Page last updated at 10:42 GMT, Tuesday, 2 February 2010

Political Groundhog Day in Northern Ireland

By Arthur Strain
BBC News

Punxsutawney Phil gives his weather forecast on Groundhog Day

The title of a 1993 film has contributed a term which has become synonymous with the Northern Ireland political process - Groundhog Day.

Starring Bill Murray it is a story about second chances and a fractious TV weatherman condemned to repeat the same day again and again until he gets things right.

It is a situation facing Northern Ireland's politicians after eight days of talking and no deal in the latest round of negotiations about devolution.

The ceremony on which the Hollywood film is based is real.

Every 2 February, Groundhog Day, thousands of revellers converge on the Pennsylvania town of Punxsutawney to hear a large ground squirrel named Punxsutawney Phil predict the weather.

Folklore has it that if the groundhog comes out of a temporary burrow at Gobbler's Knob and sees his shadow, wintry weather will continue for six more weeks across the United States. If he does not, then spring is just around the corner.

Unfortunately for observers of the Northern Ireland political scene there is no Phil to give an indication about when the current round of deadlock will end.

Actor Bill Murray
For Bill Murray Groundhog Day is a favourite holiday

However, there are parallels with the ceremony and political coverage.

On Groundhog Day, Phil "speaks" to his human caretakers, known as the Inner Circle, in Groundhogese and tells them his forecast.

The Inner Circle then translates Phil's words for the world to hear, which does bear an uncanny resemblance to how information can seep out of political negotiations.

The official Punxsutawney Phil Groundhog Day website lists the tradition as being a blend of ancient Christian and Roman customs that coalesced in Germany to mark Candlemas.

It was brought to the US by German immigrants and to the world by Hollywood.

Phil is not the only weather predicting rodent, with Staten Island Chuck as the New York city weather groundhog and General Beauregard Lee performing the same role in Atlanta, but he got the Hollywood treatment.


Not long after its release the film's title entered the lexicon as a unpleasant day repeating itself.

In 2006, the film was added to the United States National Film Registry as being deemed "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant."

Bill Murray said that Groundhog Day was his favourite holiday in an interview with CNN.

"It's come to mean something to me, a fresh start, starting all over again and there's a little bit of mystery fortune telling about it - if you ever get a chance you should really go to Punxsutawney, it's the best," he said.

One line from the Murray character, Phil Connors, while in the depths of despair about another day repeating may resonate with the news crews sitting outside Hillsborough Castle.

"This is pitiful. A thousand people freezing their butts off waiting to worship a rat. What a hype. Groundhog Day used to mean something in this town. They used to pull the hog out, and they used to eat it. You're hypocrites, all of you!"

According to director Harold Ramis, Connors spent 10 years trapped in Punxsutawney.

It has been nearly 12 years since the Good Friday Agreement was signed as the basis for returning devolved government to Northern Ireland. However, the Groundhog Day negotiations continue.

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