I’ve never met the royal knight Jeffrey Donaldson, although I have been informed by him on air that I am a mere “keyboard warrior” (as distinct, I presume, from a real UDR warrior, as Jeffrey was). However, I have been assured by at least one person whose views I respect that Jeffrey, in the flesh so to say, is as pleasant and obliging a person as you could find in a month’s walking.
Which made me feel a little sorry for him when he appeared on The View last night. It is a truth universally acknowledged that a party in possession of a PR problem must send out Jeffrey to meet the media. Last night viewers of The View, having seen Gregory Campbell last week backed into a teeth-baring corner by Mark Carruthers, this week saw poor Jeffrey become increasingly entangled in his own sweetness.
But give the man his due: it’s always difficult to defend the indefensible. Long before they applied the make-up on Jeffrey to face the camera lights, the good knight knew that there was a gulf which even he couldn’t bridge: that is, that when Arlene Foster said she’d never consider a free-standing Irish Language Act, she was speaking in the face of written evidence which suggested the very opposite. It’s always difficult when you’re handed a smoking gun and asked to explain it away. Jeffrey looked increasingly tired and emotional as he struggled to cope with some very cloggy questions.
And as Jeffrey gasped and gabbled, Gerry Kelly then sprang the news that Sinn Féin had an agreement with the British government to produce the money required by the Lord Chief Justice to fund inquests that should have been held forty or more years ago. Jeffrey received this information like a man who’d just been hit on the head and is now being run over by a truck. He denied ever hearing of such a deal, which suggested one of two things: Jeffrey is being kept out of the loop and made to look politically emasculated; or Jeffrey is saying he didn’t know about this when in fact he did. Tough choice.
Finally, a word about the BBC. I have frequently been critical of that institution for its odd ideas on what constitutes balance. I still am, especially after my experience on the Nolan Show yesterday morning. But this morning I salute Mark Carruthers. Both this week and last week, The View’s presenter concentrated on the facts of the case, which clearly indicated that the DUP had come to the edge of agreement with Sinn Féin and had then walked away from it, fearful of their electorate. Carruthers was scathing of the DUP’s wriggling to get off this political hook. What a pleasure to see a BBC presenter focus on the facts of a case rather than hugging the unionist/British playbook of events. Maith thú, Mark.