Gregory Campbell's toilet humour more suited to playground than party conference
Peter Robinson described Gregory Campbell as a man with a "dry sense of humour" and dismissed his attack on Sinn Fein as a "humorous" moment in the midst of a long conference.
Here is what Mr Campbell said. "On behalf of our party let me say clearly and slowly, so that Caitriona Ruane and Gerry Adams understand, we will NEVER agree to an Irish language Act at Stormont and we will treat their entire wish list as no more than toilet paper. They better get used to it."
A grown man waving a yoghurt carton as he pretends to speak Irish and cracks toilet jokes does not qualify as "dry humour". It is more the sort of behaviour you might expect to see and hear in a playground than at a political conference during talks.
A nervous Ed Miliband sacked Emily Thornberry as shadow Attorney General when she tweeted a picture of a voter's house bedecked with English flags when canvassing for the Rochester by-election.
In contrast, Mr Campbell's comments were calculated insults, not off-the-cuff comments. The prepared speech was circulated in advance by the DUP Press office. Mr Campbell had lampooned the Irish language in much the same terms a couple of years back and got a furious reaction. When he did it more recently in Stormont the reaction was the same, yet Mr Campbell chose to repeat and amplify his comments for the cameras with predictable consequences.
The situation in the talks is pretty stark and it is essential that the DUP and Sinn Fein reach agreement at least on the economic part. After that they will have to tackle flags, parading and the past.
Telling Sinn Fein that "we will treat their entire wish list as no more than toilet paper" is equivalent to saying that Mr Campbell and his colleagues will wipe their backsides with Sinn Fein's proposals rather than consider them. The fact that the DUP closed ranks around his comments is a bad sign for these talks, but it need not be fatal.
Mr Robinson seems loath to correct Mr Campbell publicly. That looks weak, but if he cannot bring himself to do so then he or his team should be in touch with Sinn Fein, assuring it that while nobody will get all they want in these negotiations, the sincere intention is to reach an accommodation which everyone can live with rather than scoring an outright tribal victory.