Monday, September 26, 2005

Credibility is everything

Substance aside, John de Chastelain's task at this afternoon's IICD press conference was to convince the public that the IRA had truly disarmed.

This is one job he did not do well. He refused to give any figures. He admitted during questions that, although the quantities were huge, he had had to take the IRA's word for it when they said they'd given him all they had. And twice, after saying the individual quantities were "within" the ranges estimated by the British and Irish governments, he corrected himself saying the numbers were "consistent" with those ranges.

Drained after a busy week, de Castelain put up a nervous, unsure image which I fear will not produce half as much certainty and reassurance as he, the governments and the IRA had hoped for. Unfortunately, this specialist detail-man who had inspected every single weapon destroyed failed to master the press-pack - as a more outgoing man would have done - and was seen to be choosing his words with such precision, and repeating himself so often in order to get them right, that many viewers will have been asking, "What was he at pains not to tell us?".

The answer, of course, is the quantities. The very thing that would have dispelled fears. A Big opportunity missed.

Personally, I believe the IRA has disarmed. Even if there were to be the odd side-arm lying around, the IRA knows full well that if it ever uses a weapon again it will lose all credibility everywhere. But trust is not enough, yet. What counted at the Culloden Hotel this afternoon was credibility and persuasion. Whereas de Chastelain should have played the statesman and put out masterful vibes of being in control, his responses and demeanour were often shambolic.

Frankly, he looked like he was a student at the Dawson Bailie School of Media Management.

And that's bad for everyone, because he's given the DUP more room for prevarication than they had this morning.


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