Page last updated at 17:28 GMT, Friday, 11 July 2008 18:28 UK

Politicians limber up for the big match

By Jim Fitzpatrick
BBC NI Politics Show

Jackie Fullerton
Broadcasting legend Jackie Fullerton is making a guest appearance

Broadcasting legend Jackie Fullerton makes a guest appearance on The Politics Show this week. It's an honour and privilege to have him.

He'll be delivering expert commentary on a remarkable football match between nationalist and unionist members of the executive.

If you want to see Ian Paisley passing expertly to Martin McGuinness, or Peter Robinson tackling Margaret Ritchie, or even Iris Robinson landing a red card then tune in on Sunday for the spectacle.

It's very game of Jackie to take part, as for the politicians: we didn't think their football skills were up to it so they've been substituted by members of Rosario Youth football team carrying cardboard cut-outs of our beloved political masters.

It may be the political silly season, but there's a serious point to our little soccer metaphor.

As politics goes into recess for the summer, it's worth reflecting on what has happened over the last year.

The beautiful game?

The game at Stormont may not be so beautiful, but politics has definitely become more sophisticated, and even unpredictable, if it is still framed within the context of that battle between nationalism and unionism.

In previous years we might have used boxing as a metaphor, the fact that football seems to fit the bill better nowadays is testament to the changed circumstances.

The fixture itself is not a championship final, although it does come at the end of the season.

There's no cup to be won at the end.

But while the pundits may enjoy analysing the sophistication of the play, the internal team problems and general style on the pitch, the fans are only really interested in the score.

The match at Stormont is perceived to be one that never ends and fans on each side must be kept interested and happy.

To that end goals have to be scored by both sides.

The pundits concluded that Sinn Fein was losing badly, perhaps 3-0 down to the DUP, by the time Peter Robinson assumed the leadership.

Hence the change of tactics which threatened to stop play.

We're currently seeing an extension of these tactics with the news that the executive has failed to meet since the middle of June.

Keeping the fans happy

If the DUP wants to keep playing the game, it's going to have to concede a goal or two in the months ahead.

The trick for both sides going forward is to allow each other tactical wins that keep all the fans happy.

A never-ending game where no side can secure victory, but all sides remain interested?

The beautiful game has perhaps become the impossible dream.

See you Sunday

Jim

PS - When asked recently what they'd be doing on their holidays, most MLAs were remarkably coy.

Too busy for a holiday. Catching up on constituency work.

One even claimed that he would be offering a roving surgery by driving round his constituency in a caravan.

The most candid was one who, far from microphones and cameras, said he planned to lie on a beach, get drunk and maybe even "get lucky".

At last, an answer I could believe.




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