Belfast Telegraph

Suzanne Breen: Republicans way ahead in the propaganda battle

By Suzanne Breen

In the propaganda battle since the talks to save Stormont collapsed last week, Sinn Fein has emerged as the runaway winner.

The party's account of events has appeared credible, coherent and consistent.

By contrast, the DUP has been in an absolute mess, with its representatives singing off totally different hymn sheets.

What one is saying has been at times in direct conflict with the words of a colleague days earlier.

The impression conveyed to the public has been that this is a very disorganised outfit, which definitely has something to hide.

Gregory Campbell said there was no draft agreement, while Edwin Poots later took pride in co-authoring parts of it.

Arlene Foster called it a "so-called draft agreement" and insisted her party wasn't even contemplating an Irish Language Act, despite the details contained in the leaked document.

Then came Jeffrey Donaldson's car crash interview on BBC's The View. The Lagan Valley MP is normally a very polished performer.

Sinn Fein's Gerry Kelly referred to a deal republicans had struck with the Government to release funding for legacy inquests.

"No such proposal was put to me and I most certainly am not aware of any agreement reached between Sinn Fein and the UK Government to hand over money for legacy inquests," Donaldson said.

Either Donaldson wasn't properly briefed or else he became confused during a live interview.

"Is it possible that there were DUP negotiators in that room who were going ahead and trying to reach compromises with Sinn Fein and that other senior members of the party weren't told?" presenter Mark Carruthers asked pointedly.

DUP supporters sitting at home in front of their televisions will have been instinctively uncomfortable.

The idea that there is a big split between the DUP Westminster and Stormont teams is regularly repeated in the media. It is over-simplistic and untrue.

There may be individual MPs who don't rate Arlene Foster and who want her job, but there was widespread unease among MLAs about the bones of the deal which was on the table.

The idea that they all wanted their leadership to sign up so that they could get back to work is wrong.

Rather, MLAs were getting grief on the ground about the possibility of an Irish Language Act.

A significant number feared that if it did go ahead, they would lose their jobs anyway, as they wouldn't be re-elected.

That is arguably an exaggerated fear, but it was a very real one.

MLAs in hardline unionist areas told me they were relieved the deal collapsed.

Clearly, the leadership did not put any effort into preparing the wider party for what the agreement was likely to be.

There is a huge gap between what the negotiators were willing to run with and what grassroots DUP members and supporters found acceptable.

But the leadership is saved by the fact that there were square brackets in the first section on language in the leaked document, meaning it was not finalised.

Sinn Fein has handled the talks collapse perfectly.

It is on a strong footing because it has nothing to hide.

Mary Lou McDonald has been on a roll, whereas the DUP are at sixes and sevens.

The DUP's attitude is 'nothing to see here, move on'.

It wants the focus to be on what happens next and getting the £1bn it negotiated with the Tories into play.

But the story of the deal that was very nearly done at Stormont won't be going away any time soon.

Belfast Telegraph

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