There were two men on television yesterday – both politicians – who looked as though all they wanted was to find a dark room where they could lock the door and lie down. The punch-drunk features in both cases were understandable – the two men had been or were being subject to questions that were at best awkward and at worst exposed appalling gaps in the work they were being paid handsomely to do.
The first was a man from China. That’s to say, he wasn’t a native of China, he’d just been there on a good-will, for-God’s-sake-give-us-some-of-your-money visit. Having been to the States a few days earlier to grin and ring the stock-market bell, then headed to China to look solemn and handle awkward questions about Irish unity, it’s hardly surprising that Enda Kenny’s eyes looked like badly-fried eggs as he sat in the Dail yesterday. America was all right – apart from having to wait for three days after Paddy’s Day before getting to give Obama the big ugly shamrock bowl and having to spend part of those days with the widely-acknowledged-as-ghastly Mayor of Chicago, the American visit was OK. And China would have been all right too, setting aside the brain-crushing jet-lag, only some smart-arse in the Chinese audience asked Enda whether he had a timetable for Irish unity. Talk about a metaphorical fist in the face. Poor Enda did what he could to explain that, um, no, he didn’t have a timetable, that we’d got the Good Friday Agreement, and really when you got down to it, the main thing was, there was peace. But as he sat in the Dail, I have a feeling Enda’s weary brain was already fumbling with an even more awkward question: how in God’s name was he going to square his peace-is-the-main-thing with the honour he’d be heaping in the fairly-near future on those well-known men of peace, Pearse, Connolly and the rest?
The other face that betrayed flickers of inner anguish belonged to Edwin Poots. He was under some sharp questioning from Noel Thompson on the BBC’s Hearts and Minds programme about the state of the health service here. Normally, Edwin’s face is one that registers about the same emotion as your average wheelie-bin, but I thought I saw flickers of panic as Thompson’s questions came zapping into him about people being kept waiting twelve hours before being seen at their local Accident and Emergency, about the number of babies that had died in hospitals here over the past few years, and about his being the party that had emptied metaphorical bed-pans all over the UUP’s Michael McGimpsey when he was health minister, yet here we were a full year into the reign of Edwin and things if anything were looking worse. But things didn’t all go Thompson’s way. Edwin managed to make the point, and make it firmly, that someone suffering from a heart attack should be attended to in A & E before someone with a sore back or a sprained wrist. It’s insights like that which serve a politician well in times of near-terror and I’m sure make the heart of his party leader swell with pride as he prepares to head south of the border to give a talk on Irish unionism…What’s that? No, he wouldn’t be travelling via Clontibret, despite the fascinating personal and historical associations that tiny town surely holds for him.