Being bitten and biting back

Sinn Fein Leader Gerry Adams Speaks At Nat'l Press Club
OK, OK – I got it wrong. I predicted that Gerry Adams would say ‘First of all’ between five and ten times in the course of the UTV debate last night and he didn’t. At least not in the second half, which was the part I saw. In fact it was Reg Empey and Margaret Ritchie were the ones I heard use the phrase. How can you have a ‘First of all’ when a programme is more than half-over?

Appearance is crucial in these debates ( cf G Brown, N Clegg and that Tory posh boy). The good knight Reg used to look frighteningly thin on TV but recently he’s fattened up to a respectable level. Except now he appears to have a head that’s completely different, depending on which side it’s viewed from. Left profile, fine, commendably normal. Right side – OMIGOD. No doubt a trick of the camera but it looks as if his head has been stretched into a terrifying oblong shape. Maggie Ritchie was in her usual red (another preference she shares with Sarah Palin) but then the camera kept shooting her against an equally red background, so all that was visible was this little non-fat face bobbing on a sea of scarlet. Peter, of course, looked as if he was trying to swallow a boiled sweet, especially when asked a tricky question;Gerry Adams sported a freshly-shampooed beard-n-hair, plus newish glasses that somehow soften his face. Now if he could stop fiddling with that bloody pen…

But hey, enough about that. That venerable organ The Irish News may dwell on such trivialities (it’s critical of G Adams this morning – says he doesn’t know how to pronounce ‘Westminster’, which indeed is very un-middle-class of him) but we should focus on higher things. Right – the big question. Who won?

Well, it’s probably easier to ask ‘Who lost?’ Peter Robinson looked tense and even a bit wild when under pressure about that £5 land deal, so in the unionist camp, the UUP or UCUNF or whatever they’re calling themselves these days came out on top in that little tussle. In the nationalist camp, Gerry Adams should have been correspondingly under pressure on three issues: the LIam Adams alleged child abuse case, his own non-membership of the IRA and his party’s non-attendance at Westminster. Showing qualities that Houdini would have applauded, Gerry said people were everywhere sympathetic regarding the whole child abuse thing, he wasn’t disowning the IRA but he wasn’t a member, and the SDLP were Westminster abstentionists because they were too lazy to go there, not too principled. And Oh, Gerry added, wasn’t the SDLP’s Tommy Burns hob-nobbing with the British army in Afghanistan – that’s the British army, he added, lest we forget, that did its damnedest to nobble the Saville Inquiry?

There are football teams that are adept at turning defence into attack in a sudden surge into their opponents’ territory. Last night Gerry Adams gave an impressive one-man display of same. By the time ‘That’s all we’ve time for’ was sounded, it was the lady in red whose gob was stuck in the open position, not that belonging to the mean with the well-shampooed beard.

A clear debating win, then, for the good knight Empey and for G Adams, MP. Will this translate into votes for their respective parties? Ah now – who knows? An awful lot will depend on people like you, gentle Reader.

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