One thing that consistently erks the reasonable middle ground parties is the way that most commentators rarely talk to them:
“The Women’s Coalition are first to brave the spotlight. Cruelly, several reporters take this opportunity to make final adjustments to their cameras and microphones. There are no questions. As they leave, the DUP arrives and the media horde swarms around them.”
And then the Big Man arrives:
I’m shocked by Ian Paisleys appearance he is stooped over, small and frail-looking. His voice still carries those characteristic intonations, but the power behind it is gone. It’s like Ian Paisley with the sound turned down, the air let out.
The real surprise, though, is his easy-going charm with the media. You’d imagine Paisley and the press wouldn’t get on but they chat away affably for 20 minutes, with only an occasional theatrical line thrown in for the folks back home.
The DUP’s body language is worth watching too. When Peter Robinson is asked a question, Paisley turns away and talks over him. A few minutes later Paisley passes a question to Nigel Dodds, and nods along to the answer. Playing your generals off against each other is classic dictatorial behaviour and always, always ends in tears.
And then some sharp observations on the SDLP:
Then it’s the SDLP’s turn. Once again, Mark Durkan confronts the question that haunts his political career How do you make a passionate speech about being patient and reasonable? I’m afraid to report that he still hasnt figured it out. Meanwhile, Brid Rogers takes questions in Irish with unselfconscious fluency. No wonder Sinn Fein hates her”.
Rogers is a native speaker from Gaoth Dobhair in Donegal as opposed to many in Sinn Fein, who learned theirs in the so-called ‘Jail’tacht of the Maze prison:
Considering how much trouble they’ve caused lately, the UUP fields a very small team. Sir Reg Empey surprisingly tall in real life takes the stand and is as courteous as always. But the rapport the DUP enjoyed with the media is noticeably missing. As Sir Reg asks for questions, a school tour group bursts out of the corridor behind him.
The Shinners have arrived. There they are, lined up along the main balcony like the Royal Family. All the big guns are here Adams, McGuinness, Doherty, Kelly, an endearingly petite Bairbre de Brun, a surprisingly petite Alex Maskey, even the elfin Barry McElduff, fresh from Colombia and looking more than ever like ‘Radar’ from M*A*S*H.
Outclassed, the UUP retreats and Sinn Fein makes its state procession down the stairs. Gerry Adams steps up to the microphone, the crowd falls silent and then he completely blows it by launching into memorised Irish. The journalists groan as one, and start talking to each other impatiently. Adams is now inaudible and beginning to look ridiculous he quickly switches to English. But within minutes he’s dodging questions from TG4.
There is no way to paraphrase the last part. I’ll leave that up to the man himself (the writer is a Unionist from Portadown):
I’m only supposed to be here to observe, but as the speeches wear on I can’t resist asking Adams a question myself. It’s not like I’m going to bump into him in Portadown any time soon, now is it?
‘Do you think your party bears any responsibility for this situation?’, I ask. ‘We all share a responsibility, the media for example,’ he replies, quickly, expressionlessly.
‘Im not asking about the medias responsibility,’ I rudely interrupt, ‘Im asking about your partys responsibility.’ There is an imperceptible instant of quiet. My blood runs cold. He stares right through me, blankly.
‘I’m trying to answer your question,’ he says. ‘You can make up your own answer if you like.’ A smile switches on, then off. ‘My answer is that we all have a responsibility, especially people in the media.’ Then Pat Doherty shouts ‘No more questions’, and off they scuttle away back up the stairs.
“So there you have it, straight from the horse’s mouth. Devolution has collapsed and apparently its my fault. On behalf of myself, I’d like to apologise to you all for the interruption. Normal service will be resumed as soon as possible.
Mick is founding editor of Slugger. He has written papers on the impacts of the Internet on politics and the wider media and is a regular guest and speaking events across Ireland, the UK and Europe. Twitter: @MickFealty