Belfast Telegraph

Arrogant, cocky and smug performance that lacked humility and gave us few answers

By Eilis O'Hanlon

Most politicians treat answering questions from their peers as a necessary, if uncomfortable, exercise in democratic accountability.

Others see it as a chance to grandstand in front of the cameras, putting on a good show for the party faithful, dodging every bullet with a clever one-liner.

After his appearance at the Stormont finance committee yesterday, there's not much doubt into which category Sinn Fein's Mairtin O Muilleoir falls.

From the moment he sat down it quickly became clear that the Finance Minister's main interest in being there was not to submit himself to cross-examination about his own alleged role, or his party's, in briefing Jamie Bryson ahead of the loyalist blogger's evidence in August on Nama's controversial Northern Ireland property deal. Rather, it was to revel in the fact that the committee had absolutely nothing on him.

O Muilleoir seemed to treat the meeting as if it was an episode of Strictly Come Dancing and he was intent on topping the leaderboard, perhaps by doing a spin round the floor to the tune of Sade's Smooth Operator.

The thought of just turning up and answering straightforward questions without showing off obviously didn't cross his mind.

The former Belfast Lord Mayor is one of SF's suavest, most effective players, but there's always a danger that slickness can tip over into arrogance, and then politics starts to look like a cynical game of Catch Me If You Can.

To borrow his own words, the "court of public opinion" will be the judge of whether that happened yesterday.

Of course, it could be that over-confidence is simply O Muilleoir's way of responding to pressure.

On a number of occasions, particularly when facing questions from chair Emma Little Pengelly of the DUP, he was derisively patronising, calling some of the unionist woman's lines of enquiry a "wee bit silly", and also correcting her for allowing some of the same questions to be repeated.

Later he actually had the cheek to congratulate the female chair for "doing well".

That symbolic pat on the head was designed to show who was really in charge, but it was a sure sign that she was getting under his skin.

O Muilleoir insisted throughout that he personally played no hand or part in coaching Jamie Bryson; but it was odd that he showed no interest in finding out exactly what was going on behind the scenes in advance of Jamie's big day out at Stormont.

The Finance Minister holds one of the most senior offices ever secured by SF, but he basically said that what goes on in the party, or who was bringing it into disrepute, is "of no interest or benefit to me".

The language he used throughout was one of almost aggressive relaxation.

"I was content I wasn't used in any way… I'm chill-axed… I'm not in any way distressed or concerned."

He was like Northern Ireland's answer to the stroppy teenager in The Catherine Tate Show who responds to every question by saying: "Am I bovvered?"

He was so not "bovvered" that he made it seem as if he was doing them a favour by turning up at all.

We get it, minister. You're the big cheese, the head honcho, and the little people have nothing they can pin on you.

A bit of humility still wouldn't have gone amiss, especially when a smug performance only provokes the suspicion that the gentleman doth protest too much.

If he genuinely is ignorant about who was scheming away inside his own party to influence the findings of a Stormont inquiry, is it really too much to ask that Mairtin O Muilleoir might try getting up off his grand, magisterial behind and going to find out, before coming back to answer questions with a less cocky attitude next time?

Belfast Telegraph


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