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Hard to imagine SF's smooth operator Mairtin O'Muilleoir getting involved in crude tactics

By Fionola Meredith

Published 24/08/2016

Minister Mairtin O Muilleoir speaking to the Belfast Telegraph
Minister Mairtin O Muilleoir speaking to the Belfast Telegraph
Minister Mairtin O Muilleoir speaking to the Belfast Telegraph
Minister Mairtin O Muilleoir speaking to the Belfast Telegraph
Bryson rumpus: Daitihi McKay

The main impression that I get of Mairtin O'Muilleoir is that he never stops to draw breath. The man has an arrowy, driven look about him, a palpable sense of hustle and bustle.

He's all go, as they say.

Sort it out, get things done, make it happen: that's his manner.

Shrewd, pragmatic, astute and ambitious: behind that genial, charismatic exterior, O'Muilleoir is your classic politician-businessman.

Born plain old Martin Millar, it must be said that the current finance minister has a taste for the limelight.

Although he'd already been once round the block at City Hall, where he served as a councillor between 1987 and 1997, it was when O'Muilleoir was Lord Mayor that he really came to public prominence.

While most mayors struggle to make an impact, O'Muilleoir went out of his way to stamp his personality on the role.

Donal McCann, a photographer who documented O'Muilleoir's year in office, and his travels around the world, ended up taking more than 10,000 pictures of him.

"Everyone else was jet-lagged after we arrived in America," said McCann.

"But he was hanging out the hotel window trying to get a signal to tweet his updates.

"He's never off Twitter."

I'm not sure if anybody has counted the number of selfies O'Muilleoir has taken of himself, or others have taken with him, but they must number in the hundreds, if not thousands.

There he is, grinning gamely for the camera, running the marathon, marching in Pride, dying his hair - and occasionally his eyebrows - in the colours of the rainbow for various worthy causes.

I remember calling O'Muilleoir up in 2014 to ask him about his thoughts on the 20th anniversary of the 1994 IRA ceasefire.

How far had we come since then?

While other public figures I spoke to hesitated and harrumphed as they formulated their ideas, the words flowed out of O'Muilleoir effortlessly.

And it was all incredibly optimistic.

"The horizon is bigger and brighter," he told me. "The ambition of the city is greater: the air is full of electricity.

"We really do have these blue skies above Belfast. This is a city of possibilities, and that's what keeps me going.

"The Oxford School Of Economics can't measure positive energy, but Belfast is brimming with it."

This was O'Muilleoir's endless refrain throughout his year as mayor, and it's stayed with him ever since.

Bigging up Belfast: it's what he loves to do, even when it means trying to convince people that those lowering rainclouds over the city are actually shining azure skies.

Politicians need to have boundless confidence, but even by those standards, O'Muilleoir is remarkably smooth and self-assured.

He's not the type to go running to his advisers every time he wants to put out a public statement.

He wouldn't easily let himself come a cropper; there's iron control behind that friendly grin.

And O'Muilleoir has clearly been working on his statesmanlike demeanour.

Back in 2009, he complained - via his blog - that Asda in Andersonstown was selling packs of turkey slices with British flags emblazoned on them.

Distressingly, he couldn't find a flag-less pack to go in his lunchtime sandwich. Of course, much ridicule ensued.

I can't see O'Muilleoir making a silly mistake like that today.

In the same way, it's difficult to see him getting caught up in the crude and easily exposed shenanigans with Jamie Bryson which brought down Daithi McKay.

That would mean naivety, a certain wet-behind-the-ears gullibility, and that's not O'Muilleoir.

He's a player.

Belfast Telegraph

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