Staff at Bobballs have been weighing this up. And, well, we think that SF just scored a bit of a PR coup over the OO (and to a lesser extent the SDLP).
So the Unionist MLAs who are members of the OO thought it would be a good idea parading themselves in front of the cameras IN PARLIAMENT BUILDINGS (seat of cross-community, locally devolved, pro-agreement, consensus-based politics).
The import, connotations, optics, history are all wrong for the Orange Order to do this. Seventeen middle-aged men gathered by the Orange Order to hound a nationalist women (for, let’s face it, saying something which is not entirely an unusual thing for a nationalist to say) is a bad idea.
Or put it another way. Why is the mock-Covenant set-up of grossly melodramatic big table letter-signing a good image? Is this image not so bad, so anachronistic that it offers evidence of precisely that allegation which they gathered to refute?
How might an image like that get interpreted in the States while FM/DFM try to do the sales job for the economy? Mmmm….
As a PR moment this is approaching the Dawson Bailie ‘I condone violence’ press conference (which got covered everywhere including TIME).
Ramming home the negative connotations of this ‘PR event’, SF Minister Conor Murphy tells the world that a group called the ‘Orange Volunteers‘ attempted to kill him at the weekend. Of course, Orange Volunteers and OO are very different – but it places the very worst aspect of the loose ‘Orange’ collective right alongside the OO protest today.
Result? Loss of sympathy, OO flattened, and a bad piece of publicity for MLAs whose electorates are mostly comprised of non-OO members.
The SDLP? Well, this was their issue. If not a moment for big media gains, it was right that Ritchie might offer further explanation/appear open to discussions/offer to visit Dan Winter’s cottage/invite OO to a GAA audience-led event for etc etc etc etc etc. An attempt to scramble for some high-ground would have been good – anything to avoid message getting washed away.
Besides, the SDLP might want to play nice because they will surely want Ritchie to court the significant UUP vote in South Down to hold McGrady’s seat in a soon-to-be-announced general election.
Staff at Bobballs heard Murphy on Evening Xtra about this. SF are leading the agenda. Haven’t spotted anything from the SDLP yet. Maybe they’ll try something in the weeklies.
Surely, if the OO had a grievance there were better ways of pursuing it. Eg. the President of Ireland had shown generosity earlier this week to the OO – it might have been easy to demonstrate how out of touch the SDLP had become. McAleese shapes the new Ireland while the SDLP engages in etc etc etc etc…
Ah, well. Another day, another mess. Staff at Bobballs can’t know if the SF PR guys made the call to get Murphy out today, or whether their hand was forced. The result looks to be a win for SF amid the worst, most politically inept photocall since this.