What makes Sammy run off at the mouth?
The question popped into my mind as I watched ‘Stormont Today’ (I know, sad) last Wednesday night and saw the Minister for Finance in the Assembly doing one of those turns which go down a treat at DUP conferences.
The grin of a man so delighted with himself he can scarce stand still spread across a vivid, florid face, arms awhirl and jiggling from foot to foot, bathed in the approbation of the cluster of colleagues crammed in behind him to be sure to be seen on the television.
The cause of his mirth was a question from Colum Eastwood. The SDLP man had drawn attention to some of the inadequacies in the DUP/Sinn Fein programme for government. Poverty and inequality were on the rise, he pointed out. Unemployment remained stubbornly high. Youth unemployment in some areas had reached catastrophic levels. Yet the programme had nothing specific to say on these issues.
Sammy rose to his feet in a flurry of sly winks and knowing glances, already psyched into knockabout mode. Why was it, he chortled, that younger members of the SDLP were so downcast? In years gone by, young people in politics were energised with optimism, looking to blue skies and bright prospects. Once they saw the future blooming, now their eyes were filled with gloom.
The acolytes around him guffawed as if this were the most rollicking repartee they’d heard since the good old days when Paisley senior was in his pomp and giving down the banks about the Pope.
Which reminds me that when Sammy himself was a young politician he wasn’t exactly known for his sunny disposition or for beckoning the bright future to come closer. No. He was full of bile, his efforts at humour solely directed at confirming the second-class status of other citizens and making a mockery of any unionist who dared hint of moving an inch.
Wilson didn’t even to make a pretence of responding to the questions Eastwood had raised. It was the performance of a Minister brimming with confidence that the massive majority of the Stormont duopoly had made his position unassailable, able to laugh off concerns that another generation might be headed for the scrapheap.
A prospect which might fill people in Galliagh with dread as they contemplate the future for their families can be treated at Stormont as a bit of a giggle.
People like Sammy used to exhibit the arrogance of untrammelled one-party rule. Now it’s two parties. But some difference.
The pity is that somebody on the floor of the Assembly didn’t roast him for the disrespect he’d shown, not to Eastwood, who is paid to take the blows, but to the many being left behind by an administration marching in lockstep with the other coalition across the water.
Read more from Eamonn McCann in the Journal every Tuesday