The DUP’s Edwin Poots may not cut what the Italians call a ‘bella figura’ but that’s no reason to attack him when he opens his mouth to express a view. Although in this case it’s his fingers he’s opened, so to speak, with what has now become a famous tweet. As republicans marked the anniversary of the 1916 rebellion on Sunday, Mr Poots tweeted: "Had forgotten it is the 97th anniversary of a failed rising by subversives."
This got a number of people going, in particular the SDLP’s Conal McDevitt, who told Mr Poots it was time he decided whether he was going to be part of a decade of reconciliation between parties or the opposite. I think Conall’s being a bit demanding.
For a start, it is possible that Mr Poots forgot Sunday was the anniversary of the Easter Rising. We all forget anniversaries. I forgot one last year and the love of my life has been making me pay ever since. Mr Poots isn’t a republican so it is possible the whole thing just slipped his mind. Who are we to claim we know the spaces inside Mr Poots’s head better than the owner of that head himself? Back off, Conal.
Then there’s his description of the Easter Rising as 'a failed rising by subversives'. Well, that’s how he sees it. His fellow-DUPer Ian Paisley Jr believes, after careful consideration, that Padraig Pearse was a lunatic. He told me so during an interview. And I’ll bet every last man and woman in the DUP would agree with Messrs Poots and Paisley on all counts. After all, Pearse and his associates were trying to subvert the union with Britain. The DUP view of things was quite popular at the time, especially in newspapers like the Belfast News Letter and the ironically titled Irish Independent. And yes, the men who seized the GPO were, inside a week or so forced to surrender. Most people would call that a defeat.
Except that it was a defeat that led to victory in the war. Within six years of the Rising, republicans had succeeded in achieving independence for twenty-six out of thirty-two counties. But again it’s worth emphasising - Mr Poots’s failure-thinking is not unique.
Let’s be frank: most people who got annoyed with the Poots tweet did so because they disagree with its judgement. I disagree with it myself. But that doesn’t mean Mr Poots isn’t entitled to his views. I could call him a bigot, as that other DUPer Nelson McCausland called me when I wrote something he didn’t agree with; but that’d be pointless and stupid. Besides, Mr Poots may well have been hoping for a backlash from nationalists/republicans. Just the thing to keep the backwoodsmen happy and voting right.
But my basic point remains: even if you think Poots’s point is loony-tunes bunkum, he’s entitled to have it and express it. Now if he’d tweeted “Just remembered this is the 97th anniversary of a glorious republican Rising”, that’d have been something to shout about.