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Eilis O'Hanlon

An alien from Planet Orange on the Late Late Show... how Arlene Foster played it pitch-perfect

Eilis O'Hanlon


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Arlene Foster with Ryan Tubridy on The Late Late Show

Arlene Foster with Ryan Tubridy on The Late Late Show

Arlene Foster with Ryan Tubridy on The Late Late Show

Arlene Foster with Ryan Tubridy on The Late Late Show

Leo Varadkar

Leo Varadkar

PA

Arlene Foster

Arlene Foster

Arlene Foster with Ryan Tubridy on The Late Late Show

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar granted an audience to the BBC's Andrew Marr Show yesterday morning, and promptly took the opportunity to warn the British Government to "tone down the nationalist rhetoric" over Brexit.

Pot, meet kettle.

The Irish leader would have been better off taking his cue from Arlene Foster, who marked the exact moment that Britain left the EU on Friday night by appearing on RTE's iconic Late Late Show in Dublin, where she wisely bore in mind the BBC's founding motto that "nation shall speak peace unto nation".

The First Minister effortlessly defied the expectations of many Southerners, perhaps a majority, who only ever normally see her grim-faced in the midst of another crisis at Stormont.

Republicans who, drunk on conspiracy theories, were convinced that she'd only been brought on RTE to scupper Sinn Fein's chances in next weekend's general election, by reminding voters of her personal experience of that party's bloody history, must have been fuming that she came across so well.

Presenter Ryan Tubridy helped her in that task by being on his best behaviour. He did tiptoe round her a bit at times, as if she was an alien from Planet Orange, when she only lives 100 miles up the road. He also gave her an easy time on the whole "cash for ash" scandal, perhaps deciding that now wasn't the time to open that can of worms. It was a Friday night, after all. People just want to relax after a long week at work.

Tubridy was clearly conscious of the fact that Mrs Foster, a Brexiteer, had made a magnanimous and neighbourly gesture by travelling to Dublin on a night that an overwhelming majority of people in the Republic had never wanted to see.

She in turn did her bit by insisting that the relationship between the two parts of the island would stay the same after 11pm, whatever happens in Brussels, but that, no, she didn't think a united Ireland was on the cards, and, no, it wasn't something that she would personally welcome, for a variety of perfectly level-headed political, economic and cultural reasons.

Arlene played it pitch-perfect throughout, even dodging potentially awkward questions about her attitude to gay marriage. That drew the one hostile reaction of the night from a small section of the audience, who appear to believe that tolerance is for everyone except those with whom they disagree.

She also remembered to smile. That always helps. The DUP leader has an engaging way about her, when she chooses to show it, and it never hurts for politicians to show that they're able to laugh, including at themselves, however serious the job. If they learn nothing else from Boris Johnson, let it be that.

"Regrets?" the RTE man asked her. "I've had a few," she quipped right back, before promising: "I'm not going to sing."

If only former Secretary of State Peter Brooke had been as quick thinking when he appeared on the Late Late Show in the early Nineties and was handed a microphone and coaxed into a rendition of My Darling Clementine on the same day as an appalling IRA mass murder.

He was gone from his job within months.

Ironically, the First Minister's most significant message on Friday was probably not for the ears of the Republic, but for people back at home, as she expressed a desire to make Northern Ireland a welcoming place for everybody, regardless of sexuality or religion or political affiliation.

It was a theme the DUP leader reinforced in her interview for Radio Ulster's Sunday With Dearbhail yesterday, not only meaning British-Ulster and Irish identities, but including all the other communities that now exist in Northern Ireland.

If unionists keep bearing that in mind through whatever difficulties are ahead of us, it will prevent many a pitfall.

Sadly, for those who may never have seen the Late Late Show before, the bad news is that you missed it when it was at its best for the first 37 years under the late, great Gay Byrne.

It's a shadow of its former self these days. In a way, it's a bit like turning up at a party to find that the booze has run out and all the really fun people have gone home.

Apart from Johnny Logan, obviously. As Samuel Johnson might have said, he who is tired of hearing What's Another Year is tired of life.

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