Yesterday Ruth Patterson attended court for her Facebook post and provided an interesting piece of optics for the television cameras. In a considered move, a variety of DUP ministers and other public representatives, including Edwin Poots, Sammy Wilson, Jonathan Bell and Guy Spence (to name a few), attended the court hearing or accompanied her to and from the court, clearly with an eye on the cameras. Other unionist glitterati in attendance included Willie Frazer and others taunting Patterson to get rid of her ‘DUP hangers on’. Her solicitor indicated that she intended to contest the charges.
When the original Facebook post came to light, Patterson issued an apology stating:
“I unreservedly apologise for this lapse of judgement,” she said. “I completely withdraw this flawed Facebook comment. Murder and terrorism can never be justified in any circumstances. To descend to such a level would be to repeat the actions of those we stood against during the dark days of Northern Ireland’s Troubles. My ill-judged comment is completely incompatible with the polices of the Democratic Unionist Party and what is expected of me as an elected representative. I recognise that my careless comments fall short of the standards expected of anyone holding a responsible post. I deeply and sincerely apologise.”
The DUP also issued a statement saying:
“Ruth’s comment was completely unacceptable and not in keeping with the Party’s policies or the standard of behaviour required of our members”.
I don’t think grinning DUP politicians clearly trying to be captured on camera supporting Patterson at her court appearance in any way accords with either statement.
There are various clips of this on Youtube.
At another level, though, in contrast to Chris’ post on the absence of unionist leadership, which he compares with that offered by Martin McGuinness, I think that what was played out at Laganbank yesterday is actually the substance of unionist leadership. In that regard, I think Chris measured it against a set of values that unionist leadership simply doesn’t seek to attain. In the context of the upcoming talks to be chaired by Richard Haass, indeed, it is hard to see any value in republicans directly engaging political representatives who provide a style of leadership to their nominal constituency which appears at odds with any conventional concept of leadership.
In that regard, the optics of smirking Stormont ministers sticking close to Ruth Patterson to try and associate themselves with her (and, in reality, her online comments) in the voters’ minds in some ways encapsulates both the type of leadership offered by unionism and the futility of the current political engagement model that the Haass talks will represent. And there is an alternative to that. Sinn Féin (and the SDLP if they rouse themselves) can simply indicate that, prior to the full operation of the various Agreements signed over the last fifteen years, there is no need for them to attend. The British, US and Irish governments, as guarantors of sorts need to get their act together and implement the Agreements that have already been made. Until then, there is nothing for republicans to negotiate. And currently there are no recognisable leaders on the other side of the table to negotiate with.