Paisley appeared and announced that he had given the chief matchmaker, Tony Blair, a “knock between the eyes.”
The British prime minister was, said Paisley, “seeing stars – and they’re not celestial stars”.
As Paisley was announcing the wedding was off, a junior matchmaker, the Northern Secretary Peter Hain, was giving a press conference half a mile away at Stormont Castle, insisting the delay was only a “glitch”.
The happy couple would soon be all smiles again, he said, through gritted teeth.
Gerry Adams, the Sinn Fein president and jilted groom during this episode of the continuing soap opera that is the Northern Ireland peace process, emerged to say that unless both sides were “consenting adults,” no marriage could take place.
He was “disappointed” he said, like many people watching events, but the process would continue if only the bride, Ian Paisley, would come and talk over whatever concerns he had.
And so, only four days after the bans were announced at St. Andrews, the wedding guests ran for their computers to replace the word “historic” with “shambles” and “glitch.”
“They thought we were going to be pushed around today and be taken to a certain committee,” said Paisley with a flourish. “We told them there were things that had to be settled beforehand and we wouldn’t be at the committee.
“We keep our word and we weren’t at the committee, and the committee is postponed … it is postponed. We are teaching the British government a lesson. They will not pull the wool over our eyes.
We are not deceived by anything the British government says because we test them. We weigh them in the balances, and when they are found wanting we give them a knock between the eyes.
“We are in this fight to win for Ulster a democracy that we can all be proud of. And we’re in this fight to keep the British government to the promises they have made.
“None of these promises are verbal promises. They are promises that are written down and we have the writings. They know that if they don’t keep them, these writings will be taken out and pushed down their throats – publicly!”
After this dramatic intervention, anything that Adams could say would only be an anti-climax. “A lot of people”, he said, “will be disappointed by the refusal of Ian Paisley to attend the Program for Government Committee.
“There was a lot of hope among people that today would see the political parties stepping into a new phase of this process. Mr. Paisley has accused the British government of bad faith.
“He has not accused Sinn F