Tuesday, 26 December 2009


Castle woken by intrusion alarm, as Lord Alderdice tries to ram-raid his way through the security cordon in a JCB.  Eventually talked down by David Forde, and was immediately tazered by angry PSNI officers.  Eventually claimed that Iain Dale had made him do it.


Breakfast meeting with Perm Sec, Justice Division and Prime Minister’s political office.  Apparently getting a breakthrough would add 10% onto the PM’s approval rating amongst people who:

a) realise Northern Ireland is part of the United Kingdom and
b) have Labour candidates standing in the general election.

Perm Sec unhappy when I pointed out that this meant an approval rating increase of 0.0004%.


Second Breakfast meeting between Justice division, PSNI and, for some reason an EO2 from Finance and Personnel.  Am asked to take notes, but EO2 won’t take off his sunglasses and speaks only in code.  Reminds me I signed the Official Security Act.  Am beginning to think that the spooks are involved in the discussions behind closed doors.


Sinn Féin arrive and demand breakfast in the throne room.  Shaun Woodward raises eyebrows but arranges it to be done in his characteristic deadpan-yet-hilarious way.  Woodward then calls me aside and gives me a tazer, to use against Peter Robinson if he gets out of hand.


DUP arrives, followed by Gordon Brown and Brian Cowen.  Met with a Department of Foreign Affairs 3rd Secretary who warns that Plan L is being considered by the Irish Government.  Makes me vow not to tell Perm Sec.  I daren’t ask what Plan L is, but I’m certain it must be something dreadful.  UUP threaten to set up tents in the park if they don’t get let in.


Gordon Brown is given the growth statistics he was promised for earlier, because our email is down in the castle.  It seems Lord Alderdice may have severed the cables when he crashed into the box.  Had the files sent to my gmail, as it appears it’s now more secure than the GSI account.  As the documents are given to him, he is also given a new mobile phone secured to his wrist with a small length of bungie cord.

Cowen sends a secret document to all parties, entitled ‘Plan L’.  Liz O’Donnell to be dispatched from Dublin in something slinky.


Gordon Brown has had to be separated from his Political Advisor after attempting to throttle him with the bungie cord attached to his cellphone.  Apparently the growth statistics aren’t that good.


Plenary session.  Brown outlines where the issues with Policing and Justice are.  DUP quickly point out that in their view, community confidence has to rise before people accept devolution.  Sinn Féin asks how that community confidence might be measured.  Cowen adds that any measurement of improved community confidence should be above any margin of error.  DUP quips to the PM that anything above 0.1% would be good for them.


Coffee break.  DFA staffer observes that Brown looks as piss-weak as our Duchy Originals tea.  I observe that Plan L is nowhere as good as Plan W.  Ann Widdecombe would sort this mess out, I say, and he scarpers.


Cowen outlines Irish Government position, which seems to be:

  • Whatever happens, don’t start bombing tourist things.  It’s the only projection of growth for the Irish economy in 2010
  • Whatever happens should be enough to ensure good news stories and pictures of Cowen on the television all the way to the next General Election.
  • Whatever.

Brown asks when the next Irish general election is due.  Cowen replies ‘not as soon as yours’

Brown outlines British Government position which seems to be:

DUP asks Cowen what Ireland has to gain from actually participating in these talks.  Cowen says this is an outrageous question to which he ought not to have to face, and that he would not be prepared to answer it under any circumstances.


Cowen finally admits that there is no point in him being there, but that the only alternative is Plan L.  Refuses to specify what Plan L is.  Hs to be reminded he already told everyone.


Lunch time.  Sandwiches from Sprucefield M&S for everyone.  Shirts and pants retrieved for Brown and Cowen, who were both a bit whiffy.  Taischudch uses Her Majesty’s bathroom, and Brown opts to be hosed down in the courtyard.


A shiny clean Brown and Cowen offer to convene a plenary at 5pm, giving each party 3 hours to do whatever they want.  Sinn Féin go to sleep on the rugs in the Throne room, Peter Robinson climbs to the top of the tower to listen to Peter Sarstedt’s Greatest Hits on his MP3 Player.  Brown has a conference call with Tony Blair and Alistair Campbell, Cowen searches for a pub in the village not full of journalists.


It’s clear that the team meetings have achieved little.  The meeting seeks to reconvene, and waits for the DUP to return.  A motivational speaker from the British Council delivers the patented Collie McGivern ‘Getting to Yes’ talk on negotiation for most of the parties, while the DUP group receive a motivational speech from Ken Ham, the founder of the Creationist Museum, detailing why it’s right not to evolve.


Parties reconvene.  DUP demands to know when dinner is, and what’s on the menu.  Peter Robinson suggests that he could go down to Castlereagh and pick up something in a cafe he knows.  Is tazered before he can get out.  Sinn Féin says it doesn’t mind getting in Dominos again, and it is prepared to order for everyone.  Peter Robinson points out that Sinn Féin ordering everyone is exactly what they’re trying to avoid.


Silence in the room, everyone looking down at their notepads.  Sammy Wilson asked by Brian Cowen to stop singing the Bobby Sands song.  Gerry Kelly shows everyone he can strip an office chair with one hand and blindfold.  Silence continues, until McGuinness outlines the demands again.   Gordon Brown asks him to see it from the DUP’s perspective, and Gerry Adams quips that it’s rich a man with one eye telling anyone about seeing things in perspective.  Joke lost on the table.

Silence for twenty minutes, occasional sound of pens being clicked, coughing.

Cowen summons a staffer from DFA and tells him to ready Plan L

Silence again.


Dinner.  Silence.


Remembering that PMQs is the next day, Gordon Brown offers to stay one day longer.  Peter Robinson sighs loudly, asks what the point is.  Plenary continues in silence until Cowen suggests an icebreaker.  Enthusiasm dies off when it’s discovered that the ice breaker is the one where people pass oranges under their chins to one another.  DUP walkout in protest.


Cowen breaks out the guitar.  Sing song in the throne room.  Am sent to the off licence, with a very specific list:

  • Department of Foreign Affairs:  Two bottles of Merlot
  • Northern Ireland Office: Two bottles of Cabernet Sauvignon
  • Prime Minister’s Office: Tonic water
  • Roinn an Taoisigh: Two bottles of Jagermeister, 12 cans of Red Bull
  • Sinn Féin; Bottle of Baileys, half bottle of Pernod, bottle of babycham if they have it, some WKD
  • DUP: Bottle of Beafeater Gin, two bottles of bitter lemon (bitter orange if they have it)
  • Peter Robinson: Bottle of vodka, packet of razor blades.

Peter Robinson tazered as I leave.

Wednesday 27 January 2010


After the late breakfast, Cowen and Brown convene to discuss why nothing’s happening.


Plenary.  Brown convenes a discussion and reminds people he saved the world, and he’ll be damned if he leads the Labour Party into a General Election without a deal on Northern Ireland.  Demands people stop laughing.


Brown’s bungie-cord phone is almost thrown seven times as he receives live tweet coverage of Prime Minister’s Questions.  The visibly shaken Prime Minister knocks over his water repeatedly.


Brown and Cowen head off for the quiet room to wait for the all-clear to leave.  Nobody knows when they’ll leave.  Shaun Woodward is in charge.