TV: A new star of television and politics

Ian Paisley jnr puts his big, hunky foot in it on Questions and Answers, but not as much as Tommie Gorman, whose obituary for David Ervine was a wee bit premature


There is a new star of Irish politics and television: Ian Paisley jnr. At last a handsome man on Questions and Answers (RTÉ 1, Mondays, 10.35pm) and an intelligent, articulate and charismatic man at that. I never thought I would think that of someone called Ian Paisley, but this kid has got it all.

He came under severe and skilled questioning from John Bowman on the terms under which the DUP would re-enter government with Sinn Féin. Ian, the beautiful, said it required not just words but deeds from Sinn Féin on policing. He went on to state which words would amount to deeds: they would have to tell people to go to the police with information on robberies, beatings, intimidation and they would have to do it again and again. There could be no definite commitment to the devolution of policing powers from Westminster by May 2008 but the DUP wanted this devolution, wanted to get on with it and if Sinn Féin did what was required of it, all would be well.

Dermot Ahern intervened and waffled for a while, avoiding the central issue of what specifically would be required of Sinn Féin as far as the Irish government was concerned. Pat Rabbitte intervened to offer the original observation, “The cup is half full”. Lara Marlowe, the Irish Times's Paris and Middle East correspondent, spoke of what a pity it would be if this opportunity for peace were missed. Delectable Ian got back in and seemed to me to dig a hole for himself. He said: “If we (the DUP) are not the largest unionist party [after the election] this would be a crisis for the entire process.” I wrote it down at the time. Honest.

Now wouldn't you expect there to be a hullabaloo about this: if the DUP does not get the sufficient support of the electorate to be the biggest unionist party, then big problems? The decision of the people wouldn't matter? But nobody asked. Not Pat ‘Cup-half-full' Rabbitte, not Dermot Ahern, not the very earnest political scientist on the right (aren't they all?), not John Bowman, not the solemn Sinn Féin candidate in the audience. They just let it go.

Then it was on to Saddam Hussein and his hanging. Pat Rabbitte did the usual preliminaries about what an evil person Saddam was but how deplorable the spectacle of the hanging was. My Dad, a retired Garda, phoned in exasperation from Cork to scream that Rabbitte and his comrades in the Workers' Party thought Saddam was just the business 20 years ago. Something about Saddam being a socialist and not caught up in the sectarian politics of the Middle East. My Dad insisted I mention this and I do now, although all this Workers' Party thing is quite beyond me. Was Saddam a member of the Workers' Party? We should be told.

Meanwhile Little Ian – actually not little at all, a fine hunk of a man – had blemished his appeal by saying how he was in favour of the death penalty and thought Saddam had it coming to him. Everyone else thought Saddam had it coming to him but the death penalty was a no-no. By the way, the Dad had said during his tirade on Pat ‘Cup-half-full' Rabbitte that the Workers' Party was very much in favour of the death penalty themselves and they did their own executions. Is that so? We should be told.

Pat Rabbitte was asked about coalition with Fianna Fáil and, for once, he gave an unequivocal answer: “I will not put Fianna Fáil back in government.” Never. Never. Never. He sounded almost Paisley-ite. John Bowman asked what would happen if after the next election the numbers dictated a Fianna Fáil-Labour government. What would he do if the Labour conference voted for it? Couldn't happen, said Pat. He would give up leadership and the conference would go with him.

Poor Tommie Gorman. He came on the Nine O'Clock News on Sunday night, 7 January, and told of the sudden death of David Ervine and went on at length about what a great guy he was. Then at the end of the bulletin, Anne Doyle said: “Now the main point of the news again. The PUP leader David Ervine is in a critical condition in the Royal Victoria Hospital tonight having been taken ill earlier in the day. He was a crucial person in the peace process. An earlier report that he had died cannot be confirmed.”

Why not say, “We had mistaken information at the start of the bulletin tonight. David Ervine is not dead, he is in a critical condition having suffered a heart attack. We apologise for the error”?

To his credit, Tommie Gorman went on Morning Ireland less than 12 hours later, apologised profusely and explained how the error happened.