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Category: Archive

Leaders haggle, but the rank and file will decide

February 16, 2011

By Staff Reporter

By Anne Cadwallader

STORMONT — The long-awaited breakthrough, when it came, on a gray, cold unpromising Stormont morning, was swift-moving and often hectic. It was a stark contrast to the previous 10 weeks.

The rumor on Monday morning rippled through the press enclosure in the parking lot beside the squat outline of Castle Buildings. It turned quickly into hard news that the Trappist-like George Mitchell would be making a statement.

This must be the Rubicon that Mitchel McLaughlin of Sinn Fein had promised us would come today. Reporters frantically phoned their newsdesks shortly before midday. They rushed through the uplifted road barrier separating the press in the lot from the politicians in the inner sanctum, itself another parking lot. Out came Mitchell, smiling in a knowing way.

He read a brief statement, no more than 300 words, at precisely 1 p.m. His statement was quickly followed by Sinn Fein’s reaction and then a section of the press corps left Stormont for a mad dash to Downpatrick, 30 miles away, where UUP leader David Trimble was addressing a group of schoolchildren.

Back at Stormont, it was difficult to keep up with the pace. Politician after politician came out to react to what George Mitchell had just said. After ten weeks of silence there emerged a torrent of words. News stories became redundant within minutes as reaction poured in with politicians queuing up at the microphones.

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What did it all mean? How did it dovetail, interlock, mutate into a genuine breakthrough, especially if the Ulster Unionists were split about it? But there wasn’t time to think of that.

The calm but stern faces of the main party spokesmen told their own story. This was a done deal. Done, that is, as far as they were concerned. The rank and file are another matter entirely …

The only anti-agreement unionist to show himself was Peter Robinson of the DUP, who was smiling and laughing with reporters until the cameras were turned on him when he went into his usual "disgusted " mode.

"Just when you think you have seen and heard it all — along comes the Glengall Street burlesque show," he said, referring to the UUP headquarters on Glengall Street). "What a pantomime. The Grand Opera House will have a contest on its hands this Christmas."

David Ervine very deliberately reached, more than once this week, for the words he believes will hurt republicans most. They fought for 30 years, yet they lost the battle, he crows. Now let them administer British rule, he said, sneering.

The international press corps of several dozen have been working for the last 10 weeks out of two gray cardboard huts, complete with hot drinks and a total of just four phone lines.

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