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Great talks, but the food was terrible

CASTLE Buildings in Stormont last week resembled a Rwandan refugee camp.

Hundreds of journalists huddled in the freezing wind and waited for any scrap of information to be smuggled from the inside of the buildings.

And when someone did descend and brave the crowd, they were seized upon the way an aid truck would be received in a famine-stricken African country.

The conditions at Castle Buildings were appalling.

All the journalists, were left dreaming of the treatment they got in Dublin Castle during the EU Presidency and the Dublin leg of the multi- party talks.

There, everyone received a side of smoked salmon, a bottle of whiskey and a complimentary journalist's bag.

In Dublin there was a constant supply of hot food, coffee, tea and anything you could have possibly wanted.

Filing to newspapers, radio and television was made easy by the accessibility of ISDN lines, numerous work bays and a custom-built press conference centre.

But in Stormont there was nothing. A tent was eventually erected to house some of the journalists.

And the press conferences were held in a stuffy little portable cabin.

Notwithstanding this, however, the sight of the oh-so-pompous Jeremy Paxman from BBC's Newsnight curled up on the floor of the cabin at the feet of a Spanish TV correspondent as Thursday night became Good Friday morning was one to behold.

There was no running water and only one coffee machine which spewed out liquid tar, broke down every 15 minutes and was subject to Moscow-style queues.

It was bad enough for the hacks who had descended on Belfast for the last few vital days of the talks. But think of the poor souls who had been there from the start... 22 months ago.

We all hope that there won't be a next time, but the first thing that Northern Ireland's new First Minister should do is order the building of a press centre.

The media played an important part in the peace talks and journalists all over the world work, on the run, in the most awful situations.

But there is no need for them to be treated like cattle in an abattoir.

The Northern Ireland Office has a lot to learn from the Irish Government. Perhaps they could set up a cross border body on it.

Bertie's press crew reigns supreme

THERE were some lighter moments as Northern Ireland edged towards peace last week.

The ever smarmy Alastair Campbell, the British Prime Minister's press secretary, gave numerous press briefings in the stuffy little Portakabin.

Most of the fireside chats seemed to serve little more purpose than to massage Mr Campbell's massive ego.

But the assembled hacks couldn't suppress their guffaws when, on Thursday evening, he pleaded with them not to "always go with the spin".

It was a bit rich coming from the Alex Ferguson of spin doctors and Alastair, to be fair to him, smiled at his own stupidity.

The Irish Government press men were, generally, far more helpful.

Bertie's press supremo, Joe Lennon, was ably assisted by Foreign Affairs man Dan Mulhall and John Murray, and they put their British counterparts to shame.


JUNIOR Minister Liz O'Donnell won millions of new admirers as the talks progressed in Stormont.

One bemused Japanese anchorman was instructed by his Tokyo producers to send more pictures of the "blonde Irish woman".

Lizzy had become a `pin-up' in the newsrooms in the land of the rising sun.

The British were no less impressed.

One of the most amusing comments came from a seasoned English hack.

Motioning towards Liz O'Donnell, who was recently voted the Dail's sexiest TD, he said:

"I don't think there will be any disagreement on that cross-border body."

Sour words can't taint peace

NORMAN Tebbit has more reason than most to feel a strong animosity towards, and distaste of, Northern Ireland.

The Tory peer's wife, Margaret, was paralysed in the IRA's Brighton bomb attack in 1984 and he was badly injured himself.

But some of the rubbish which he has been spouting in recent weeks does nothing but inflame passions and hatred.

It is, to put it mildly and in Ulster politician speak, `entirely unhelpful'.

Last week he described Bertie Ahern as an "impertinent little man who leads an irrelevant little country on the west of Europe."

He pointed out that Ireland's population of 3.5 million was less than half of that of Greater London.

He even accused us of living off handouts from the EU paid for by Germany and Britain.

And he reacted cynically to the news of a peace deal in Ulster saying: "This is a considerable victory for the IRA.

"They have their command structure intact. They have their weapons and shortly they will regain those who are currently in prison.

He went on: "Whether the agreement is successful in ending violence and stabilising the position of Ulster within the United Kingdom from all outside interference remains to be seen."

But Lord Tebbit said he was not bitter about what had taken place in the past few days.

He did not emerge from the wreckage of the seafront Grand Hotel until the following morning, when TV lights were used to help rescue workers drag him dazed and confused out of the rubble.

At that time he was unaware whether his wife was alive or dead.

Some right-wing Tories, although anxious not to destabilise the agreement, take the view that the Government was bombed to the negotiating table.

But scepticism aside, let's hope that bitter memories on all sides will be replaced by a new sense of hope for the future.
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Copyright 1998 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

Article Details
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Title Annotation:Features
Author:Brophy, Karl
Publication:The Mirror (London, England)
Date:Apr 13, 1998
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