He’s been in the headlines recently over his comments about the Irish Language during question time in the Assembly and normally it is Sammy Wilson who grabs the headlines at a DUP conference for an interesting speech, but this year Gregory Campbell unbowed continued with his remarks and brought some visual aids to demonstrate his point.
Following his comments I was keen to catch up with the DUP MP to just find out, why he made his remarks? Why he felt this way about the Irish Language and on another issue, what way he would see the DUP going in a hung parliament?
I began by asking him about the conference, what did he make of the atmosphere?
Campbell was honest in his reply saying the that the mood was “very bullish” and that like any pre-election conference the party was anxious to get stuck into the election campaign, but they were just waiting for the starting gun to be fired.
As he explained his combative mood to me, I asked him about what was going through his mind on that day in the Assembly when he made those remarks to the Culture Minister,Carál Ní Chuilín?
Campbell told me that to properly understand the context of his remarks it is important to remember that the pre-text to all this is that when Sinn Fein MLA’s rise to speak and make remarks such as Ceann Comhairle (Speaker) that they do this in the knowledge that other members of the assembly don’t understand what they are saying and he had simply had enough and wanted to do something to draw attention to this “ludicrous nonsense.”
For Campbell, he argues that in the chamber he doesn’t stand up and say things like Mr. Speaker, no surrender, every time he asks a question and he used the phraseology of “curry my yoghurt” because to him that’s what it sounds like when these phrases are uttered from the opposite benches.
So, having said that did he think the Sinn Fein reaction was over the top?
Unsurprisingly Campbell does believe that the Minister refusing to answer his question and the subsequent complaint to the Speaker was over the top. He told me that the way he knows this is that “hundreds of Unionists and Nationalists” have spoken to him about this issue and have told him that Sinn Fein “need to get a life.”
I put it to him was his speech at the conference not a bit of over the top?
No, again I say it’s more about the overreaction rather than the event…I think they don’t understand Gregory Campbell. I don’t know why a Minister, a Deputy First Minister and Sinn Fein generally would’ve thought with me and my track record that I was seriously going to apologise…do they know absolutely nothing? There’s no way. If they wanted me to repeat it, they went the right way about it.
But, what about the wider Irish speaking community who could have been offended by those remarks?
Campbell was blunt that if they took the remarks seriously or as a full attack on the language then they would have been annoyed, but he argues that it wasn’t that “so they shouldn’t have been annoyed.”
We pressed onto the other critical issue of next year’s Westminster election and just who would the DUP support in a hung parliament?
Gregory told me that in his view the DUP should not do what the UUP did in 2010 and formally align with any party during the election. Campbell argues that following the next election there will be two main blocs in parliament, Labour and the Conservatives and that it would be “madness” and “stupidity” to cut yourself off from one of those main parties.
He told me that the DUP strategy in a hung parliament will be very simple; one of the main parties will ask what can the DUP do for them? And their response will be what can you do for Northern Ireland? The DUP will ultimately seek to get the best deal and will support whatever party offers it to them, they are not dogmatic on the issue at all and if it turns into a Dutch auction for Northern Ireland votes, then so much the better.
Full audio here
David McCann holds a PhD in North-South relations from University of Ulster. You can follow him on twitter @dmcbfs