With the author’s permission, we have Brian Feeney’s column from yesterday’s Irish News, in which he questions Peter Robinson’s wisdom in looking for an interview over an issue which was slowly dying over the Easter weekend, and in doing so opening up further awkward lines of questioning…
Did you see the rope-a-dope? No, not the 1974 rumble in the jungle one with Muhammad Ali and George Foreman. The Good Friday one with Seamus McKee and Peter theyre all out to get me Robinson. If you dont know anything about boxing technique, then rope-a-dope is when one boxer dodges around the ring allowing the other to punch himself out hitting air until hes exhausted and loses the contest.
Thats what happened in the Good Friday bout. Its worth watching on the BBC website if you can. A master class on how not to do an interview, all twenty-four minutes of it. Seamus McKee opened with, Can I ask you first why did Fred Frazer sell you a valuable piece of land for £5? and Robinson lunged out of his corner flailing and slashing wildly. Who advised him to handle the interview that way? Who advised him to do the interview? Did the DUP think that because it was Good Friday no one would see it on the basis that Friday is a good day to bury bad news and Good Friday probably the best?
If so, the ploy failed because their boss completely lost it within seconds of the interview opening and so it continued for the duration of the contest. He never landed a blow on McKee who sat in classic rope-a-dope style absorbing all the insults and taunts Robinson threw at him. Are you so dense that youre not picking up the point Im making? I wish you knew how silly you sound in all of this. Are you doing your masters bidding?
Bullying, hectoring, desperately hoping to land a punch. Then paranoia: it was all the BBCs fault. Theyre out to get him. Its a smear campaign. His political opponents and the BBC are all liars.
In the course of his rant Robinson never addressed the issue. He just kept insisting the sliver of land was worthless. He ignored the fact that the BBC had independent opinion that it was worth over £70,000.
If it was worth nothing Robinson was unable to explain why Frazer had asked a developer for a price to include a percentage of the purchase price of all houses subsequently built. Robinson needs to answer the simple question, if it was of no value and not a ransom strip why did he want it? One question McKee didnt ask was, who paid the legal fees and costs for transferring the strip to Robinson? Did they amount to more than £5?
Robinson looked like a man on the verge of a breakdown. His UUP opponents said the interview was astonishing. To say the least. Thats not because of its content because Robinson tried to evade the key questions. He always brought it back to his garden, avoiding the rationale for wanting, in his description, a worthless a sliver of land. It wasnt the unanswered questions about his relationship with Fred Frazer.
What was astonishing and revealing was Robinsons disgracefully offensive performance itself. Hes supposed to be First Minister and as such he clearly expects some respect. After twenty minutes sounding like a bar-room chancer chittering at Seamus McKee he dispelled any such expectation. He cast aside any pretence at dignity.
What a puny political figure he is: devoid of gravitas, flair, vision or imagination but full of pretensions, rancour and bile. Robinson has emerged in his true colours, a natural number two who happily carried Paisleys bags for decades, a political flunkey who suddenly found himself in charge of the palace and starts ordering the staff around. As Paisleys hatchet man he could throw his weight around confident that behind him loomed the heavyweight champion of unionism. With Paisley gone Robinson still tried to throw his weight around but discovered that without Paisley hes weightless and the staff are rebellious.
For years at election time Robinson was the DUPs Wizard of Oz. Now, when the party needs him most hes exposed as a diminutive political figure behind a curtain and its not because the BBC or anyone else is after him. Its because his deficiencies as a political leader are manifest. Notice the shocked silence from his loyal MPs and MLAs.
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